How Democrats Can Get Better Media Coverage to Help Us Move Forward & Defeat More Republicans

Julie Hotard
6 min readFeb 10, 2020

Humans are herd animals. We passively follow the leader who is at the head of the herd. Often humans also passively follow, or run after, entertainments or distractions. People in news media do this too.

Most mainstream media are like dogs chasing squirrels. Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see.” Following that idea, if Democrats want constructive media coverage, then Dems have to become the entertaining dramatic news that media will cover. Dems have to become the squirrel that the media chases next.

Some Democrats have been doing that lately. For example, Pelosi’s idea to tear up the State of the Union speech behind Trump was a great inspiration. It was widely televised, visual and dramatic. It got plenty of media and social media coverage. It gave a clear message — that the speech was invalid, since it was one lie after another.

Michael Bloomberg is apparently the first Democratic candidate to discover that bluntly campaigning against Trump is a good idea. Other candidates mistakenly assume that they have to be “positive” to win.

But, as political scientist Rachel Bitecofer keeps reminding us, politics is essentially negative. Massive voter turnouts don’t usually happen mainly because of what is happening that’s positive. They go to the polls because things that are wrong. There are problems they want to see solved. Dems probably got convinced they have to be positive because that idea is part of repeated “conventional wisdom” — that is, Right Wing propaganda.

How Propagandists Use ‘Positivity’ to Keep Us in Check

Also, in order to get adequate media coverage, Democrats need to have talking points, like Republicans do. Republicans constantly repeat themselves in talking points. Democrats do not.

What’s repeated is often remembered and believed. And what’s repeated now is Right Wing talking points. Such points are constantly repeated by Right Wingers who are hired or invited by mainstream media for “balance.” The same points are repeated in Right Wing media.

People tend to believe statements that are repeated.

After a while, the accumulation of repetitions causes the points to turn into “common sense” and “conventional wisdom.” Statements by Democrats almost never become conventional wisdom, because Dems don’t repeat talking points.

Democrats need to learn to make media habits work in our favor. Media critics like journalism professor Jay Rosen at NYU, Dan Froomkin, Margaret Sullivan, Joan Walsh and Eric Boehlert keep trying to get more people in media to change their habits, so that they are as fair to Democrats as they are to Republicans.

But most people in media are set in their institutional ways and unlikely to change those habits.

How Mainstream Media Destroy Truth and Democracy through Both Sides Reporting

Most in media won’t change. So it’s up to Democrats to make those media habits work for Democrats, if they want fair coverage.

To remove this huge disadvantage in media coverage, Dems must start having talking points. Dem talking points could consist partly of Democratic candidates talking constantly about popular bills passed by Dems in the House, which the Senate refused to vote on. Dems should say to the voters “Polls say you voters have said you want these nice things. Well, we CAN have nice things — if voters make the Senate do them, by voting for Democrats.”

The essay below contains a couple of more talking points Dems can use in media

Some Dem talking points should consist of the most important reasons Trump must be defeated — most important to voters in their daily lives, that is. For example, Democrats should never shut up about Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security in his budget. We also should keep repeating that he threatens the health insurance of people who have pre-existing conditions and then lies about it.

The overall theme here is that he’s hurting voters and then lying about it, to pretend that he’s the one who’s on their side, when actually Democrats are the ones on the voter’s side. The specific harm that this causes for voters should always be emphasized too, of course.

Every Democratic leaning person who writes a column, appears on TV, or works in Congress, should be saying these talking points over and over, until they sink into voters’ minds.

Such statements should be on signs at demonstrations and should be printed on the mobile billboards that some Resisters drive around to spread messages. Right now most of what has sunk into voters’ minds is Right Wing lies. We must change that if we want to win.

Help! Our Nation Is Drowning in Right Wing Lies and Propaganda. Here’s How to Change That

Economist Paul Krugman has been arguing for years with “zombie lies” about economics that are repeated over and over again by Right Wingers in both Right Wing and mainstream media. He’s written a good book about this, Arguing with Zombies.

The reason Paul Krugman has to keep debunking the same lies over and over again for years, is because the lies are repeated in media far more than the truths are. People like historian Kevin Kruse debunk Right Wing lies constantly, in his writings and on Twitter — the same ones repeatedly. They can’t do this all alone, folks. Let’s give some help to them and the few others who are currently doing this.

Similar approaches could be used with debunking Fox News, Sinclair, Right Wing radio and other Right Wing media. The fact that these media are lying to viewers in order to take advantage of them should be broadcast to voters repeatedly.

Media consumers should know if their “news” station exists for the purpose of persuading them to elect con artists who will lower billionaires’ taxes while slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending protections against pollution and carrying out other plans that are destructive to the poor and the middle class.

Here is Rick Wilson, speaking about being direct in messaging and focusing on how people feel.

One more step Democrats need to take to get better media coverage is to develop an effective outrage machine. Republicans have an outrage machine that everyone bends to, including all government officials of both parties and mainstream media. Dems don’t have one, so they often are unable to defend themselves or to get fair media coverage.

In summary, if Democrats want to survive, we need to take a few different steps. We need to have talking points so that we can repeat the things that are most important for voters to know. What’s repeated is remembered. If voters remember the ways Trump and Republicans are destroying the nation, and if they remember important things Democrats have to offer, they’ll vote for Democrats at the polls.

Here’s an article on messaging that makes some good points about how to best construct messages — though this does need to be tested by research to find out to what degree and in what situations this holds true. We need a Frank Luntz of the Left to test out theories of messaging, rather than just applying them before their validity is tested.

Democrats also have to make dramatic news more often — so we can become the squirrel that the distractible media will chase next. Lastly, Democrats need to have an effective outrage machine, to make their displeasure seen, heard, reported and respected by media.

Democrats need some infrastructure organizations to help them do this. Republicans have had these for decades, which is how they win so many elections, despite doing nothing to help ordinary voters and doing a lot to harm them. Please join me in conacting liberal donors & organizations that could help here.