"Calling all swift boat veterans! Its time to rescue your nation from its debauched public debate. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: leave no bamboozled media outlet behind!

Drastic measures are needed because the Kerry campaign is too flatfooted and the press too blind to see what is happening. Indeed, serious people have been claiming, preposterously, that "the elite media is on Kerry's side" in this surreal swift boat charade.

They say this because the New York Times, the Washington Post and others have done mega-investigations that confirm that young volunteer John Kerry served with honor. Most TV outlets have broadcast these findings. Conservatives whine that this means the media is doing its best to tilt the race toward Kerry.

But all this misses the point. And if you're Karl Rove, the real point is managing the news agenda and the terms of debate. There is only a finite amount of space on page one and a finite amount of time on the evening news. If you can get the New York Times to devote page after page to swift boat accusations - - and then fill the cable channels with wall to wall "debates" over the same - you've displaced what might otherwise have been covered.

In short, you've won.

As long as everyone is talking about what did or did not happen 35 years ago in Vietnam, they're not talking about the candidates' rival visions for the future, or domestic policy differences between the parties that are huge.

This is the dynamic that Karl Rove understands, and that news producers and editors either don't grasp or feel helpless to combat. Rove knows that for all their supposed liberal sympathies, the elite media's agenda can be hijacked. That's because the coverage of our top outlets is governed more by stenography than by ideology.

Exploiting this reality is hardly something on which Republicans have a monopoly - though they do seem to be better at it than Democrats nowadays, and they're certainly more brazen and ruthless. Both parties value media management above nearly all other skills, because setting the news agenda is central to the pursuit of power (and to the achievement of policy goals once you have that power). "

If only... sigh....it was shaping up to be a debauched public debate this cycle.

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that
we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."-- Theodore Roosevelt