So powerful are the media that they have been referred to as the fourth branch of government. Indeed, they can make or break reputations. Example: when former Vice President Dan Quayle misspelled “potato” by adding an “e,” the press magnified and harped on the incident so much that Quayle never escaped the general perception that he was a light-weight. By contrast, when Barack Obama stated earlier this year that he had visited 57 states, the media glossed over the gaffe, sparing Obama the Quayle treatment. Double standard, anyone?
At times, the media’s power goes to their head. When Sarah Palin was picked by John McCain as his vice-presidential candidate, several of the most prominent commentators in the D.C.-NYC media elite pouted and were superciliously dismissive toward Palin. How dare McCain pick someone who had never been on “Meet the Press!” One famous female commentator was so upset that she called the choice of Palin “insulting to women.” The onslaught of nasty comments about Sarah Palin has already begun.
One of the most flagrant abuses of media power was their coverage of the Vietnam War. The media convinced many Americans (including me) that the United States was defeated militarily. Only after the war did I learn that the famous North Vietnamese “Tet offensive” of 1968 was a major defeat for the North, yet U.S. journalists made it seem like a U.S. loss. Years later, North Vietnamese General Giap’s memoirs explained how his side’s eventual victory was won in the American media, not on the battlefield.