In retrospect, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats' senseless attempt to shut down the federal government over DACA was doomed from the start.
But only a week ago, it was easy to see Schumer’s political calculus: tie DACA to a critical spending bill, and when Republicans balked, blame President Trump, and let the media do its usual hatchet job on the White House.
They almost succeeded, too. #TrumpShutdown was the number one trending hashtag worldwide Friday night, and it looked as if the media’s habit for blaming President Trump for every single governmental mishap, dysfunction, and failure might assert itself as usual.
But then, something special happened: The press actually did its job.
Even if reporters didn’t outright call out the Democrats’ gambit for what it was – an ill advised and poorly planned political stunt – they fairly and evenhandedly managed to report the facts. The New York Times’ push notification read “Senate Democrats blocked passage of a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open.” The Associated Press wrote, “Senate Democrats derail bill to avert shutdown.” For the most part, even Trump-obsessed CNN managed to resist their seemingly relentless temptation to savage the president whenever remotely possible.
The level of scorn, ridicule, and skepticism applied by the press to Schumer’s shutdown gambit didn’t remotely rise to the levels of fury and adversity with which pundits, reporters, and talking heads treat Republicans on a daily basis, but nonetheless: Seeing the media commit itself to plainly stating the facts and resisting its usual role as the Democrats' built-in spin machine was genuinely refreshing.
And it drove Democrats crazy. MSNBC host Joy Reid – who has a reputation for being at odds with the truth – opined that there’s "nothing so predictable as media spin in favor of Republicans,” and in response to the New York Times’ coverage, former Obama official and current Obama nostalgia bro Dan Pfeiffer tweeted at the paper to “do better.”
Democrats love to pretend that the media doesn’t routinely shield them from inconvenient truths. But the freak-out that ensured the second that shield was removed exposed just how badly they rely on positive press coverage to accomplish their political goals.
In an attempt to explain the media’s sudden shift toward fair coverage, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center is quoted in Politico as saying, “…the press is dealing with a high level of complexity here.”
But there’s nothing complex about it. Without a thoughtful strategy or significant leverage, the Democrats shut down the government over DACA and caved when their allies in the press decided not to shill for them this time.
It’s hard to overstate just how much of the Democrats’ strategy relies on the media covering for them – and just how quickly that strategy falls apart when the media doesn’t play ball.
Fair coverage is a low bar, but it’s important to give credit where credit is due, and so hopefully this isn’t the last time the press follows through on its commitment to put the facts first.
Dylan Gallimore is the Content Manager at Republican consulting firm Jamestown Associates.
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