The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is in full hallway-congesting, badge-displaying swing at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the District. And wherever there are conservatives, there are strong opinions about the news media. Three takeaways from the crowd:
Takeaway No. 1: MSNBC branding is sort of working.
MacKenzie Greschak is a 21-year-old student at Wells College in central New York state. A Republican devoted enough to make the trip to CPAC, Greschak often keeps his television tuned in to cable TV to catch the latest on the political scene.
Despite his conservative views, Greschak expresses affection for MSNBC, which, he says, is “always on, always going.”
Time, then, for a one-question quiz for Greschak: What is MSNBC’s motto? He draws a blank. I tell him I’ll give him a hint, though not a verbal one. Keeping my feet in place, I strike the post of an Olympic ski jumper. Nothing.
Kevin Wilson, another 21-year-old Wells College Republican, swoops in for the save. “Lean Forward,” he exclaims, noting that the network places the slogan on the corner of the TV screen. Correct.
“Lean Forward” isn’t catching fire among the young Republicans at CPAC. Eighteen-year-old Seth Kreider of Rockville, for instance, knows Fox’s whole fair-and-balanced thing, but isn’t familiar with MSNBC’s riff on body language. “I don’t watch them, ever,” says Kreider. Likewise Taylor Smith, also 18 and a resident of Vienna: “I don’t put it on that channel,” says the Newt Gingrich supporter.
But the slogan isn’t failing to crack this particular demo, either. “Lean Forward,” chirps John McKenna, a Boston-hailing student at Fordham University who’s steeped in the media landscape. He’s a fan of the Daily Caller, and when apprised of the Web site’s blunder on the 230,000 additional employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, he says: ”At least they’re attacking the EPA.” That’s the spirit.
Talk about a victory for MSNBC marketers: Dylan Frederick, 22, is the chair of the College Republicans and a senior at Nebraska Wesleyan University. This fellow mangled Fox’s motto — “fair and unbiased” — yet nailed the MSNBC motto. This despite his clear lack of regard for the programming: “Not a fan,” he says.
Dalton Glasscock, 17, of Wichita, Kan.: “It’s ‘Lean Forward,’ right?” David Cardenas, 27, a Miami-based business consultant, also nails it, primarily because he spends an hour each morning watching “Morning Joe.” “Joe Scarborough is a Republican,” he proclaims.
These younger-skewing CPAC attendees show far less partisanship in their cable-news viewing habits than the group of folks I ran into last year at the Values Voter Summit. They were Fox News partisans the whole way, to the exclusion not only of other cable outlets, but other outlets, period.
Listen to the thoughts of John Anistranski, 20, a right-leaning Fordham student: “I understand where Rachel Maddow comes from, but I still like watching her,” he said, noting that he doesn’t like to rely on Fox News too much. “I don’t think it’s healthy for the conservative philosophy if we just hear reiterated Republican Party talking points. We need to engage in the real world."
Anistranski and the rest of this unscientific sample group showed absolutely no consensus about what on earth “Lean Forward” is supposed to mean. Kreider, after being informed of the slogan, said: “It makes sense. They are a forward-moving entity trying to prepare people for the future.” Nineteen-year-old Nathan Fatal: “They are trying to get away from the perception that they’re leaning left.” Glasscock: “ ‘Leaning Forward’ to me is trying to give the news in a less biased way and let the people reach their own decisions.”
These folks missed the press release: “Lean Forward captures the spirit of everything we do and everything we believe. It’s about celebrating the best ideas, no matter where they come from; that tomorrow can, in fact, be better than today. Lean Forward is our message.” — MSNBC, Oct. 5, 2010.
Takeaway No. 2: Mike Allen, “genius”
Matthew Hoekstra, when told that a little birdie wants to talk about media coverage of politics, defaults to a single thought: “Mike Allen of Politico is a genius,” says the 27-year-old Alexandrian.
Takeaway No. 3: Ayn Rand disciples know PR
As the friendly Erik Wemple Blogger was cornering folks at the CPAC registration area, up walked a young man who asked: “Have you gotten an objectivist perspective yet?” Of course not!
Takeaway No. 4: Thanks, Andrea Tantaros
The Fox News star was talking up the CPAC crowd with a cameraperson in tow. Overheard: “I watch you every day.” At that point, I interceded with a question for Tantaros. Having watched her assail the mainstream media over and over on Fox, I figured that by now she’d have a top five list of biased outlets. So what are they, Tantaros?
Tantaros: Call Fox News PR. Now there’s a journalist.