Look who bought the myth

Dr. Dean's image, the MSM and the Strib

Howard Dean's slight return to the political pulpit at the Minneapolis Convention Center last night yielded few surprises, but a note or two of inspired rhetoric.

The flourishes were largely ignored in the Star Tribune's account of the evening, and what reporter Conrad Defiebre chose to highlight shows how complicit the media has been in the misguided presumption of Dean's image. (And no thanks for noting it as an event partially sponsored by City Pages, which included an eloquently meaningful introduction by editor Steve Perry.)

Forget for a moment that the premise of the Strib's story is entirely misguided: Dean is hardly a Bush sympathizer, nor an advocate for the war in Iraq. Dean "came to Minneapolis without the scream that ended his 2004 presidential campaign," DeFiebre writes in his lead, "or the anti-Iraq war rhetoric that started it."

Bullshit. On the contrary, he repeated the same impassioned argument against it--lies, lies and more lies, among other things--that he brought to the last campaign season. But you'd think that Dean's pulse had been replaced with Sean Hannity's cold, calloused heart based on Defiebre's account.

But then again, that's the news biz in this time of a war-on-whatever.

A slightly more annoying issue is the ongoing presence, in every media account regarding Dean, of The Scream. As someone who followed Dean in those waning days in Iowa, I say give it a rest.

The Dean I saw last night was the same one I encountered repeatedly on the campaign trail last winter, when I chased him around for four days while the entire state of Iowa was sheathed in frozen ice. That is, the good doctor is reasoned, bright and wickedly funny when he wants to be. He was no more inclined to rage and outbursts as the good folks in Mason City were prone to sunbathing on those frigid January mornings.

But that's all we got leading up to caucus night, and it was depressing as hell to wake up each morning and see how the Des Moines Register, the once-proud newspaper of record for hundreds of miles around, repeatedly ran stories of Dean as Lunatic.

The die had been cast, as Perry noted last night, months earlier, when Karl Rove began begging the Democrats to chose Dean as their candidate. Not surprising that the Dems heeded Rove's words, for whatever disinenguous reasons. (He wants to shake up the party! Wait, uh, we like the party as it is.)

Less surprising, in retrospect I guess, that the media bought Rove's implication that Dean was unelectable because he was a rage-a-holic.

How could this be? The Dean I saw certainly gave hints of being grouchy--at the establishment of his own party, and the idea that he was still campaigning in one state--tired, and just plain human. He was unscripted, not prone to smiling or speaking in platitudes, and often responded to gallery shouts directly.

This, quite obviously, confounded reporters who had rotely followed him. And so, in the end, they left.

The meta-story went like this: I hit seven Dean rallies where he spoke (and two others) in that final weekend. At each stop, I was welcomed by the Dean campaign, not just out of political expediency, but because often I was the only journalist there. There were photo ops in Des Moines from time to time, but there was no real reportage going on during his final barnstorming.

Let me repeat that: Aside from three camera ops from whatever three local network affiliates, I was frequently the only working reporter in the room.

So there was no real dissenting voice to fight the image of Dean created largely by Rove and the convenience of satellite feeds. The movie had been scripted and capsulized. The trailer was enough; why see the rest?

And then you get The Scream, a moment itself that has been misrepresented (albeit sometimes humorously), and tagged to Dean forever. By the end of the weekend, he was mostly campaigning in a whisper, forgoing his town-hall stumps for excrutiatingly long one-on-ones and interest-group bull sessions. He took all of them in patient stride.

Two days after I left Iowa, and watched the unraveling of his campaign from afar, I wondered if I had even seen the same thing as was projected by the media outlets, or if someone had been fooled by a mirage.

Those at the convention center last night who also read the Strib story might be wondering the same thing today.

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