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Column: Mourdock has no one to blame but himself


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INDIANAPOLIS — Richard Mourdock has found someone to blame for his loss in Indiana’s U.S. Senate race.

The “liberal” media.

Mourdock’s finance director, Ashlee Walls, made that clear in an email she sent to donors in the hopes that they would help erase the Republican candidate’s campaign debt. Part of the email read:

“In our case, we found our campaign caught in the liberal media cross hairs. Never has Indiana seen a more obvious example of media bias by reporters more interested in defeating conservatives than reporting the news,” the email said. “We fought back and invested heavily in a last-minute push to combat the slew of false accusations Democrats and the liberal media churned up to distract voters.”

A few points need to be made about this.

The first is that it has been an article of faith among conservatives since at least the 1964 Republican national convention that the media don’t treat them fairly. Even then, the charge was dubious. Conservatives would point to studies showing that the majority of reporters were liberals and Democrats but then conveniently ignore studies showing that an even larger majority of newspaper publishers were conservatives and Republicans.

News organizations are as liberal as the people who own them allow them to be. And those decisions most often are made for business reasons, not ideological ones.

Moreover, things have changed a bit since then.

Conservatives now own talk radio. They publish their own journals in print and online. And they have the top-rated cable news network, Fox News, which generally shows the same courtesy and respect for liberals and moderates that a real fox does for its prey.

Even though all of these news operations routinely crow that they reach more listeners, viewers and readers than anyone else, it’s still a bedrock belief among conservatives that they are alone and defenseless in a hostile environment.

Could this inability to process fresh information and adapt to new circumstances have had something to do with Mourdock’s defeat?

Mourdock doubtless would say no. To use Walls’ words, it was “the slew of false accusations” that did him in.

The problem with that argument was that the words that did the most damage to Mourdock’s candidacy were his own.

We could start with Mourdock’s statement on a national news network that one of the things he enjoyed most about being involved in politics was that it gave him a chance to “inflict” his opinion on others.

I have lost track of the number of conservatives who have told me they began to lose faith in Mourdock’s candidacy at that point. It wasn’t because they disagreed with him ideologically. They thought his statement was, in the first place, a testament to bad manners and, second, not particularly senatorial.

When Democrats used Mourdock’s own statement against him in some effective campaign ads, conservatives and Republicans winced even more.

Mourdock had plenty of opportunities to walk that statement back — to say at the very least that maybe “inflict” wasn’t the best choice of words — but he refused to do so. In fact, in the last days of the campaign, he made the same statement again, almost as a boast.

Then there was the

now-infamous debate answer linking pregnancies caused by rape to God’s will.

Even Republicans and conservatives criticized Mourdock’s strange blend of theology and politics, but, again, he refused to distance himself from the statement. At a time when every knowledgeable political observer could see that the race was going to come down to who could claim the support of Republican moderates — most of whom wanted a reason to come home to the GOP but were put off by Mourdock’s stridency — Mourdock continued to talk about rape, pregnancies and God’s will on the stump.

Mourdock said at the time that he was whipping up his base, but he already had the base under control. He needed moderates to win, and he spent the last days of his campaign chasing them away.

Conservatives such as Mourdock love to talk about responsibility and accountability, but they often are reluctant to practice what they preach.

Richard Mourdock may want to blame others for his defeat, but he can see the face of the real author of his woes in the nearest mirror.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” on WFYI - 90.1 FM in Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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