Just weeks ago, Howard Dean looked like he was popping corn in Iowa, comfortably on his way to the Democratic nomination. In the end, he was just creamed spinach, and most unmagnanimous in defeat. He was bitter and passing out blame. On CNBC, as the results rolled over him, Dean groused that he had become the front-runner and then "all you in the media had some fun at my expense."
How Clintonesque. In 1992, Clinton regularly whined that he was the most media-slammed and scrutinized candidate in American history. (You never heard that from Ronald Reagan, who perhaps was.) Compared to Dean, however, Clinton would have a point, having had to fake and feint around the career-testing punches of Gennifer Flowers and draft evasion before the New Hampshire primary. What scandal has Dean faced by comparison? Where's the media hostility?
NBC aired a Lisa Myers story suggesting that Dean had demeaned the Iowa caucuses in the mid-1990s on a Canadian public TV show called "The Editors." That's hardly a potential deathblow. Many press people came to Dean's defense on that score. In the next week's editions, those supposed Howard-haters at Time and Newsweek both suggested Dean was right to criticize the caucuses. He was even pitched as a truth-teller.
Most pundits expected a Dean victory in Iowa, not the pasting he received. Most media outlets treated Dean like a Democratic front-runner right up to Caucus Night. Already this year, Dean has received another three news magazine covers, which adds up to six. That's six more than John Kerry or John Edwards gained before Iowa voted. Both Time and Newsweek helpfully surrounded Dean's face with the American flag.
Then there's the easy treatment on TV. On Jan. 11, ABC's George Stephanopoulos repeatedly allowed Dean to claim that the bottom 60 percent of taxpayers received an average of only $304 in tax relief. But the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a liberal establishment organ, has called Dean's claim misleading since Dean arrived at his figure by averaging in the cuts received by the bottom 60 percent of households, "which includes all those who paid no taxes in the first place and thus got no cut." Dean was dishonestly demeaning Bush, and why not? The network fact-checkers were asleep.
On Jan. 9, CNN was still pushing the helpful message that somehow Dean is a political moderate. Reporter Kelly Wallace insisted that putting the Vermonter on the left is a "misperception ... Those who know him well say Governor Howard Dean was no left-wing liberal." Wallace further stated that Dean's biggest critics were "not Republicans, but left-leaning Democrats who sometimes found him too conservative."