The term “media narrative” is often used to mean a recurring motif that the media become obsessed with, and seek to superimpose over whatever facts may come their way. Suppose, for instance, that journalists take note that a few high school seniors have painted their noses green. It might then become the media narrative that high school seniors in general paint their noses green. The media will then seek out and report on such students, and more or less ignore those students who have painted their noses other colors.
For the past couple of years, a prominent media narrative has been that the economy is in terrible shape (true enough) and that the president’s only making it worse (not quite true enough). It’s also a media narrative that the president has been steadily losing favor among the public; and therefore the media report all polls that show him taking a nosedive in popularity, while generally ignoring those that show his approval rising – and there have indeed been some.
Which brings us to this messy midterm election we’ve just survived. For months leading up to it, the narrative was that there was an “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republicanoid voters. And you know what? This was one case in which the media narrative was pretty much right on target.
Republcanoids, heavily stoked on tea, were all fired up to vote because they were “angry” at President Obama. But there’s really nothing new about such “anger”. Republicanoids these days are routinely “angry” at any non-Repubicanoid, no matter what he or she does. For the past 30 years or so (roughly since the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan), the Republicanoid narrative has been “This is OUR country, and WE have a divine right to rule it; and if one of THEM gets elected instead, then THEY are stealing OUR country, and WE will take it back.” (And anyone who questions this sentiment is being “arrogant”.) Granted, the “anger” this time was more intense than usual. Democrats often account for this by pointing out that this non-Republicanoid’s skin is darker than usual, but maybe that’s just coincidence. Maybe the “anger” just ripens with age, like cheese. What we do know is that it’s not really rooted in his job performance, because the rage was turned in his direction as soon as he claimed victory on election night.
In any case, there is a saturation point beyond which more “anger” doesn’t really produce more votes; it just makes the “angry” voters punch their ballots a little harder. In order to have a significant “enthusiasm gap”, there has to be an enthusiastic complacency on the other side. And lo and behold, there was.
Democrats seemed bound and determined to sit it out this time around. They were disgruntled with the president, and with Congress, and their way of showing disgruntlement with their elected representatives is usually to withhold their votes so someone even worse will get elected. (That’ll teach those politicians!) If Democrats have a narrative, it might be “Let’s move this firing squad into a circle.”
And what was the reason for this disgruntlement? The same as it ever is: they did not feel that the president had lived up to party expectations. In other words, he was too conservative. And they had plenty of reason to feel this way: for instance, the kowtowing to corporate interests by emasculating the healthcare bill, the support for offshore drilling, the continuing Afghan imbroglio, the opposition to gay marriage, and many other issues made the president look more like a Republicanoid than a Democratite. And to their credit, the media actually reported the disappointment among the president’s supporters because of these stances.
But what a difference a day makes. Within hours of the election outcomes becoming apparent, the old media narrative was abruptly buried, and a new one took its place: the midterms were a slap in the face from the electorate for being “too librul”. (This in spite of the fact that the election results were not quite as severe as projected; the Democrats retained control of the Senate, and Californians seemed not to have received their voting instructions from the media at all.) Right on cue, the punditocracy began to hail the results as an indication that the president needs to “shift to the right”. (His supporters might answer that they’re just saying that because they know that if he moves any farther right, he’ll fall off his seat.)
So, to recap:
1. The media predict certain results, based on the perception that the president is “too conservative”.
2. Those results come to pass, though not to the degree expected.
3. Those results are then touted as proof that the president is “too liberal”.
Such are the logic and consistency of spin and media narrative.