The 2010 midterm elections will go down in history as a major grassroots rebellion against the liberal ruling class whose tax-and-spend remedies failed on every level of economic and fiscal policymaking. But the two-year campaign cycle we've just been through will also be remembered for something else: the liberal national news media and its allies' obsession with marginal, often irrelevant complaints to distract public attention from the issues that trouble most Americans.
Let's take these one at a time.
-- The Economy and unemployment: Is it just me, or did the nightly network news programs play down high unemployment throughout this campaign? In the 1981-'82 recession, the network news pounded President Reagan night after night, as the unemployment rate rose to 10.8 percent and critics said his tax cuts were not working. Stories on poverty and homelessness became a staple on the network news.
But the coverage of Obama's failed economic policies is softer and more sporadic, despite a weakening economy and very high unemployment. There has been a sharp rise in homelessness and poverty, but both issues have vanished from network reporting.
-- The cost of campaigns: It's in the billions, and this election has apparently broken all records, but so what? Barack Obama raised the bar on fundraising in his 2008 campaign by spending more than three quarters of a billion dollars, and 2012 will likely push the record even higher. Campaign advertising costs a lot because TV stations charge a lot to pay their big six-figure salaries. People give freely of their own money to the candidates of their choice, and that's where much if not most of the money comes from - it's called participatory democracy.
But the nightly news shows focused on big money raised by a few conservative groups, and corporate giving under a recent Supreme Court ruling that Obama tried to turn into a big issue when more than 20 million jobless or underemployed Americans were more worried about other things. The issue failed to gain any traction.-- Anger in American politics: Anger has become a bad thing in this election, at least the way the nightly news portrays it. They keep showing sound bites of voters yelling at Democratic candidates, or waving signs condemning Obama's policies, natural expressions of disapproval that are apparently over the top under the network news code.
The anger is generally associated in network newscasts with tea party activists, the civic-minded people who packed town halls in the summer of 2009 and 2010 "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." They have that right under the Constitution's Bill of Rights, something the networks seem to have forgotten.
Americans have good reason to be angry about how Obama and the Democrats in Congress have failed to turn the economy around in the past two years -- how they've piled up the two largest deficits in U.S. history, and enacted a costly health care system that will impose half a trillion dollars in higher taxes on businesses and millions of Americans in the midst of a brutal, jobless recession.
While political expressions of anger are as old as the American Revolution, our politics are somewhat more civil nowadays. Still, a little shouting, booing and fist-shaking now and then is a good thing, if only to get the attention of our elected representatives, who seem to have forgotten who they work for and who sent them here.
-- Ignoring why policies fail: After covering elections for nearly 40 years, I've learned that campaign reporters do not like dealing with policies. The economy may be collapsing, businesses may be failing, the housing market may be in the tank, but they would rather report on a candidate's presumed gaffes, attack ads, a candidate who insists she is "not a witch" or how much money the Chamber of Commerce is raising to make its case to the voters.
Its chief flaw is the long lead-time it takes to get the money into the economy's bloodstream, and much of the so-called stimulus still won't be spent until next year. Many economists have criticized the plan and questioned whether it has had much of an impact at all, but their views are almost totally ignored on the nightly news.
Daily newspaper accounts have described the 1.7 percent to 2 percent economic growth rates under Obamanomics as "feeble" or "mediocre," but you don't hear such blunt descriptions of Obama's policies by the networks' White House correspondents.
The major networks of course are ideologically driven by their own liberal biases that influence the shape, tilt and spin of the news, but in the end, the voters are not fooled. They can see what's happening to the country and they recognize a cooked story when they hear it.