Topic: Media

The Dean Scream Mugging
(2/11/2004)

It sure is nice of CNN to admit that the network, like the rest of the broadcast media, overdid its coverage of Howard Dean's now infamous primal scream in Iowa, now that the damage is done and the former Vermont governor's campaign lies in ruins. Arguably it only accelerated the inevitable, but the collective efforts of just about everyone with access to the videotape to make Dean look like raving fool had significant impact on the candidate nominating process, and saying sorry now just isn't sufficient.

The damage is done, and somehow one doubts that CNN would have behaved any differently had the unfairness of it all had occurred to it while the savaging of Dean was rampant. No, CNN, like Fox and NBC and the countless radio talk shows, probably knew it was unfair and excessive to play the tape ad nauseum, making one isolated incident of a candidate pushing too hard to overcome the gloom of defeat look like the antics of a lunatic. But it couldn't let itself take a principled stand while everyone else was getting so much mileage out of ridiculing Dean. That would have taken courage and the ethical conviction that doing harm to someone just to score a few ratings points is wrong. Besides, it was so much fun! Newly minted Fox talk show host Dennis Miller had a button installed on his desk that emitted the sound of Dean's war cry every time his chimpanzee partner (we're not kidding) banged on it, which was, oh, maybe 200 times. Radio pundit Laura Ingaham alternated Dean's scream with the sound of a donkey braying. David Letterman's gag tape showing Dean's head exploding at the peak of his rant and Jay Leno's skit in which Dean was trussed up like Hannibal Lector were played on the news reports, where they don't belong.

The ridicule was pervasive and ubiquitous, and continued for a week. What public figure could hold on to any shred of dignity under such an assault? The media became the news. Fifteen seconds of intemperate oratory from an exhausted and disappointed candidate, pitched to a crowd of supporters who appreciated it, was repeated in the manner of brain-washing techniques until it was the only thing anyone could remember about Dean.

So, behaving like the drunk who awakens with a hang-over and the realization that he urinated in the punch-bowl, CNN says it is sorry.

We will see whether CNN, or anyone else, will remember this incident (which, it must be emphasized, has had an impact on how America will choose its president) when the next piece of juicy video comes along. Our recommendation: don't drink the punch.

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