I have always been weary of the whine regarding the purported “liberal media”; having won 60% of presidential elections over the last 40 years, near-complete dominance of the radio airwaves, and a cable news behemoth with ratings greater than the aggregate of both its nearest competitors, conservatives are hardly the most suppressed segment of our society. Yet even for a skeptic like me, MSNBC’s coverage of the Iowa caucuses was truly a sight to behold.
For starters, once it became apparent in recent days that Mitt Romney was at least charted for the top three—a squeaker of a victory or a third place finish in a closely bunched spread—”Hardball” host Chris Matthews began rallying to the defense of the bombarded Newt Gingrich. Matthews upbraided the insidious Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future at the close of his Monday broadcast, trumpeting the end of democracy as we know it with Newt Gingrich as the first slain giant.
Like Gingrich himself, he made no assertion that the content of anti-Gingrich advertisements was false. Nor did he document what, exactly, was “nasty” about the PAC advertisements. Matthews’ qualms were couched entirely in the advertisements’ funding apparatus (undercutting his very own argument by identifying Romney as the attributable candidate Restore Our Future supports). Were any viewers unaware that Restore Our Future is a pro-Romney Super PAC? If they were, Matthews certainly took care to remove all premise of anonymity. Problem solved.
But Matthews’ duty was not yet done. Once it became clear that the anti-Newt barrage was doing nothing to diminish Romney’s support in Iowa on Tuesday, Matthews took up the cause of giving a Gingrich attack line free air-time—quite a favor given Gingrich’s inability to afford a riposte on his own behalf. In Matthews’ hypothesis of the nominating contest going forward, he began echoing Gingrich’s recent charge that the Massachusetts state health law signed by Romney had provisions for state-funded abortion. No less than four times over the course of Tuesday’s broadcast, Matthews repeated various iterations of how an ennervated Gingrich would now fly to New Hampshire and South Carolina to warn them that Romney funded abortion at the state level as governor, energizing “the Pat Buchanan crowd” in the former and the southern evangelicals in the latter. Howard Fineman, nodding sagely in agreement, couldn’t help but concur, confirming the real threat now posed to Romney’s candidacy by the emergent Rick Santorum—just as he had done previously regarding Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and most recently, Gingrich himself.
There was another instance of strange bedfellows made Tuesday night: Ed Schultz waxed poetic about Santorum’s closing speech, praising it as a refreshing ode to the American working class before declaring Santorum’s retail politicking to be superior to that of President Obama. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton’s contribution to the evening consisted of declaring that every development somehow redounded to the president’s benefit, at one point declaring how worried the Romney camp should be given “the clear lack of enthusiasm among Iowans to remove the incumbent”. By the evening’s conclusion, the MSNBC narrative was clear: Romney was an insidious corporate toady whose chance at the nomination was quickly fading; Gingrich the beleaguered victim of the cruel underbelly of modern campaign finance, ready to expose the liberal governor’s pro-choice record; Santorum the only hope for a Republican Party looking to reconnect with Reagan Democrats; and the coming war involving the three would only help President Obama.
One can be forgiven for suspecting that the MSNBC crowd would prefer that President Obama not face the candidate universally considered to be the toughest challenge to his reelection. Could it be that the channel’s talent has decided to do its part to stop Romney at the gate? With an apparent move underway by movement conservatives to do the same, the thought isn’t entirely out of the question. Strange bedfellows, indeed.