To watch and read the media coverage this week of the democratic race for the White House, one would conclude that the results of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries were the big news.
However, there was another event that said more about where things stand than the vote counting did.
Barrack Obama drew a crowd of 75,000 people in Portland over the weekend.
75,000 people. That’s one person for every six residents of Portland, there to hear a politician speak.
The New York Times described the crowd as a multitude. When is the last time a multitude came out to see a politician in America? A pope, maybe. Or U2. But not a politician.
What was odd is that other major US dailies failed to treat a turnout the size of a small city at a political rally as anything remarkable, or particularly newsworthy.
The LA Times mentioned it, four paragraphs into a story about Obama’s attacks against John McCain on social security, lobbyists and foreign policy.
It was hard to find any reference to the Portland multitude on the Washington Post’s site, which also gave greater prominence to the McCain/lobbyist story.
There isn’t necessarily anything nefarious or conspiratorial in the corporate media’s failure to give the Obama/Portland story more play. Big media like stories about conflict. They like “gotcha” narratives.
But every once in a while we are reminded that there is something extraordinary occurring in American politics, and the nonchalant media coverage of a seismic event, such as what happened in Portland, ought not to mask that.
Remember last year, when people were asking whether Barack Obama would be able to compete financially with Hilary Clinton? You don’t hear that anymore.
Obama’s unprecedented appeal among, and support from, individual donors has brought Hilary to her knees, despite all her lobbyist money, and unprecedented, stubborn support from American women.
He is on the way to doing the same to McCain and the Republican fund raising machine.
Obama is demolishing conventional political wisdom, and re-writing the book, on how presidential candidates get elected in America.
Perhaps this historical change is getting short shrift because it came upon us gradually, and in two parts.
Howard Dean deserves credit here. He showed the way in 2004, with his internet fundraising/political activism model.
Big media who prematurely bought the Dean story in ‘04, only to see him implode after Iowa (with big media’s help), can be forgiven for being wary of the Obama phenomenon. Seduced once, and left at the altar in Des Moines, they don’t want to get fooled again.
However, Dean wasn’t the candidate Barack Obama is. It took the Illinois senator, with his gift for high oratory and his message of hope, to galvanize Americans and tap into the true potential of the powerful nexus that now exists between new media and politics.
No race for the White House will ever be the same.
In this marathon primary season, and the news fatigue that has come with it, the news media sometimes lose sight of what’s happening out there.
Their instincts have been dulled by cynicism, their view clouded by Reverend Wright, lapel pins and imaginary Bosnian snipers.
Sometimes they need to step back, and take in the big picture.
And this weekend that picture showed 75,000 people, in one of the whitest states in the country, out to hear a political speech by an African-American who is now within touching distance of the highest office in the land, the most powerful job on earth.
And just because the news media, for the most part, had a ho-hum response to that, doesn’t mean other Americans should.
This is a revolution. You probably won’t see another one in your lifetime.
Richard Gizbert hosts The Listening Post, the media watch broadcast on al Jazeera English. He has spent 25 years in television journalism, including eleven years as a London based correspondent for ABC News.