Mainstream Media Swoon Over Rove’s Power Play

Karl Rove — chief political architect of George W. Bush’s presidency, the worst in modern history — is reentering frontline Republican Party politics. And the narrative-defining mainstream media have wasted no time in portraying Rove’s return as the most momentous development since Tiger Woods nearly re-mastered the Masters.

Yesterday, Politico, the go-to website for conventional political wisdom, featured the banner headline, “Karl Rove, Republican Party plot vast network to reclaim power.” In similarly breathless prose, Beltway bugler Mike Allen (whom the New York Times Magazinerecently crowned as “The Man the White House Wakes Up To”) reported “The Republican Party’s best-connected political operatives have quietly built a massive fundraising, organizing, and advertising machine based on the model assembled by Democrats early in the decade, and with the same ambitious goal — to recapture Congress and the White House. Two organizers of the Republican groups even made pilgrimages earlier this year to pick the brain of Jon Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who, in 2003, founded the Center for American Progress and was a major proponent of Democrats developing the kind of infrastructure pioneered by Republicans.” Jon, say it ain’t so!

To make sure readers are fully in awe of the great man, Politico found “one organizer” who quoted Rove thusly: “Karl has always said: ‘People call us a vast right-wing conspiracy, but we’re really a half-assed right-wing conspiracy.’ Now, he wants to get more serious.”

In his oddly titled book Courage and Consequences Rove spins a bizarro narrative of the Bush reign, in which W’s most disastrous decisions — Iraq, Katrina, torture, financial crisis, attorney general scandal — morph into virtuous acts of leadership, and any problems are the fault of the Left, liberals, Democrats or some variation thereof. To be fair, Rove agrees with at least one leading Democrat on at least one issue: Rove’s own genius. He claims that Bill Clinton, in the wake of the Republicans’ 2006 mid-term election drubbing — which W himself characterized by admitting “We got thumped” — told him that losing only 30 seats in the House and six Senate seats was evidence of “sheer genius.”

One doesn’t have to buy in to the deification of Rove — who also recently made news when he expressed reservations about the onerous new Arizona anti-immigration statute — to acknowledge just how effectively disingenuous he can be. Take the description in his book of the 2006 scandal in which Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) was brought down for sexual harassment of under-age House pages. The problem here, according to Rove, was really then-Democratic House whip (and current Obama chief of staff) Rahm Emanuel. Rove sets the stage with a cunning trifecta:

  1. Repeat a nasty rumor: “According to one report, Emanuel knew about the emails prior to their public disclosure.”
  2. Attribute a nasty motive to the alleged bad actor: “perhaps preferring to keep the emails for use as a campaign issue.”
  3. Explain the awful consequences of 1 and 2: “If true, Emanuel didn’t feel any moral requirement to keep his Republican colleague from preying on other innocent pages in the meantime.”
  4. Conclusion? “I believe Emanuel had a responsibility to report what he knew of Foley’s behavior immediately.”

That’s the kind of sleaziness that earns you the moniker “genius” in some American media circles.

In reality, there’s nothing surprising or awe-inspiring about Rove’s attempt to seize the day with this new fund-raising effort. What’s noteworthy, and tragic, is the way our most powerful media accept the spin. The Washington Post’s Steven Levingston, in his review of Courage and Consequences , waxed positively rhapsodic about Rove’s repositioning of the Katrina debacle: “Always thorough in his research and laser sharp as a tactician, Rove is able to turn even his administration’s mea culpas into rallying cries. Case in point: Bush’s infamous cheer of ‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!’ While this intemperate remark came to characterize Bush’s failure to comprehend the degree of misery caused by Hurricane Katrina, Rove puts it in a context that reveals the good heart that beat inside the president.”

Is there any doubt that outlets like Politico, the Washington Post and Mark Halperin’s The Page — which are supposed to exist to speak truth to power — will continue to portray Rove as a preternatural genius? With frenemies like these, who needs friends?

Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Crossposted from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on May 8, 2010
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About Michael Sigman

Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Prior to his current activities, Sigman was the president and publisher of LA Weekly, the nation’s largest alternative newsweekly, from 1990-2002. He joined LA Weekly in 1983 as general manager and was named publisher the following year.

Sigman was also the founding publisher of OC Weekly, sister paper to LA Weekly, when it was launched in 1995.

Prior to joining LA Weekly, Sigman was a music journalist, and served as a reporter, then managing editor, then editor-in-chief of Record World Magazine, a leading music industry weekly, from 1971 to 1982.

Michael Sigman graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, with a BA in Philosophy, from Bucknell University in 1971. He currently serves on several Boards, including InsightLA and Society for Singers, and is Chairman of the Board of the Wright Institute, a non-profit psychoanalytic institute which provides inexpensive long-term psychotherapy to the poor.