What happened? Gov. Dean started 2003 with little name recognition and even less campaign funding. Through the summer he spread the old familiar theme of power to the people, mostly through the Internet, and Americans by the hundreds of thousands responded with their support and dollars. We wanted to take our country and the Democratic Party back.
Then in late 2003, the media, which had anointed Dean as the front runner, started to attack him. By the time of the Iowa caucuses, the polls showed him plummeting and the media's new darling, Senator John Kerry, soaring.
Kerry's remarkable overnight turnaround even surprised the candidate himself who gleefully declared he was the "Comeback Kerry."
Meanwhile, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C., which conducts scientific studies of the news media, was monitoring the nightly network news broadcasts that are the source of news and information for most Americans. The results of the CMPA study, released January 15, 2004, revealed that Gov. Dean received significantly more negative criticism on the network broadcasts while his Democratic presidential competitors received significantly more positive comments. The research examined 187 stories broadcast on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news in 2003. Only 49 percent of all on-air evaluations of Gov. Dean in 2003 were positive while the other Democratic contenders received 78 percent favorable coverage.
In a follow-up study by CMPA, of the network coverage of the candidates from January 1 to January 18, the night before the Iowa caucuses, revealed that the networks selected Kerry and Senator John Edwards before the Iowa voters did. As you may recall, Kerry finished first with 38% of the vote; Edwards ranked second just below Kerry with 32%; and Dean managed only a poor third with 18% of the vote. During the two-and-a-half week period leading up to the Iowa caucuses, there had not been a single negative word uttered about Edwards by the three networks (100% favorable coverage) while nearly all, 96% of the comments about Kerry were positive. However, Gov. Dean's coverage during those first 18 days of January was significantly less glowing with 42% unfavorable on-air evaluations.
What happened in the campaign that inspired the media to turn on Dean and throw their support to uninspiring Kerry? A clue may be found in a story published in the Washington Post on November 19, 2003. The Post reported: "In an interview Monday night [ll/17/03], Dean unveiled his idea to 're-regulate' utilities, large media companies and businesses offering employee stock options. He also favors broad protections for workers including the right to unionize."
Also on November 19, the Associated Press reported, "Dean, the former Vermont governor, said Tuesday that if elected president, he would move to re-regulate business sectiors such as utilities and media companies to restore faith after corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom."
Dean's idea of re-regulating two out-of-control business sectors produced criticism from some of his competitors and surely struck a raw nerve within monopolistic utilities and mega-media companies. I believe Dean's progressive attack on monopolies helps explain why the corporate media started piling on Dean, portraying him with the pejorative term of the angry candidate..
But while this helps explain why the media went after Dean, it doesn't explain why they suddenly anointed Kerry as their Golden Boy. However, it would appear that Kerry would not post a threat to corporate America while Dean would.