Although my recent post, “How the media cover outrage: The OOOOOPSI Model,” got a lot of favorable coverage, one recurring criticism was that I was actually too kind to American mainstream media. Where do I get the crazy idea that the pendulum swings back, and that the media actually grow introspective and apologize?
I don’t think the media usually goes back to say they unfairly overstated on side of the debate. Did that happen with gun control, amnesty, the “shutdown” of the federal government? Did any of them apologize to Ted Cruz or Rand Paul for their portrayals of their filibusters?
Of course they didn’t. But since I am no longer a member of the media, I can afford to be introspective and admit that I left out an important caveat for the OOOOOPSI Model:
The media apologize only when the battle is won.
As long as the issue is still “live,” as long as the battle is still joined, the pendulum will not swing. There is too much cultural momentum from the forces of opposition (that’s the third “O”) for that to happen.
The pendulum swing of 1993
I know I’m showing my age here, but the first example that comes to mind is the Dan Quayle/Murphy Brown dustup of 1992.
In May 1992, Dan Quayle gave a speech in Calfornia, decrying the decay of the American family as a catalyst for the recent riots in Los Angeles. As an aside, he mentioned the popular TV show “Murphy Brown,” saying, “It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice.’”
The Hollywood-fueled backlash was intense. It matted not the content of Quayle’s speech, or his meaning, or even if he was in any way “correct.” He had criticized a beloved television show character, and he would be roundly ridiculed for doing so. Then, the coup de grâce from “Murphy Brown” itself:
“The 1992–93 (‘Murphy Brown’) season premiere, ‘You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato,’ … the television characters reacted to Quayle’s comments and produced a special episode of ‘FYI’ showcasing and celebrating the diversity of the modern American family. Because Quayle’s actual speech made little reference to Murphy Brown’s fictional nature (other than the use of the word ‘character’), the show was able to use actual footage from his speech to make it appear that, within the fictional world of the show, Quayle was referring to Murphy Brown personally, rather than to the fictional character. At the end, Brown helps organize a special edition of FYI focusing on different kinds of families then arranges a retaliatory prank in which a truckload of potatoes is dumped in front of Quayle’s residence.” via Wikipedia
Ha ha ha, of course. Confusing the person with the caricature is a great tactic if you can get away with it. And with a clueless entertainment-driven populace, you can get away with it, if Tina Fay’s imitation of Sarah Palin is any indication.
So, Bush/Quayle lost by a landslide in November, although let’s face it, they were toast for a number of other reasons, anyway.
Because of the momentum of the battle, the OOOOPSI pendulum couldn’t swing until after the November 1992 election. The cynic would say that’s because the media was in the bag for the Clintons, but I would also say that the typical horse-race coverage of the national media prevents deep thought on the issues. Everything is shock and awe. Of course, maybe those are two sides of the same coin.
Regardless, months after the election, and months after it would have really mattered, The Atlantic finally completed the OOOOOPSI Model loop and published its famous “Dan Quayle Was Right” cover story.
Why did the national media need almost a full year to come to that conclusion, which only required someone to read the content of the actual speech?
Simple. The media apologize only when the battle is won.