BROOKE: From WNYC in New York this is On “the Evil Around Us.” Bob Garfield is away this week, I’m Brooke Gladstone. Did I say Evil? I meant media. Common mistake. In fact, on Friday, the Republican National Committee suspended its partnership with NBC News for the February debate, citing CNBC’s “bad faith” in conducting this week’s debate. In fact, post-debate, just about every candidate’s soundbite was about the bias, the triviality, the malicious intent of the MEDIA.
RUBIO - OK. I know the Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It's called the mainstream media
BROOKE: And yet, says Buzzfeed Political reporter Mckay Coppins, Marco Rubio, the GOP contender whose comment we’ve just heard, could count the mainstream media as his staunchest ally. It anointed him the frontrunner long long ago.
COPPINS: To be sure he's always been kind of a very talented, dynamic political figure, at the same time, not since early 2013 has he even come close to leading in the national polls.
BROOKE: So what do the mainstream media mean when they call him the frontrunner?
COPPINS: [laughs] I think what we in the press tend to actually mean is that he is the best candidate. He comes from humble roots, he's young and good looking and Latino. He's the Republican who is the newsroom of the New York Times were operating the republican party they would probably choose him as the nominee.
BROOKE: So three years before the election, he was Time magazine's cover man as the Republican savior. Last year YOU announced Rubio's comeback. WHat was the impact of all of these pundit class pronouncements?
COPPINS: Uh, [laughs] my pronouncement that he was making a comeback was followed by him sliding two more points in the polls over the next few months.
BROOKE: He rode the wave of excitement from sixth to seventh place.
COPPINS: Right, he really surged in the polls down one spot. I think that this gets at a larger point which is that as much as political pundits and reporters like to act as though we have our fingers on the pulse of America, oftentimes our hyping of certain candidates actually has an adverse effect in terms of making conservatives distrust those candidates.
BROOKE: Right. And I think you've noted Chris Christie --
COPPINS: Yeah, I mean his coziness in the MSNBC Morning Joe green room which is the political chat show that the media elites like to watch every morning. He would go on that show all the time and it really compounded conservative's suspicion of him post 2012. Once the Bridgegate scandal happened and his administration was sort of reeling, you saw many leading conservative websites sit back and let him be devoured because they didn't feel like they needed to come to his defense.
BROOKE: Do you think that one reason why the mainstream media simply don't have their fingers on the pulse of the GOP is because the mainstream media are mostly liberal?
COPPINS: Um, certainly political liberalism is part of it, there's also a cultural liberalism . the mainstream media is very centered in Washington Dc and New York City. The best political journalists spend most of their time out on the campaign trail, but I think it's very easy for us in the media to sit in our Manhattan cubicles or Washington DC offices and speculate and it becomes an echo chamber that has very little to do with what Republican voters are actually thinking.
BROOKE: I want to modulate my observation for a moment here. I've a really deep theory so stay with me. Which is that, yeah, the media are liberal, they're also conscious of the possibility that that bias might affect their work and they're certainly keenly aware of the criticism they get if they appear to be displaying any of that bias. And so they love to focus on Republican moderates, that just makes them feel so comfortable and os good. So this consciousness of media bias' criticism tends to put them exactly in the Rubio zone.
COPPINS: I think there's a lot of truth to that. I Think the republican party's made very effective use of turning attacks on the mainstream media into a kind of ruthlessly effective political weapon, and that has caused the mainstream media to always be looking for Republican that they can hold up and champion to show that they're not biased. I also definitely think that the media tend to gravitate toward the more centrist candidates, and I actually think that that's true on both sides. I think that there's a sort of instinctive, maybe lazy centrism that the national media tend to coalesce around.
BROOKE: I would take that even further and suggest that there's a kind of belief that the left is unelectable.
BROOKE: Trump will get tons of attention, even though he's never seen to be a likely electable candidate, whereas there's a kind of sense among the media that the really lefty candidate is just unelectable and therefore not worthy of the time that polls suggest they might have earned.
COPPINS: Mhm. And i do think that part of this has to do with the rise of the tea party in 2010 which was a huge media phenomenon. And ever since that cycle, you've seen the press continue to gravitate toward those candidates. Now I would say though there is a difference because Rubio is not really one of those kind of right wing bomb throwers, right?
BROOKE: Isn't he though?
COPPINS: He is conservative, he's very conservative policy wise, but what the press likes about him is that he's very talented at taking his right wing positions and making them sound very mainstream and appealing to the masses and really more importantly to the reporters who cover them.
BROOKE: Let's talk about what happened briefly at the debate, where his tax plan was challenged and he like the rest of the contenders on that stage decided to make it about the media.
COPPINS: yeah, this is actually a fascinating tack that Rubio has taken, and he wasn't the only one to do it. Ted Cruz also when asked about the debt ceiling responded by lampooning the moderators for asking unsubstantive questions. And then declining to answer the substantive question he was asked.
BROOKE: Christie attacked the media, Trump attacked the media, It's --
COPPINS: Yeah, it became the way to slither out of questions that you didn't want to answer. One thing that Rubio I think does so well is that he repeatedly attacks the mainstream media and reporters for bias, but he does it in a very almost congenial way where he does it in a way that nonetheless makes the media continue to like him.
BROOKE: When he calls the mainstream media "hillary Clinton's Super PAC" that's congenial?
COPPINS: Well, ask the reporters in the media filing center that i was at. I don't think you saw a lot of reporters after he made dig say "oh that Marco Rubio, i'm going to go get him now." Instead what you saw was an avalanche of stories declaring him the winner and once again hyping him as the emerging leader of the 2016 field. Time will tell whether he actually takes the lead in any polls, but as of now he's in third or fourth place.
BROOKE: What do you think of what Alex Isenstadt and Glenn Thrush wrote in POlitico, that quote, "Rubio has adopted a small mammal approach, maneuvering at ground level, hoping that dinosaurs like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson ignore him, while stomping each other into extinction"?
COPPINS: I think that's true! i think that's been his strategy from the beginning.
BROOKE: Well is this the moment where he emerges from beneath the sheltering shadow and becomes a dinosaur himself?
COPPINS: Well, I think that's the danger for him. He's enjoyed positive media attention all through this campaign cycle without necessarily being the main fixation of the mainstream media, and I know that his aides, they've told me this privately, that they actually didn't want him, at least they claim, to take the lead in national polls until December at the earliest.
BROOKE: did they tell you he just has to be number one for one f--ing day?
COPPINS: [laughs] I saw that quote in politico! I haven't had it put to me that colorfully, but that is basically the sentiment, right? If there is a fear coming off from the debate where he performed so well and generated once again another huge wave of media attention, is will he now become the target that everyone starts going after and try to take down.
BROOKE: McKay, thank you very much.
COPPINS: Thank you.
BROOKE: McKay Coppins is the senior political writer for Buzzfeed.