The Pro-War Media's Re-Positioning Problem

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Fox News and
the other pro-war media outlets are now facing the day of reckoning.
The United States is slowly losing the war in Iraq. More important
for the pro-war media, pro-war consumers of soap are becoming anti-war.

When a true
believer switches sides on a major belief, he does not want to hear
people spouting the belief that he has now abandoned. He wants to
hear something else. Today, millions of Americans are abandoning
faith in Bush’s wars.

If those media
broadcasters that openly defend this abandoned belief do not change,
they will lose market share. People will simply stop listening.
But, as I will show, they dare not change.

Johnny-one
note broadcasters are especially vulnerable to changing audience
tastes. They cannot change their note to match their audience’s
new preferences. This is bad for advertising revenues.

Because the
Iraq war is the dominant issue politically today, the outwardly
pro-Republican media cannot avoid it. Like the bums of the month
in Joe Louis’ era, they can run, but they cannot hide.

One by one,
listeners will tune out. Maybe they will turn to satellite radio’s
ad-free niche-audience music. They will not tune in to Air America
Radio, let alone All Things Considered. They will just stop listening
to politics. They will turn off Rush Limbaugh’s self-proclaimed
EIB (Excellence in Broadcasting) network.

Day by day,
the EIB network is rolling over IEDs.

Improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) are cheap, low-tech, and unstoppable. They
are not going to go away. Instead, we are going to go away.

Bush’s wars
are being visibly lost in the battlefield that counts: public opinion
polls. This points to the next great battle: voting booths in November.
If the Democrats re-capture the House, the investigations will begin.
The Democrats will use the investigative power of Congress the way
insurgents use IEDs.

Bush and his
subordinates have been confined for over a year to giving their
pro-war rally speeches inside American Legion halls, military bases,
and the $1,000-per-plate rubber chicken Republican Party lecture
circuit. They dare not appear in public to give their “stay the
course” message. This was what Lyndon Johnson faced in 1967. He
was gone in 1969.

EARLY
RATINGS

In the early
stages of any war, the Administration and its media cheerleaders
have things easy. Once any nation enters a war, the public closes
ranks. Critics of the war are frozen out, one way or another. There
are the usual excuses: “We must support our troops.” “Don’t give
comfort to the enemy.” “We can’t just cut and run.” They are all
some version of this one: “My country, right or wrong.”

But if the
war drags on, and there are no clear-cut victories, the voters reconsider.
The cost of war rises. A fundamental law of economics then asserts
itself: “When the cost of anything rises, less of it is demanded.”

Simultaneously,
the promised benefits of the war retreat into the distance. Another
law of economics reasserts itself: “Future benefits are discounted
compared to present benefits.” There are no present benefits, except
for the defense industry.

Costs today
are rising relentlessly. Benefits are being pushed into the distant
future relentlessly. We have passed the turning point. Estimating
the cost-benefit ratio, voters have begun to cut and run.

Our troops
will not be far behind.

POLITICAL
REALITIES

This war is
closely associated with the Republican Party. For three years, most
Democrats in Congress have served as Gunga Din served in the movie.
He was a faithful bugler in a loin cloth, always hoping to be promoted
into the regular army. But, unlike Mr. Din, Democrats have watched
from the political sidelines as the parading Republican troops marched
into the political trap set by the natives in Iraq. They did not
sound the alarm in 2003. Gunga Din sounded a warning in the movie,
and he was shot to ribbons by the natives for his courage. The Democrats
are now content to let the Republicans get shot to ribbons by the
voters. Then they will announce the end of Bush’s war and bring
the troops home.

If they don’t,
then a New Model Army of Republicans will. There is this thing about
getting shot to ribbons. Politicians prefer to have the troops shot
to ribbons, not politicians.

The Administration
has a policy of banning photos of caskets draped in flags. No such
media ban exists for the political battlefield. The remains of those
who fall on political battlefields are given front-page coverage.
The victims don’t even get caskets. When it comes to post-battle
politics, we are treated to the equivalent of Matthew Brady’s display
of photos from the battlefields of Antietam.

Politicians
like to think of themselves in a pose: right hand over their hearts,
standing at attention beneath the flag. Far be it for me to challenge
their degree of commitment to the flag. They revere the flag as
it flies high above Capitol Hill. It shows which way the wind is
blowing.

The voters
have the right to change their minds. Politicians therefore have
the right to change their minds. But Fox News doesn’t get to change
its collective mind. Neither does Rush Limbaugh.

RE-POSITIONING
IS EXPENSIVE

Fox News, Rush
Limbaugh, and The Weekly Standard are all trapped on the
battlefield. They are surrounded. They are outnumbered. They are
praying for a replay of Rorke’s Drift, but it is looking more like
Isandlwana every day.

They staked
their claim to leadership by following close behind George Bush.
These days, this position of responsibility resembles a job at Disney
World, where the kid with the rolling trash can trails the parade
of elephants. These days, when Fox News gets a scoop, it’s a really
big scoop.

These people
have defined themselves as supporters of Bush’s wars. They did this
self-consciously, and they gained high audience share for their
efforts. This is called market positioning. Unlike political positioning
— let alone political posturing — market positioning is almost
impossible to switch after the market changes.

In marketing,
this is called the USP: the Unique Selling Proposition. Once
a company defines itself in terms of a particular benefit, it will
lose market share if it attempts to switch. It builds its client
base in terms of its USP. If it abandons its USP, it will be abandoned
by its clients.

Here is the
problem: It is extremely risky to switch if new potential clients
want a different benefit. If the existing client base is committed
to the old positioning, the company is unable to switch without
suffering huge losses.

Consider Hillary
Clinton’s marketing dilemma. She is trying to re-position herself
on the war in Iraq: from gung-ho to Gunga Din. Kerry tried this
and lost. Now he has switched completely. Why not? He has nothing
to lose at this point. Hillary has taken up Kerry’s fallen flag,
tattered as it is.

Here is the
hope of hope of the Republican Party: she will not be able to make
the switch successfully, but will get the nomination. Even better,
Biden will get the nomination. This will help keep antiwar voters
and “enough is enough” voters from having a significant choice.
The Republicans can then run McCain, who will be in “discreet retreat”
mode, and the Democrats will not be able to point the finger and
say, “Flip-flopper!”

But for Fox
News and the cheerleaders, this is a defeat. They ran up their ratings
with pro-war rhetoric. Now they find that this rhetoric is about
as safe as a tour bus in Baghdad.

If a Republican
wins in 2008, and the pull-out begins in 2009, it will be a nightmare
for the Foxes of this world. They will not be able to blame a Democrat
for cutting and running. They will have to swallow the castor oil
of a military pull-back. And, as it goes through their system, doing
what castor oil does to the intestinal track, they will have to
stand at attention in full public view as the flag goes by — away
from Iraq. It will be a long parade. Think of the pain! Think of
the squirming!

CONCLUSION

Inevitably,
cheerleaders on one side in any game find themselves performing
when the score is relentlessly increasing for the opposition.

The war in
the Big Game in Iraq is an away game. The stands on the loser’s
side are starting to thin out.

Nevertheless,
the cheerleaders must yell just as loudly in a losing effort as
a winning effort. They must jump up and down with equal vigor as
before. But their efforts have no effect on what is happening on
the field.

Cheerleaders
soon graduate and get on with life. Fox News will also get on with
life.

The troops
buried in their unphotographed caskets will not get on with life.
For them, their Nielsen ratings will remain the same: zero. They
are in a tie with tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. For all
of them, this ratings war had high stakes. For politicians buying
votes and broadcasters selling soap, it didn’t.

I am glad that
I was never a cheerleader for this war.

By
the way, this does not make me a cheerleader for the other side.

September
7, 2006

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

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