The corporate media is great at convincing Democrats to throw their money at long-shot candidates running against high-profile Republicans. Beltway consultants are happy to parachute in, pocket the cash, and move onto their next slide deck. Tuesday’s results illustrated this clearly.
For journalists, long-shot Democratic candidates who happen to be telegenic or interesting accomplish two goals. First and foremost, they’re good for business, offering opportunities for outlets to build compelling underdog narratives with clear-cut villains and heroes. Second, they cause problems for Republicans, particularly those Republicans most vilified by the corporate press.
In the service of achieving these two goals, boosting business and settling scores, corporate media members convince Democrats hoping to make a difference they should send their hard-earned money to candidates like Amy McGrath. In her bid to unseat Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., McGrath raised $88 million, spent more than $73 million, and lost by more than 20 points. (McConnell raised and spent much less.)
Nevertheless, corporate media spent the cycle showering McGrath in flattery and invitations to appear in national coverage, boosting a false narrative that McConnell was vulnerable, which helped McGrath fundraise and helped consultants make good money off a long-shot race. Nearly 60 percent of the money McGrath raised came from small individual contributions of less than $200.
Over in South Carolina, Jamie Harrison benefitted from this same pattern of behavior. Harrison raised more than $100 million in his bid to defeat Sen. Lindsey Graham, “a staggering sum that allowed him to blanket South Carolina airwaves for months,” The Post and Courier wrote. Among the polls collected by Real Clear Politics, Harrison never lead Graham in a single survey, and the popular incumbent ultimately prevailed by 10 points.
In Texas, M.J. Hegar, who benefitted from attention in glossy magazines like Rolling Stone and Elle, hauled in a “late Democratic spending surge,” allowing her to put more money into television than Sen. John Cornyn over a one-month period just before the election. She also lost by 10 points.
Grabien made a compilation video of the media boosting McGrath and Harrison, really putting the problem into perspective. You can see how they salivate at both the prospect of irking McConnell and Graham and the prospect of constructing an underdog narrative. In the process, they helped the consultant class that pitches them stories and convinced viewers to light their money on fire.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) November 5, 2020
Bad polling is responsible for some of this problem, falsely legitimizing the hopes of eager journalists. Then again, it’s a journalist’s responsibility to shrewdly assess the validity of polling data, precisely to avoid misleading potential donors and voters. This is a not currently a strength of our corporate media.
It’s true, Beto O’Rourke came close to Sen. Ted Cruz and Jon Ossoff didn’t do so poorly against Sen. David Perdue. Underdog stories are not universally laughable. But a lot of Democrats are clearly media creations, and ultimately serve outlets and the consultant class much more than voters.
“This is going to be a blockbuster race,” NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt tweeted on July 9, 2019, reacting to news that McGrath would be challenging McConnell. GOP strategist Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to McConnell, pushed back, pointing back to the failed race run by Alison Lundergan Grimes.
If, Holmes argued, “we define blockbuster by the amount of attention it gets from national media,” then Hunt might be correct. She disagreed, contending that “Grimes and McGrath are completely different candidates.” Grimes lost by 15 points. McGrath lost by 20.