Holmes: Misguided resentment and the media chorus

Rick Holmes

The six-month run from Iowa to Montana was probably good for Democrats. They built organizations and grabbed voter interest in all 50 states. If Barack Obama was battered by the hard-fought campaign, he enters the next round battle-tested.

But the long campaign was definitely good for the cable news channels. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all saw their ratings go up with each primary Tuesday and adjusted their coverage accordingly. As the end neared, CNN and MSNBC even carried live coverage of the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee, unprecedented even on C-Span.

In the process, the cable commentators became inescapable. They are the Greek chorus of our political dramas: Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos.

Each anchor has a large supporting cast of consultants and commentators. In classical theater, the chorus hovers away from the action and follows the script. The modern cable TV chorus crowds the stage and never shuts up.

So it's not surprising that the commentators get in the way of the actors. Sometimes they get confused with the actors.

In the last throes of Hillary Clinton's campaign, she and her supporters complained loudly that sexism spoiled the contest. Some are still so upset at the lack of "respect" shown Clinton that they vow to vote for John McCain in November.

As Clinton wrapped up her campaign Saturday, you could almost hear the chorus: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me."

Sorry, I don't know what it means when a candidate demands "respect" in political discourse. Does it mean no one can satirize her wardrobe, her appearance, her voice - since her gender is involved in all three? If it's a female candidate, words like "whine" and "shrill" are off-limits?

No candidate can expect that kind of deference from the army of commentators, firebrands, journalists and comedians who make up the Greek chorus. And the women politicians I respect wouldn't demand such special treatment.

It is too little noted that when asked for examples of sexism in the campaign, none come from Obama or his team. The closest I've heard is that there was a condescending inflection in his voice when Obama said, "you're likable enough" in a New Hampshire debate.

But there are plenty of examples of offensive comments made by talking heads on cable TV like Chris Matthews, Pat Buchanan and Sean Hannity. String them all together and it looks pretty bad, at least until you put those snippets into the context of the thousands and thousands of hours of commentary that didn't push those gender buttons.

It should also be noted that the comments of commentators don't seem to sway many voters. The conservative talk-radio chorus spent months denouncing McCain in four-part harmony, but he still won the GOP nomination.

No doubt gender bias steered some voters away from Clinton. But if the media were stirring up misogynist sentiment, you'd likely see it in the votes of uneducated men in places like West Virginia. Hillary beat Obama in that state by better than two-to-one.

The cable commentators are, like the judges on "American Idol," part of the entertainment. They don't have a vote, and sometimes the voters decide to disagree - remember how long Sanjaya lasted? - but what Simon Cowell says can infuriate the fans of the contestant he's criticizing.

Maybe some people voted for Sanjaya expressly because the judges had been so mean to him. But for Democratic women to vote for John McCain because Chris Matthews made sexist comments makes no sense.

If they succeeded, McCain would be in the White House, among other things driving a stake through the heart of Roe v. Wade. And Matthews would still be on MSNBC saying obnoxious things. That wouldn't make any Clinton supporter feel better.

Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@cnc.com.