What DealerGate Says About the Conservative ‘Message’ Problem

Congratulations to Doug Ross and Joey Smith for aggressive research and reporting — the kind Matthew Yglesias says conservatives don’t have the skills to do — on the scandal Michelle Malkin calls “DealerGate.”

Did the administration purposefully use its bailout-acquired influence to put the squeeze on Republican auto dealerships? It doesn’t actually matter what the answer to that question is.

The point is, there was evidence to suggest that the Obama administration may have been wielding its economic power — gained at future taxpayers’ expense — to punish political enemies. The accusation was serious enough to call for very thorough reporting, but the major media tried to dismiss the accusation before actually doing the reporting. Malkin says:

Some professional journalists, however, have shown obstinate unwillingness to get to the bottom of the decision-making process.

Ask any good reporter. You get a tip that, if true, would be a big story, and so you check it out. I once spent two days in the Library of Congress trying to research such a lead. It didn’t pan out, but until you’ve done the research, you don’t know whether it’s a story or not.

When auto dealers first claimed they were targeted for political payback by the Obama administration, the claim was a fact in its own right. Think about Valerie Plame’s claim that she was “targeted” by the Bush administration, “outed” as a CIA operative. To this day, there is no conclusive evidence that this was the case (Robert Novak says it was not, and no one has contradicted his account). Yet the media made such a stink about the Plame accusation that a grand jury was convened and Scooter Libby was convicted of a “process” crime for making false statements to a federal investigator.

If Barney Frank told a reporter that he and John Cornyn had once had a one-night stand, the accusation itself would be a headline, even if Frank couldn’t produce any evidence to support his accusation. If Frank then handed the reporter a Las Vegas hotel bill and suggested that this was the time and place of his rendezvous with Cornyn, don’t you think the reporter would at least check Cornyn’s schedule to see if he had been in Vegas on that date?

At some point, you see this pattern of the media doing the Jedi mind trick — “This is not the scandal you were looking for” — often enough that you can no longer accept the protestations of good faith. When Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post sneers “oh, please” at the DealerGate accusations, he forfeits the good-faith defense against conservative claims of bias.

This is why I grow weary of “conservatives” criticizing Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and other talk radio guys. If those guys weren’t out there pounding away every day, it would be much easier for the MSM to ignore stories like this.

And this is also why I don’t want to hear any lectures from Michael Goldfarb about a deficit of “online partisan reporting.” If there is such a deficit, it’s because (a) almost nobody in the GOP knows anything about the news business; and (b) conservative donors are either unwilling to pay for reporting or don’t know who to hire to get the job done.

There are aggressive, smart conservative reporters out there — Josiah Ryan at CNSNews.com, for example, and Matthew Vadum, for another — and their work is routinely taken for granted by most Republican communications operatives. Instead, Nicolle Wallace shuts out conservative reporters and gives the first one-on-one exclusive interviews with Sarah Palin to Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric.

If I sound bitter about this, that’s because I am bitter about it. When I was at The Washington Times, one of my colleagues pointed out how the GOP and conservative organizations expected the newspaper to carry their water, but treated us like an ugly girlfriend they were ashamed to take to the prom.

Once, I wanted to cover a certain seminar hosted by a major conservative organization and one my bosses said, “Hell, no.” This kind of shocked me, and when I inquired why, this boss pointed to the line-up of speakers at the panel: A Washington Post columnist, a Weekly Standard editor, a National Review writer, and so on down the line.

“What? They couldn’t think to ask Tony Blankley or Don Lambro or Wes Pruden?” said this boss. “They’re not going to get jack from us, and if they ask, you tell ’em why.”

This is not an isolated incident, it’s a pattern that indicates a systemic flaw with the Right’s “message” operation. The major Republican Party committees — RNC, NRSC and NRCC — spent $792 million in the 2008 campaign cycle, much of it to pay salaries and fees to media/communications operatives. And what did they get for that money? (Crickets chirping.)

Personnel is policy, and the standard GOP policy is to entrust its media operation to party hack types who’ve never spent a day in a newsroom. And when the Coalition of the Clueless try to reverse-engineer what the Left is doing, you end up with a colossal waste of resources like Culture 11, which imploded like the Hindenburg at Lakehurst because it was entrusted to David Kuo, a Republican hack who couldn’t make a profit on the snowcone concession in Hell.

Like my grandma alway said, some people just got more money than they’ve got sense.

So Doug Ross and Joey Smith and guys like that do what they do, and Josiah Ryan and Matthew Vadum do what they do, and then one day it’s announced that the “Huffington Post of the Right” has been entrusted to an arrogant lightweight.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

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