Franken to Blitzer: "[T]he mainstream media is scared of its own shadow"

On the November 21 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, comedian and Air America radio host Al Franken joined U.S. Representatives Martin Frost (D-TX), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) to discuss “the future of the Democratic party.” Franken explained how Democrats “can't get our message across because the media isn't doing its job.”

BLITZER: [W]hat do Democrats have to do to not only keep the core constituencies like African Americans on board, but get further inroads elsewhere?


FRANKEN: I think there's a lot of things we have to do, one of which is articulate our values. I mean, when you talk about what's moral, is it moral to launch a preemptive war against another country on false premises? I don't think it is. Is it moral to give huge tax cuts to the very wealthy and pass that on to future generations, to our children, grandchildren, our great-grandchildren? No, it isn't.

BLITZER: But why have -- the Democrats, as you recognized, had a great opportunity this time because of those issues that you're just raising right now. Yet despite that, Bush got 51 percent of the vote.

FRANKEN: Well, I think that a large part of it is that the media hasn't done its job. And a large percentage of Bush supporters believe the following things: that we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, found them; that --

BLITZER: But what did the Democrats do wrong? Why couldn't the Democrats do a better job getting that message across? Was it the candidate, [Senator] John Kerry?

FRANKEN: I think that it's partly the candidate, probably, sure. But I think also the press bears a responsibility.

Let me -- I was in the greenroom, and I watched an ad run by the coal people. It said “eagle.” You've seen it a million times, right? The eagle flies and is coughing and lands on this thing. And then it flies off and then there's blue sky.

Do you know what it says at the end of that commercial? It says that by 2016, or it gives some date in the future, our air quality will be 70 percent better than it was in 1970.

Well, do you know how much better it was in 2000? It was over 50 percent better. And do you know why it will be considered better in 2016?

BLITZER: But it raises --

FRANKEN: Because -- wait a minute --

BLITZER: But it raises the question --

FRANKEN: I'm sorry, Wolf. Let me just finish. It's because they've eliminated CO2 as a pollutant. And the air isn't getting any cleaner. And you guys run this ad without challenging it. And this is my criticism, is that we can't get our message across because the media isn't doing its job.

FROST: Wolf, I'd like to add something to that.

BLITZER: You blame the media, but you've got to take a look at the Democratic leadership. Congressman Frost, let me...

FRANKEN: You asked me on here. You asked what my opinion was, and I'm telling you.

BLITZER: I'm just saying, you've got to also take a look inside.

And, Congressman Frost, I think you will acknowledge that it's not the media that's the problem for the Democratic Party. There are some other structural problems there that have cost you your re-election, among other things.

FROST: Well, that was an unusual situation, Wolf, because you had a redistricting in Texas out of sequence. But I want to go to the overall question.

The Democratic Party has to be the party of strength. Now, that doesn't mean -- and I'm not going to get into an argument about the war, but we have to -- we're the party that supported veterans. We're the party that stood by them while the Bush administration has cut benefits for veterans. We're the party that wants to be able to equip the troops while they're in battle and to prepare them for battle. I think the price of admission for being taken seriously by the American people is to show that we stand firmly behind the people who fight for us.

BLITZER: But I'm going to ask the other members of the panel to weigh in as well.

But do you believe, Congressman Frost, that Al Franken is right when he says it's the media's fault that the Democrats went down to defeat?

FRANKEN: I didn't say it was entirely the media's fault. I started about articulating our values. But I'm saying that also a large percentage of Bush supporters believe things that were demonstrably false. And I wonder why that is.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Congressman Frost weigh in.

FROST: Wolf, let me answer the question, because a long time ago, I was a reporter before I got into politics. And we have to do a better job. More Democrats have to be willing to go on FOX, for example, one of your rivals. We have to tell our story to the American people. And we have to scream loud and make sure that message gets through, because it's very hard to get through.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break. We'll pick up the conversation when we come back. Much more to talk about with our panel of Democrats. The future of the Democratic Party, a lot at stake. We'll be right back.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about the future of the Democratic Party with Texas Congressman Martin Frost, California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., and radio talk show host Al Franken.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., is it the media's fault that the Democrats lost this time around?

JACKSON: I think there's a role for the media. And I think Al would probably make that point better than any members of Congress has, because he deals with them in more ways than many of us do.

But in order for Democrats to be successful, they're going to have to develop not just a quarterback or determine who is going to get the Heisman Trophy. We're going to have to build a winning team that includes a lot of players on the bench and a lot of races throughout the South, throughout the western states, throughout the Midwestern states, in order to be effective.

We need to have a party-building message that transcends what happens in '06, '08, '10, '12 and beyond. And we have to do it over a long period of time. And we can take a play right out of the Republicans' notebook. What did they do? They took big ideas, which Democrats should stand for, and they made them the biggest ideas by making them constitutional ideas. Gay marriage, supported by 10 or 11 or 12 state ballot initiatives at the local level. Why don't Democrats fight for education of equal high quality and health care as state-ballot initiatives at the local level?

BLITZER: What do you think? Loretta Sanchez, what do you think?

SANCHEZ: I agree with Jesse. I agree with my colleague. I believe that we made mistakes. The media certainly is not in our hands any longer, and, in particular, radio talk shows where that is completely in the opposition's hands, and they use it effectively against us.

BLITZER: But, Loretta, when you say the media -- when you say the media is not in your hands, are you saying that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN are hostile to Democrats?

SANCHEZ: No, that's not what I said. I'm saying that -- if you would let me finish -- that the majority of people are now receiving a lot of their information out of radio. And the radio isn't in the hands of the Democrats anymore. Many years ago, the Republicans made a very effective play. They sat down. They made a strategy. They decided they were going to put big think tanks around, that they were going to fund them. They decided that they would buy radio, that they would use that to talk to people. And people drive in their cars, they're listening to the radio all the time. They're getting a lot of information that way. You know, networks are losing -- you know, they're getting less and less viewership.

BLITZER: Let's bring back Al Franken, because he raised this issue.

SANCHEZ: So they're not impacting the message any longer. But also, Democrats made a lot of mistakes.

BLITZER: Major newspapers in the United States, are they unfriendly? The New York Times, the L.A. Times, The Washington Post?

FRANKEN: Well, I think to some extent there has been internalized -- you said this is what the Republicans did, blame the media. And that actually worked, I believe. I believe that the mainstream media has internalized this criticism that they've been hearing from the right and from a right-wing infrastructure, that the media is liberal. So, I think that the mainstream media is scared of its own shadow.

And, so, as a result, in the lead-up to the war, The Washington Post, The New York Times -- both of which have printed mea culpas -- did not do their job in being skeptical about weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: All right.

FRANKEN: And since then, we have found out there were no weapons of mass destruction.