How the GOP and conservative media blew it on the fiscal cliff crisis

We need to get this to the Fiscal Cliff! What ...

We need to get this to the Fiscal Cliff! What could go wrong? (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

The deal as it is on the fiscal cliff, approved by the Senate on January 1, 2013 and likely to be approved by the House, was inevitable.

A strategist with a keen sense of how to play into the momentum generated by mainstream media on major policy issues could see the deal coming and plan accordingly.

President Barack Obama deftly played into the momentum.

Republican politicians, commentators and other antagonists did not.

And, until the GOP and conservative commentators master the communications game of playing into mainstream media momentum instead of being critics of the intentions of Democrats and mainstream media, they will not be able to significantly influence major policy outcomes.

Typical of the angst of the GOP about the position of President Obama on the fiscal cliff crisis is the post by Joel B. Pollak, in entitled: “Media Must Share Blame for Fiscal Cliff Crisis,” in which he argued the following conservative position:

As Americans ponder how our politicians could have allowed “fiscal cliff” negotiations to drag on into the final day, it is clear that the mainstream media shares a significant part of the blame. There is no way that the impasse could have lasted this long if President Barack Obama felt a sense of responsibility to lead his government and his party–but instead he is able to enjoy the role of critic and spectator, thanks to media indulgence.

The media’s utter failure to hold President Obama to account was exemplified today on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in a report by Steve Inskeep and Scott Horsley. After the hosts mocked Congress for having “left another crisis to the last minute,” they discussed, without criticism, how Obama “doesn’t sound that worried” about going over the cliff. Likewise, the New York Daily News wrote: “Congress created the fiscal cliff.”


It was not, as Pollak argued, media indulgence.

It was classic media agenda setting.

There is a fundamental reality regarding the influence of mass media in setting the agenda and influencing the direction of major policy issues. It was expressed by Professor Maxwell McCombs, 40 years ago in a scholarly article published in 1972, essentially as follows:

In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. * * * [T]he mass media may well determine the important issues—that is, the media may set the “agenda.”

IN OUR DAY, more than ever before, [politicians] go before the peo­ple through the mass media rather than in person. The informa­tion in the mass media becomes the only contact many have with politics. The pledges, promises, and rhetoric encapsulated in news stories, columns, and editorials constitute much of the information upon which a voting decision has to be made. Most of what people know comes to them “second” or “third” hand from the mass media or from other people.

READ MORE: “The Agenda Setting Function of Mass Media,” LINK:

In the debate regarding the fiscal cliff crisis, mainstream media did not indulge any party, any politicians or any biases. It simply read the election results, and framed its content accordingly.

A majority of American voters reelected President Obama. In doing so, they accepted the President’s vision that in order to address the fiscal crisis, revenues had to be raised by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Of course, the GOP opposed that vision, and opposed the President’s position on policy.

But, none of that was even remotely relevant to how mainstream media framed the issues and the talking points of the debate in its coverage, analysis and coverage of the fiscal cliff crisis. That content started the momentum, set the agenda and for all practical purposes influenced and even dictated the outcome.

Instead of attacking the President and the content of mainstream media coverage, conservative media should have directed its efforts to dissecting the issues and framing well written and persuasive content to cut into or slow down the momentum, and to give GOP politicians salient talking points that may have influenced policy outcomes instead of just making noise.

By spending time producing rhetoric instead of  salient content, conservative media did no more than to allow conservatives to be swept under the waves of mainstream media momentum, and to be shut down in the policy debate and the resulting fiscal cliff deal.

So for good of for naught, the deal on the fiscal cliff crises for all practical purposes is done.

On the fiscal cliff crisis, history will reflect that the GOP blew it, and that conservative media blew it.

Maybe the GOP will get its act together in enough time to make a difference in the policy debate on the next major policy issue and emerging fiscal crisis concerning the debt ceiling.