Mark Halperin and John F. Harris think that Kerry lost the 2004 election due to the Freak Show Media or FSM(not kidding -- the WaPo actually published this). They are very clear on their political stance, that is, that Bush wasn't really the dynamic behind his own win, and that poor Kerry was smeared:
Al Gore and John Kerry had never been close, despite the many years they served together in Washington. Now they shared a special bond. Both had been beaten by a man they believed to be less articulate, less capable, less experienced, less virtuous, less worthy, and less intelligent than they. Both had been preparing for the presidency since they were young men, spurred not just by ambition, but by colleagues, friends, and mentors who for a generation had been anticipating their eventual candidacies. Gore and Kerry long had stood out as quintessential strivers, even among fellow senators. Now they looked up through the rain at a man whom almost no one had regarded as presidential material until a couple of years before he got the job. Neither Gore nor Kerry seemed to grasp the reasons for what both considered a cruel hoax of history.
The whole article is rather interesting because it outlines when and where the pivotal shots were taken, how the effected the campaign, and where they came from. But the main point, the contention of the entire article, is inherently flawed. This article basically asserts that the "Old Media" is being tragically displaced by the "New Media" who can post whatever they want, without editors, without thought to what they're doing.
If this were a book about all the reasons John Kerry lost the 2004 election, it would be too heavy to hold. John Kerry was beaten by John Kerry, who never overcame the limitations of his diffident personality. He was beaten by George W. Bush, who was by far the savvier politician. Deep thinkers might say Kerry was beaten by history, since Democrats for nearly forty years had been at a stark disadvantage when national security was the dominant issue in voters' minds. Here is another nominee for who beat John Forbes Kerry: Matthew Drudge.
However, this entire assumption is flat-out wrong. For one, most of the incidents that the article cites turn out to be true! When the FSM reported something, it was correct, or corrected (the one incident where Drudge reported incorrect information in his exclusive, he actually posted a top-headilne retraction). Compare this to Adnan Hajj or Dan Rather. Smokegate and Rathergate don't exactly trumpet the cause of responsible, edited journalism.
Other than that, the article is a sob-story about how the RNC and Bush/Rove unfairly manipulated the FSM to beat Kerry.
Unfortunately, the only reason Kerry or anyone else is open for accusations that they are embellishing is if they are actually doing so. As shown in the FSM, the truth is ferreted out. When literally millions of people are examining evidence thoroughly the result is similar to an iterative approach to a problem. The first solutions may not be correct, but the refining process will greatly improve the answer with each pass. Every article the blogosphere re-publishes is refined by the editing pin of thousands.
A candidate who runs principally on his or her biography is acutely vulnerable to the accusation that this biography is embellished. Such a candidate, in other words, is a fat target for the Freak Show. One signature of Freak Show politics is a fixation on personality and alleged hypocrisy. Another is the ease with which shrewd political operatives can manipulate the Freak Show's attention to hijack the public image of an opponent.
Boo hoo, Kerry. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Would the real John Kerry please stand up? Of course, both versions of his life had truth to them. Whenever Kerry's self-image tried to stand up, it was knocked over by a Freak Show interpretation. Every positive element of Kerry's existence was neutralized or turned into a weakness. Every vulnerability was maximized. By the end, this proud man was lying on the bloodied ice like a freshly clubbed harp seal.
The biggest problem with this article is that the authors assume the FSM is a bunch of pajama wearing (like me right now!), drooling, knuckle-scraping buffoons with keyboards who will believe and repeat anything and everything Matt Drudge reports. However, this claim is countered by this paragraph:
How about this -- the reason the second image only gained traction around the Kos Kidz and the MoveOn nuts is because its untrue?
Bush certainly had his own Freak Show moments. The September 2004 controversy over whether he had evaded his commitments to the Texas Air National Guard was an example. That story, however, promoted by the Old Media warhorse CBS News, promptly was demolished by New Media critics. And though Bush survived it, the episode illustrated that he, too, had a life of competing narratives. According to some, he was a man born to privilege but with a common touch, whose life had been infused with new purpose once he embraced religious faith. This faith was the core of a presidency that had led the nation through the worst attacks on native soil in American history and was keeping the country safe in a dangerous new era.
There was another narrative, too. Bush was a daddy's boy and a lifelong mediocrity who was comically unprepared for the presidency and was elevated to the office by a Republican-weighted Supreme Court. With hawkish surrogates making the decisions, Bush had blundered into a disastrous war and had led the nation to the brink of catastrophe. As in 2000, the country in 2004 divided almost perfectly down the middle over which version of George W. Bush they found more plausible.
People may be manipulated, but if you lie to them for too long they will find out, especially in this day and age.
I submit that Kerry lost the election because he had a lot of dirt to be dug up. That, and he was a hypocrite of the worst sort, a traitor, a liar, and a downright fool when it came to politics. The truth hurts, but don't blame the messenger.