The media always has an established theme -- a narrative -- into which the coverage of political stories is shoehorned. Sometimes that results in important stories being ignored because they just don't fit. That's okay with the media bosses this year because they're not in the news business. They're in the business of helping Obama get re-elected.
The narrative is important because it shapes the flow of information voters get and thus defines the political debate. If the narrative controls what the voters hear, read, and see -- and it usually does -- then the voters are thinking and deciding on the basis of the information to which they're exposed. Were it not for conservative talk radio and publications such as the Spectator, the media would be pretty much in total control of that information flow leading up to the election.
Before the Iowa caucuses, the media narrative of the Republican primaries was pretty much a personality contest about who was more electable, who was more conservative -- or, as the media phrase it, more radical -- and who was going to score in Iowa's beauty contest in which social issues usually play a disproportionate role.
Mitt Romney's campaign had launched a barrage of negative ads against Gingrich and when Gingrich finished fourth, it was clear that the former speaker needed to do something to change the narrative. It was the right moment for him to do it, and he could have with -- for example -- a speech critical of the media I suggested on this page some weeks ago.
But Gingrich's ego was injured. The fact that Romney's negative ads worked really got under his skin. On the morning of caucus day, Gingrich called Romney a liar on a talk radio show, and in the thirteen days since the Republican primary campaign has followed a script that could have been written by David Axelrod. It has formed a media narrative around the top two candidates that is so damaging that both of them need to do everything in their power -- which may not be enough -- to change it.
For two weeks, Gingrich and Rick Perry have stuck to the theme that Romney, as a venture capitalist in the Bain Capital firm in the 1990s, destroyed jobs and hurt people in ways that the two intimate (but don't say directly) were unethical, unfair, and possibly illegal. The two -- directly and through an independent "SuperPAC" supporting Gingrich --- have carpet-bombed Romney for his role in Bain, but making themselves collateral damage.
Perry, whose campaign has already failed, lashed out at Romney for "vulture capitalism." That undefined term implies financial corruption and worse. Gingrich has ranted against Romney's form of capitalism in terms (such as accusing Romney of "looting" companies) previously unheard among conservatives. It's the language of the Occupy Wall Street riffraff. Many conservatives have called on both to cool down, but neither has.
Now we have a 30-minute hit video titled "King of Bain" supposedly documenting Romney's actions at Bain Capital published by "Winning Our Future," a Gingrich-supporting "SuperPAC."
"King of Bain" is comprehensively vile. I watched it. You should too. It looks and sounds like an MSNBC feature story replete with every lefty cliché and "Occupy Wall Street" theme there is. And it's so full of falsehoods that the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column awarded it four "Pinocchios."
Winning Our Future hasn't corrected or withdrawn the video in light of the publicized problems. Instead, WOF managing director Greg Phillips issued a smarmy "open letter" to Romney on January 13 offering to revise the video if Romney answers -- to Phillips -- five questions he poses in the letter and threatening to keep pushing the unchanged video if he doesn't.
Gingrich has called on WOF to fix the errors in the video or take it off the air. But after Phillips's letter to Romney, that's not enough. Gingrich should have condemned the video and issue a statement that any independent groups supporting him must not engage in smearing his opponents. On Meet the Press yesterday, Gingrich unconscionably defended the WOF open letter to Romney. The video is now Newt's version of the Ron Paul newsletters.
In the Democrat-media culture, Republicans are always the heartless big business-Wall Street-rich man's party. Now we have two supposedly conservative Republicans attacking Romney starting from that point and taking a quantum jump into terms used only by the most radical lefties.
Gingrich and Perry have created a media narrative that says Romney and Bain were vulture capitalists and corporate looters. If you buy that and watch "King of Bain" you might confuse Romney's old company with something run by Bane, the super-villain in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. From the movie trailer we know that Catwoman will meow lines taken from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. I can hardly wait to see how the Dems will combine "King of Bain" with the movie ("Bane Capital"?) this fall.
The context in which the Gingrich-Perry narrative has to be judged is the underlying Obama campaign narrative from which the media will never vary. It is class warfare, pure and simple. Obama has identified himself -- and his administration -- with the Occupy Wall Street groups. They exist only to attack capitalism. Romney's Bain Capital is the perfect symbol of it for them to attack because it benefits Obama to do so and is bespoke tailored to Obama's class warfare politics.
It's too late to change the narrative before the South Carolina primary this Saturday. The damage has been done. The media will ensure that it is repeated many times because it will damage whoever is the Republican nominee, Romney or Gingrich. Nevertheless, both Gingrich and Romney have a duty to try to move the narrative away from Bain Capital. But to what?
Both Romney and Gingrich have ideas to help our economy. Obama has just told Congress he wants to use the last $1 trillion in borrowing authority given him in the August debt ceiling deal. Our debt now exceeds the annual value of our entire economy, and nothing is being done to get us out of the no-growth "jobless recovery" we're still suffering through.
House and Senate Republicans are in desperate need of presidential-level leadership. That's hard to do before we have a Republican president, but not impossible. The Dems hold the Senate, but Republicans hold the House and can, if they want to, actually pass bills quickly despite the Dems' objections.
Gingrich and Romney should each take their two or three top economic ideas to Speaker Boehner, Republican Conference Chairman Tom Price, and Republican Steering Committee Chairman Jim Jordan. Ask them to put the ideas in legislation and bring them up for a vote.
At that point, the debate can be shifted to opposing Obama and seeing who -- between Romney and Gingrich -- can best help lead Congress to actually accomplish something.
The Republican Party is in desperate need of a national leader. Neither Romney nor Gingrich can achieve that stature unless they can demonstrate -- beyond the primaries -- the leadership talent that person must have. How else are you going to do it, gents?