After a near-eternity of news coverage, the 2008 presidential campaign has entered the first phase when voters get a direct role. Along the way, one of the most fascinating aspects of the media behavior has been the dominant spin applied to the two candidates with an appreciable chance of becoming the Democratic nominee instead of Hillary Clinton.
For Barack Obama, the media ride has been fairly smooth. Like all candidates for high office, he has endured some cheap shots and ridiculous attempts to besmirch his character. But overall, the quantity and quality of the media coverage have overflowed with positive imagery and fountains of praise.
Not so with John Edwards.
The former senator can certainly be faulted for bringing some of his media difficulties on himself. The overpriced, $400 haircut was worthy of little more than a passing news item. But building a new house with 28,000 square feet was not an exemplary move for an eloquent anti-poverty champion. And, more importantly, Edwards’ hedge-fund involvement had a bad smell.
However, the main causes of John Edwards’ biggest problems with the media establishment have been related to very important matters. And none has been more pivotal than his firm stand for economic justice instead of corporate power.
When the Gannett-chainowned Des Moines Register opted to endorse Clinton this time around, the newspaper’s editorial threw down the corporate gauntlet: “Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination. But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.”
To a significant degree, the media establishment has soured on Edwards because of what – viewed through the windows of news-executive suites – appears to be “harsh anti-corporate rhetoric.” As a result, we’re now in the midst of a classic conflict between corporate media sensibilities and grassroots left-leaning populism.
Economic distress and resentment of corporate power have often drawn voters into either progressive politics or xenophobic displacement of anger so that it’s focused on immigration. In major news outlets, many commentators seem more disturbed by calls for economic democracy than by scapegoating of “illegal immigration.”
Ironically, as the calendar turned to a new year and Edwards was being hammered by a new round of media accusations that he has become too anti-corporate, some delayed provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. “After 15 years of gradual phasing in, the deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico reaches full implementation today when Mexico lifts the remaining tariffs on beans, corn, sugar and powdered milk,” the San Antonio Express-News reported on Jan. 1.
The newspaper added: “NAFTA brought industrial investment and jobs to Mexico, but the deal did little to improve life in the Mexican countryside. There are notable exceptions, such as the avocado-exporting farmers of western Mexico, but cash crops often have to be illegal if farmers expect a profit. That was true well before NAFTA, as Mexico’s main agricultural export has always been its farmers. But the free trade agreement’s full implementation will only exacerbate Mexico’s rural exodus, experts said.”
And, the Express-News reported: “Thousands more will be driven to look for nonexistent work in infrastructure-strained cities or seek illegal escapes such as sneaking to the United States or becoming part of Mexico’s booming narcotics industry.”
As it happens, John Edwards is the only presidential candidate with significant poll numbers who is a strong critic of NAFTA and other so-called “free trade” agreements. That position fits into a broader Edwards outlook that is, indeed, “anti-corporate” – if, by corporate, we mean giving higher priority to the profits of corporations than to the wellbeing of workers and their families on any side of national borders.
For the rest of his presidential run this year, Edwards can expect a lot of media hostility to his stance against undue corporate power.
©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.