By Andrew Buttaro, Assistant Editor for Townhall.com
John Ziegler is a man who always has a mission. As a radio host in Kentucky several years back, his dogged pursuit of a gubernatorial scandal resulted in the Democratic governor’s removal from office (editor's note: the Governor was not removed from office, this was an error by Townhall) . While working the drive-time beat in Los Angeles during the 2004 election, he brought John Kerry’s Iraq gaffe (if you don’t do your homework, the senator warned students, “you get stuck in Iraq”) to national attention. Now he’s at it again, producing a documentary that he promises will “show just how deep in the tank the media was for Barack Obama” during the recent presidential contest.
The film, “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected,” isn’t due for release until late February, but it has already attracted a good deal of attention. Through interviews and poll data, Ziegler makes the case that the slanted coverage tilted the playing field toward the Illinois Democrat.
Part of the movie—which can be found at HowObamaGotElected.com and had been viewed nearly 2 million times as of December 2008—consists of interviews conducted at polling locations around Southern California. Ziegler asked Obama supporters a dozen questions about politics and the 2008 presidential campaign and inquired what news sources they relied on (Sample queries: What political party currently controls Congress? Which of the four candidates has a pregnant teenage daughter?). The interviews revealed that, by and large, Obama boosters knew most of the unflattering news about the Republican ticket, but were utterly clueless when it came to negative news about the Obama team and basic questions about the political system. To Ziegler, it was evidence that the mainstream media’s unequal treatment of the two candidates had permeated the public consciousness.
Still, he wanted to get more scientific data to bolster his case. Ziegler commissioned (“at great personal expense”) a survey from well-known pollster John Zogby that asked the same slate of questions. Although not surprised by the results, the gap between Obama voters and supporters of John McCain “was even more dramatic than I expected,” says Ziegler. As with the Election Day interviews, Obama partisans were unable to answer even rudimentary questions about government issues.
Armed with this information, Ziegler hit the cable news circuit to share what he had found. After introducing the discovery on Fox News’ “Hannity and Colmes,” controversy erupted. Many Democrats cried foul at the poll’s methodology, leading Zogby to distance himself from it, and even Fox News host Bill O’Reilly chided Ziegler for not quizzing McCain voters as well. The last part is particularly galling to Ziegler.
“Why didn’t I do a poll of McCain supporters?” asks Ziegler, mock inquisitively. “Well, I don’t know if you heard, but Barack Obama won the election. I think that makes finding out what his supporters had to say a little more important.”
Ziegler stresses that the poll is not an intelligence test, but rather an attempt to gauge how media coverage affects voter judgment.
“It’s not that McCain voters are inherently smarter or anything, they just get their news from different sources,” he says. “There is a direct connection between the media sources consumed and the answers to the questions.”
To Ziegler, the fracas surrounding his project misses the point. The important discovery is that McCain voters, by a more than 2-1 margin, could correctly identify the Democrats as the party in charge of Congress, whereas more than half of Obama supporters wrongly placed the GOP in the majority.
“If you were required to know which party controls Congress in order to vote, McCain would’ve won in a landslide,” says Ziegler. “Obama won on the backs of people who had no idea about the basic setup of the government.”
The fallout from the incident has left Ziegler disappointed, and even a bit embittered.
“Look, I expected the Left to jump all over me on this, but I thought the Right would at least back me up on it,” he says. “As it turns out, that wasn’t really the case.”
When released, this will be Ziegler’s second documentary project in the past year. He previously directed “Blocking ‘The Path to 9/11,’” which detailed how ABC significantly edited a miniseries exposing the mistakes made by the U.S. government prior to the Sept. 11 attacks after the Clintons (and other leading Democrats) claimed it was unfair. Ziegler’s examination of the episode was widely praised. In an early review, the newspaper Politico said, “It presents strong evidence that many of the original docudrama’s harshest critics were also among its most ignorant.”
“It was perceived as an anti-Clinton film,” says Ziegler, “when it was really more of an anti-censorship film.”
Movie making is just the latest avenue pursued by Ziegler, who has dabbled in everything from sports reporting to talk radio over the past couple decades. Though his career has been prolific, it’s his current work that he considers most crucial.
“I think what I’m doing right now is some of the most important work I’ve done in my life,” he says. “I am confident that ‘Media Malpractice’ will be even more well-received than the last film.”
Oh, and his critics should know something else: He’s here to stay.
“I think I ought to be the Right’s Michael Moore, with far more facts and far less fat,” says Ziegler. “I know I can fill that role, and I know I can help the movement.