How to Help the Media Undo the Blue Wave - or Not

There’s no doubt about it now: November 6th gave us a blue wave. And the more the votes are counted, the bluer it gets.

From local races to state legislatures, to gubernatorial and state-wide office flips, to unprecedented gains in the US House, to progressive ballot initiatives around the nation, the increased voter turnout reminds us again that what has been called “leftist” by an influential right-wing machine is actually centrist American with overwhelming popular support.

So much of mainstream corporate media prefers not to analyze it that way because it wants to play up some sort of viewer-attention-getting battle between extremes. The media has accepted as given what playwright Tony Kushner observed years ago:

"The terms of the national debate have subtly, insidiously shifted. What used to be called liberal is now called radical; what used to be called radical is now called insane. What used to be called reactionary is now called moderate, and what used to be called insane is now called solid conservative thinking.”

This media wants to keep the very lucrative fight going as it did the whole Trump phenomenon. It will hardly admit that this midterm election turned into a major statement about the country, much less that it was a blue wave.

More than that, it was a women’s, a progressive, and a rainbow wave with more examples than we can recount here. As a rainbow wave, Michelangelo Signorile points out that there was not only “a record number of LGBTQ candidates elected in races across the country ― over 150 at last count. But on the other side of the coin, many ardent homophobes and anti-gay candidates were taken down too.” 

There were new and diverse faces in the fight, often younger than old-school Democrats. Many won and some lost, but those who lost as well helped create a movement for change.

Instead of focusing on and analyzing the reality of this wave, this media has quickly turned to doing two things it does regularly – talking about the Democrats in disarray and focusing its attention and punditry on what the Democrats might or might do when they take over the house. Sadly, Democrats are out there getting media attention by feeding this scheme.

Democrats who are cooperating with the media in this are taking the first step in drying up the blue wave and its potential to continue into 2020. And the Republicans know this because they know better how to manipulate the media to adopt Republican framing of issues.

I’m not sure why Democrats, especially their leaders, continually do this. Ego stroking? Personal media attention? Self-promoting? Lack of the ability to message discipline? Maybe all of these and more?

But it’s become a Democratic pattern to stand before media to air dirty laundry instead of working together behind the scenes to work out differences, to compromise, and then, when it’s effective, act. It’s like a triangulation where instead of spending time with those with whom you disagree, you seek affirmation from gathering a broader audience.

Take Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi standing together publicly to critique Maxine Waters, or senator Kristen Gillibrand lining up others in a public press conference to call Al Franken to resign. Why do this publicly even if they’re right unless it’s about personal media attention on a national stage – egos and future careers being stroked by the public display?

Whether or not the grandstanders were righteous (or self-righteous) in their cause, these public floggings do nothing but hurt their party and play into Republican critiques. They enforce negative images of the Democratic Party by denying them – you know, as linguist George Lakoff regularly points out: “when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.”

Instead of forcing the media to admit that these November midterms were a popular shellacking of the Republicans by repeating something like “Because this was such a blue tsunami, everything is on the table,” they’re talking about who will be the next speaker of the house or what and how much will be investigated, or whether they will impeach Trump. And it’s easy and seducing enough for the rest of us to get caught up in these discussions on social media.

Democrats can keep the blue wave going if they control the media’s frame. They must do it against all the odds of a mainstream media that is going to work against them – yes, even MSNBC.

In every answer to every question they should at least begin by enforcing the narrative of a blue wave: “Because this was such a blue tsunami.” And then they should stop talking about what they will or will not do but rather keep everyone who is watching them as well as Republican leadership on the defense – “Everything is on the table.”

When any of us face the media, we can work not to be its enablers as well. Let’s learn from watching Democrats start to undo the position they've gained:

  •         Reframe every question media and others ask. Remember that we don’t have to answer their questions the way they put them.
  •        Don’t reinforce accusations by denial.
  •       Use what George Lakoff calls the truth sandwich to speak about those against us.
  •       Never feel guilty about repeating your points over and over again. Repetition is crucial.
  •       Don’t assume that they will “get it” if you just keep explaining.
  •       Don’t triangulate with the media. Talk with each other, not the media about ongoing discussions and disagreements.
  •       Don’t talk about what you’re going to do or how you’re going to set up some committee to think about it – just do it when it’s time.
  •      Be bold in descriptions of any plans – don’t look uncertain. Any plans can change later.
  •       And sometimes just shut up.


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