Jonah Goldberg

Ironically, Kerry's role model for this campaign - intentionally or otherwise - is President Bush's father. If you recall, the Bush campaign of 1988 was not exactly freighted with policy substance. There was the Pledge of Allegiance, a lot of flags, and some third-party ads about Willie Horton. It was only Michael Dukakis' profound ineptitude that won the Republicans a third straight term in the White House. Bush could claim a lot of experience, as Kerry does, but he needed to stay fairly vague on the issues. After all, he didn't want to disagree with Reagan, even though he was promising to be "kinder and gentler."

In broad strokes, Kerry campaign's strategy is strikingly similar. He wrapped himself in his medals and his band-of-brothers the way Papa Bush wrapped himself in the American flag. The differences are telling, however. For one thing, Bush's strategy relied on friendlier local media instead of the national news outlets. Another difference: The national press complained bitterly about Bush's strategy, both during the campaign and after he won.

With Kerry, however, the national press was perfectly willing to let him sail into the Oval Office on his metaphorical swiftboat, never explaining the grotesque inconsistencies, flip-flops, waffles and panders that have punctuated his otherwise perfectly liberal record. In August, during the whole Swiftboat Vet brouhaha, the only "journalist" who managed to fire off a substantive factual question about Vietnam at Kerry was Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Were it not for the real alternative media, Kerry's game plan probably would have worked. Were it not for the tenacious attention of blogs like Instapundit and the Belmont Club, and for the mavericks of the conservative media, this story might never have made it onto the radar. For example, Alison Mitchell, the New York Times deputy national editor, admitted in Editor and Publisher, "I'm not sure that in an era of no-cable television we would even have looked into [the swiftboat story]." I'm sure that's true.

What remains to be seen is they've learned their lesson, or if I'll be writing media bias columns for years to come.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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