Why Beto O’Rourke’s messaging is landing

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Democratic activists often complain about Democratic politicians not being “aggressive” enough or having a “messaging problem.” Much of this kind of complaining is nothing more than performance art on the part of activists and pundits who are trying to paint themselves as being superior to the Democratic Party, in order to boost their own careers. But even among those activists who genuinely wish Democratic politicians would set their hair on fire a little more, one key aspect is always overlooked: the media would never let the Democrats get away with such behavior.

The mainstream media – on the left, right, and center – pretty much gets out of bed in the morning trying to think of ways to come up with “Democrats in disarray” stories in the name of chasing ratings. No matter what the Democrats do or don’t do on any given day, this is the narrative that the (entire) media will want to run with. So if a Democrat were to decide to walk into a lie-filled Republican press conference and call out those Republicans to their faces, the media would normally just bash that Democrat for going “overboard” and question that Democrat’s “professionalism” and insist that such a “stunt” wasn’t going to have any impact anyway.

It’s not that the Democrats are afraid of media heat. Not at all. It’s just that, as savvy politicians, they understand that if they give the media an excuse to make the story about them and their behavior, then the issue at hand will be lost entirely. Democratic politicians always have to walk a tightrope of getting their message across in way that doesn’t allow the mainstream media, or the liberal Twitter pundits, to twist it into total nonsense and bury the real issue.

This brings us to Beto O’Rourke, who this week indeed decided to walk into a lie-filled Republican press conference and call out those Republicans to their faces. Normally the entire mainstream media (including the likes of MSNBC) would have seized the opportunity to crap all over Beto for this, which would have distracted the public from the fact that this is about gun reform and dead children.

But somehow it was different this time. It’s as if the media understood that it couldn’t play its usual games. If the media had tried to spin this into a “Beto is unprofessional” narrative, it would have looked small in the eyes of the public for having done so. This gun crisis is, after all, too important for media antics.

And so Beto got away with it. He managed to steer the general public’s outrage directly toward the Texas Republicans who held that shameful press conference, and the media didn’t even try to scandalize Beto for it. To be clear, it doesn’t matter what Fox News says or does in these instances; its audience is already locked into deranged positions on these matters anyway. It matters how the real major news outlets portray it. And for once, the mainstream media took a Democrat’s side for standing up, instead of trying to scandalize that Democrat for daring to stand up.

Of course it has given an excuse for the other pit vipers, the liberal Twitter pundits, to opportunistically bash the rest of the Democrats for not being as “brave” as Beto. But this narrative doesn’t seem to be sticking either. That’s because the average Democratic activist can see that numerous other Democratic politicians are indeed giving impassioned televised speeches from the House or Senate floor, directly calling out Republican culprits online in no uncertain terms, and so on.

The real story here is not that the “Democrats are finally acting boldly.” That’s gibberish. It’s a simplistic misunderstanding of how any of this works. The story is that for once, the media is allowing the Democrats to act this way, without scandalizing them for it. The Democrats know that if they set their hair on fire and the media merely focuses on whether they supposedly crossed the line, then it’ll have accomplished nothing and made it harder to get their message across. But for once the media isn’t opportunistically screwing this up, and so Beto and the rest of the Democrats can simply behave in the aggressive manner they’d prefer to.

Part of our job as activists is to make sure it stays this way. Let the mainstream media outlets know that you’re glad they’re praising Beto and the Democrats for coming out swinging like this. Let the media outlets know that you don’t ever want to hear them bashing the Democrats for coming out swinging. Let the media know you’ve had it with the “Democrats in disarray” nonsense that it trots out every time the Democrats show passion about anything. The media will always go where the ratings are. So let the media know where the ratings are going to be on these kinds of matters going forward, and the media will follow accordingly.

Important Note: Palmer Report is moving to a reader-supported format with a significantly reduced number of ads so we can reach a broader audience at this crucial time for our democracy. Support us via PayPal and GoFundMe.