Commentary: Karl Rove sinks to a new low
We have just witnessed a sad example of how the politics of hate works _ how media manipulators who specialize in attack-politics succeed in getting the most clue-lite players in the news media to do their dirty work for them.
Yes, we are talking today about Karl Rove.
The conservative Republican strategist is so good at his craft that he was able to get even George W. Bush elected and re-elected - first as Texas governor, then as president. So you'd think by now the media's deciders would be wise to his ways.
Rove's specialty, as many fellow Republicans acknowledge, is the politics of character destruction - defeating by demonizing. Creating a buzz that works its way into the heads of ordinary folks.
Here, step-by-step, is how Rove just did it again.
One: Speaking to a friendly audience of business elites, Rove launched a discussion about how Hillary Clinton, if she runs for president, must discuss health problem she suffered in 2012, when she fainted, suffered a concussion and a blood clot.
Two: Rupert Murdoch's tabloid New York Post was tipped to Rove's comments and ran them, beneath a sensationalized stretch of a headline: "Karl Rove: Hillary may have brain damage." It quoted Rove as claiming Clinton was hospitalized for 30 days - wrong, she was only hospitalized three days.
Three: Rove then gave a series of interviews to say he never really used the headline's words - but then continued pushing the idea that she had suffered a "serious health episode" she must discuss.
Four: Over at CNN, the deciders for anchor Jake Tapper's show went with the topic, big-time. CNN booked its conservative and liberal "Crossfire" hosts to analyze this non-event that really was not yet news. CNN's designated analyst said exactly what I was thinking:
"I think it is the worst kind of Republican consultant behavior - to get into this kind of personal negative attack ... that represents the worst kind of modern politics."
Here you might be surprised to know that this wasn't the liberal pundit - it was the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yes, the conservative who was known for his own style of attack politics. Even Gingrich thought Rove went way too far. "I would urge every Republican: don't touch it, don't get near it," Gingrich said.
That should have been the quick end of it. But no. Anchor Tapper pressed on, asking a series of what he called "devil's advocate" questions. How serious was her injury? How about those eyeglasses she wore for days to correct double vision? Tapper's show was now giving airtime to what would have been no story at all _ without Rove's overreach.
Other news organizations, especially in print, exercised varying degrees of restraint. The Washington Post fell into Rove's trap, running inside an article headlined: "Clinton's health, age will be a campaign issue." (Never mind that we don't really know it will.) The New York Times smartly ignored the whole shebang. Interestingly, McClatchy noted the contretemps while putting it into perspective by contrasting Rove's spin with that of another conservative who knows Clinton well. Correspondent William Douglas's article began: "Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., admits that he's no doctor - and doesn't play one on TV - but he thinks that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks perfectly fine to him."
But in the end, it was CNN that gave Rove his greatest message-creating victory _ the gift of what the TV insiders call wallpaper. Even as Gingrich and others spoke, CNN did what television networks often do _ it ran and reran old videos of Clinton looking unsteady on the day she left the hospital. And Clinton wearing those glasses at a House hearing on Benghazi.
So, the bottom line was that, even as he was being ridiculed in some Grand Old Party circles, Rove achieved his ultimate goal of creating a new buzz. Even though nothing new had happened.
Ronald Reagan's late media mastermind, Michael Deaver, achieved fame _ and became the de facto executive producer of the nightly TV news _ by creating compelling picture opportunities the networks couldn't resist airing to leave viewers with a lasting impression.
As a Deaver associate once explained to me: When a journalist's tough words are saying one thing, but the pictures on the screen are portraying another, "our pictures will drown out your words, every time."