Collusion: Conservatives Still Struggling Mightily With 2012

Brent Bozell is getting pretty good at being ignored. Shortly after Barack Obama's reelection, the president of the conservative Media Research Center signed onto a letter warning congressional Republicans not to compromise with Democrats on taxes. The Republicans compromised. Then Bozell and his allies wrote a letter demanding that Karl Rove's American Crossroads fire a spokesman after he referred to Bozell as a “hater.” No one lost their job. And all throughout 2012, Bozell's group erected billboards warning America: “DON'T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” Yet according to Bozell's latest book, America spent most of 2012 believing the liberal media.

Collusion: How the Media Stole the 2012 Election -- and How to Stop Them from Doing It in 2016 is Bozell's (and co-author Tim Graham's) post-mortem of how the “liberal media” exerted its considerable influence to steal the 2012 election for the president. “Stole the 2012 Election” implies that the press behaved illicitly and in a way that contravenes the values this country holds dear, but that turns out not to be the case. “It's a free country -- at least for now, mostly -- and the national news media have the freedom to present Obama as the finest naked emperor that's ever lived,” Bozell observes. “We must also salute that freedom, and defend it always.” “Stole” would also seem to imply that Mitt Romney was a capable candidate who was wrongly denied the presidency, but Bozell apparently doesn't believe that either. “It was a testimony to the singular ineptness of their effort,” Bozell writes of Team Romney, “that for the first time a presidential campaign chose to go into a prevent-defense crouch -- while losing.”

So what happened? According to Bozell, it is “reasonable to conclude” that the media “provided four points for Obama -- his margin of victory.” How he arrived at this conclusion is anyone's guess (he just sort of throws it out there after conducting a polling analysis “that, admittedly, is not entirely scientific”), but it's helpful to look at Collusion to get a sense of just how rattled and disjointed movement conservatism is in the second half of the Obama era.

“Barack Obama was a disaster,” Bozell writes. “And he won reelection, handily.” The tension between these two statements animates Bozell's analysis. That Obama's first term was a “disaster” is presented as a given: self-evident to anyone who was paying attention. The only plausible way to resolve that tension, per Bozell, is to point the finger once again at the media, which collectively decided to carry Obama into a second term and tear down any Republican who stood in his way. 

Thus, the many embarrassing revelations about the would-be 2012 Republican candidates -- Rick Perry's unfortunately named ranch, Herman Cain's sexual harassment allegations, Newt Gingrich's issues with his ex-wives -- are all chalked up to the “media elite” wanting to portray “the emerging Republican challengers as a field of nightmares, a group of pretenders and has-beens who could not be seriously hoping to defeat Obama.” Bozell never seems to consider the possibility that those stories might have been the product of opposition research conducted by other Republican campaigns or outside groups. Cain himself blamed Perry's campaign for the emergence of the harassment stories.

As for the press coverage of Romney and Obama, Bozell's analysis is often inaccurate, self-contradictory, or just plain bonkers. Writing about the Washington Post story on Mitt Romney's high school days and its revelation that a young Romney forcibly cut off a classmate's hair in 1965, Bozell sneers: "Nineteen sixty-five. That's almost a half century ago. Even if every detail in this hit piece was accurate -- and they weren't -- how is it relevant?" A few pages later, Bozell faults the Post for not thoroughly investigating Obama's high school drug use in the '70s: “Did the Post send a reporter to find out from Obama's classmates how often he used illegal drugs, and where he purchased them? And did he in turn distribute them?” The cut-off for “relevance” is the disco era, it would appear. (Also, Obama's teenage drug use was extensively investigated by David Maraniss, who works for... the Washington Post.)

Working himself up to high-dudgeon over Newsweek's reporting on Rick Santorum's wife's prior relationships, Bozell scoffs: “Can you imagine Newsweek plotting a hard-hitting investigation of who Michelle Obama dated before Barack? Or who Barack dated before Michelle?” Later in the book, Bozell offers tempered praise for David Maraniss' Obama biography and its in-depth reportage of who Barack Obama dated before Michelle. “Obama didn't just dump his old girlfriends,” Bozell writes. “He then added insult to injury by blurring them into a fictional composite [for Obama's memoir].” So sure, it wasn't Newsweek, but you get the point.

In the end, Bozell's argument boils down to nothing. Republicans and conservatives took a pounding in 2012 -- a pounding made all the more brutal by the fact that they refused to see the warning signs ahead of time -- and the party and the movement are still trying to sort out what went wrong. Bozell's explanation for why this happened has nothing to do with the party's appeal or the health of the conservative movement. Instead, he chalks it all up to one exogenous factor: the media. This, in turn, leads him to some hilariously inept prescriptions for what conservatives can do to bounce back. “Conservatives should understand there are outlets that aren't biased against them and generate major audiences, even larger ones than most liberal entities,” Bozell writes in his conclusion. “Through conservative talk radio they can reach tens of millions -- daily.” Really? Conservatives should realize the power of talk radio? That's some sharp analysis... for 1987.

Collusion is a plea for conservatives to actively eschew any sort of meaningful examination of their place in American politics. It's an invitation to set aside the hard work of revamping the Republican Party's fortunes and continue wailing ineffectively about perceived persecution at the hands of the media. They can choose whether or not to follow Bozell's advice, but one gets the impression they'd be better served by ignoring him.