Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dem Media Strategy On The Stimulus

In my last post I took journalists to task for allowing Republicans to use a new talking point about the stimulus, that people don't THINK it worked, without pushing back on it and making sure their audience understood that a big reason for that is because Republicans have yelled from the mountain tops for months that it didn't work. But now after hearing about Jake Tapper carrying water for the GOP and bringing the same talking point to the White House press briefing I think its time for a coordinated strategy by Democrats to push back on a talking point we are sure to hear for the next few weeks, even in the face of all actual evidence to the contrary.

The key question is who is bringing up the talking point. It could be a friendly journalist teeing up a GOP talking point specifically for a Democrat to swat it away. It could be a journalist like Tapper trying to put a Democrat on the spot. Or it could be a Republican on one of the cable shows pitted opposite a Democrat which seems to be all the rage these days.

Now obviously the first category with the friendly journalist should be the easiest, but these days you never know. So my advice would be to start off with this strategy and then if the "friendly" journo turns out to be not so friendly, just transition to the category I strategy.

Category I

With a friendly journalist its usually best to make light of the situation before getting serious. I would advise coming up with several different examples of something that was once thought of as a consensus fact only to later be thoroughly debunked. In the earlier post I used the example of how everyone used to think the earth was flat. Others off the top of my head would be, the moon was made out of cheese, that the Sun orbited the Earth, and if you want to get a little snarky you can even point out that a majority once thought that Saddam had WMD.

After the witty comment quickly pivot into the meat of the issues. Quote several independent sources like the CBO on how many jobs were created with the stimulus bill. Then acknowledge that more has to be done and that the unemployment numbers are indeed a factor in the negative perception of the stimulus. Then, however, forcefully transition into a denunciation of the Congressional Republicans. Point out that they have said for months and months that the stimulus bill failed without every being challenged to quote a credible economist or study that backs up that claim. Challenge the friendly to ask them where they got their information that the stimulus failed the next time they speak to a Republican. Then tie it to Republican obstructionism in the Senate. Point out that while everyone else is focusing on getting the country back on track, Congressional Republicans are focusing on winning back Congress no matter what the price.

Make sure to differentiate with the term Congressional Republicans so as to not offend rank and file Republicans any more than they are already.

Category II

When you have an adversarial member of the media speaking to a Democrat one on one, whether it be at the press briefing with Gibbs, or just a rank and file Congressional Democrat or just a Dem strategist, the key is to turn it back on to the mainstream media. Yes this will make for a contentious exchange but it will be worth it. The one thing Republicans and their right wing base has become especially adept at is pushing the media to the right by claiming over and over and over again a mythical liberal bias. Now is as good a time as any to change that.

You will want to ask a question along the lines of what is the ratio of independent economists their news organization has asked about the stimulus versus how many politicians they have asked. How many quotes from the CBO director about the stimulus have appeared in their publication or on their news station versus how many statements from politicians have been used. The clear implication you want to try to make is that its the media, not the Democrats, who have failed to inform the American people. And that because our media almost exclusively covers politics the same as policy like a horse race, they are no longer serving their readers and viewers. If its a member of a right wing media outfit like FoxNews or the Washington Times you can even go as far as to ask them why their own employees have joined the Republicans in calling the stimulus a failure without ever having to back up that assertation with information from an impartial expert on economics.

Right at the end of your response make sure to note that while politics usually does have spin from both sides, policy usually has a right and a wrong. There are ways to measure whether the stimulus worked or not and if the majority of Americans don't believe it worked, but the overwhelming majority of credible, independent economists say it did then obviously our media is not doing their job well.

For sure this could provoke backlash at a later date, but I personally think it would be worth it.

Category III

I think pushing back on Republicans when Democrats are on one of those shows where supposedly both sides are represented should be the easiest job of all. Two words should sum up this strategy, interrupt and attack. Every time a Republican brings up public opinion on the stimulus interrupt them and ask them how many times they personally had said it was a failure. They probably won't respond but keep pressing the question until its obvious they do not want to answer. If they make the mistake of actually repeating the canard that it really didn't work or "it didn't create one job" then interrupt and ask them to give the viewers the source they are using for that assertion. Again, don't expect them to answer directly but keep asking the question until its obvious they won't answer it.

When its your turn to talk whether it be first or second have a list ready of economists and independent entities like the CBO which have said the stimulus bill created a million jobs or more. Read off the list and then ask the GOP adversary if they are going on record to say all of those people and organizations are lying. Further ask them, not the host but the GOP adversary, what their background is in economics. Do they have a nobel prize? Have they ever worked for the CBO? Ask them what standing they have to call the stimulus bill a failure other than their status as a politician.

At some point the host will probably regain order and you can tout all of the positive things about the stimulus. But before the segment is over make sure to address the GOP adversary directly again and ask them a question of this nature "Isn't it true that you and members of your party on the Hill believe that it is advantageous for your election prospects if the American people believe the stimulus bill failed even if it isn't true?" Of course they won't answer and the host may try to step in but keep demanding that they answer the question. Keep it up the pressure and keep them on the defensive instead of the other way around.

Now to be sure at some point the Republicans will come up with a new talking point to harp on and at that point the strategy to push back on them will have to change. But I am willing to bet that for the next few weeks we will hear this "the American people don't believe it worked" talking point over and over. Hopefully for once Democrats will be well prepared to not only shoot them down, but also make them run for cover.

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