What the Final Days of the Colorado Senate Race Say About the Media and the Movement

NOTE: We'll be broadcasting a special election-night show tracking all the results on AM760 tonight at 7pm Colorado time (9pm ET). Tune in on your radio dial here in Colorado or on the web at www.am760.net. - D

I have little more to add about what today's Colorado Senate Democratic primary means for progressive politics. I've said what I wanted to say yesterday, and - both sadly and not surprisingly - a lot of my predictions about what the Beltway media will say have already come true. However, I do want to highlight what the last days of the race tell us about the Beltway media's perverse priorities and about a persistent strategic failure of the progressive movement.

First, the media: Yesterday, Politico teemed with gloating stories and blog posts about how the New York Times front-page story on the Denver Public Schools (ie. my own school district) was supposedly wrong. Both Keach Hagey and Ben Smith fulminated about an allegedly "meaty correction" the Times allegedly issued, and then Hagey went on to write a full article about "The Story Behind the Bennet Story." What was the "meaty correction," you ask? An addendum to the piece the Times issued noting that one of the sources of the story, Jeannie Kaplan, is a supporter of Andrew Romanoff.

Tellingly, Politico (and, of course, the Bennet campaign) tried to cite this as proof that the story was false. But while the Times certainly could have mentioned that Kaplan was a Bennet supporter, the paper did not retract a single shred of the report about what Bennet actually did to the Denver Public School system. And why should it have? As the Cherry Creek News reported yesterday, when asked about the Times story, DPS chief Tom Boasberg over the weekend provided "no evidence" that Bennet's denials are true. Put another way, nobody has provided any concrete proof that the facts of the Times story are anything other than accurate and that, as Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi notes, this Bennet/Wall Street deal is "an unspeakably huge loss for taxpayers down the road."

What this tells us, of course, is that Politico (like so much of the Beltway media) isn't even vaguely interested in the actual substance of Bennet's Wall Street financing deal that could quite literally bankrupt an entire major-city school district, while padding the profits of Wall Street banks. That is, Politico isn't interested in the true, real-world ramifications of this story on regular folks like me, whose child (on the way right now) could suffer because of this. This Beltway rag is only interested in the palace drama - and, really, in manufacturing the palace drama by pretending a minor Times' addendum invalidates the substance of the initial report.

In fact, so focused on fabricating frivolous palace drama is Politico, that in feigning indignation about the Times' supposed lack of objectivity in failing to note Kaplan's allegiance, the paper doesn't mention that Kaplan's antagonist in this story, DPS chief Tom Boasberg, is a major Bennet supporter and donor, as is Boasberg's previous corporate employer, Level 3 Communications. Yes, that's right - in pretending to lament a lack of objectivity and balance in better disclosing sources' allegiances, Politico itself tramples objectivity and balance in disclosing sources' allegiances. And you can expect that if Bennet loses, the Politico (and other Washington reporters) will try to insist that he lost because the Times published an inaccurate report - even though, again, nobody has actually refuted the accuracy of the report.

Secondly, the progressive movement: I caught this disturbing excerpt of yet another Politico piece about the final stretch of the Senate race:

Ellen Levy, a Colorado Springs resident and member of the liberal group MoveOn.org, called both Romanoff and Bennet "superlative" candidates, but said she was voting for the incumbent because of his fierce advocacy for a public option during the health care reform debate.

You may recall that Sen. Bennet made a lot of headlines promising to do whatever he could to force a vote on a public option as part of health care reform. You may recall he raised a whopping $68,000 from progressive activists for making this pledge. And you may recall that after raising that hefty sum, he refused to force that vote when he had the chance - and worse, he refused to even author standalone public-option legislation after he reneged on his pledge to force a vote.

Here in Colorado, we did our best to publicly pressure him to stand by his pledge and offer the public-option amendment when he had the chance. But, save for Firedoglake's help, we received almost no assistance in highlighting Bennet's flip-flop from any national group like Moveon - not even the groups who raised money for Bennet for making his original public option pledge.

Now, because of those organizations' spinelessness, there are Moveon activists out there who are quite literally voting for Bennet specifically because they believe he was a "fierce advocate for a public option during the health care reform debate" - even though he was exactly the opposite.

The truth is Bennet defrauded progressives by raising money off a pledge he then reneged on - and is now being further rewarded with votes by some progressives who, in the absence of national progressive organizational telling them any different, believe Bennet fulfilled his promise. That's less a criticism of Bennet than it is of progressive organizations. After all, why shouldn't Bennet renege on a pledge to take on Big Money (in this case, the insurance industry) if the progressive movement will allow him to do what he did at no fundraising or electoral cost - and really at a fundraising and potential electoral gain? Seriously, Bennet is probably laughing his ass off at how easy it was to fleece and fool progressives on the health care issue, with so little personal consequences.

Of course, Bennet's opponent, Andrew Romanoff, may yet win. And that would be a hue progressive victory for lots of other reasons. But this public option subplot provides an enduring lesson: When the progressive movement uses only the carrot but never the stick, this is the kind of behavior we will always get, whether from Bennet or any other senator, Republican or Democrat.