Frame Up? Dems, Dean Hit in Message War

ByABC News
June 16, 2005, 3:45 PM

June 18, 2005 — -- Republicans showered scorn upon Howard Dean when he said in recent weeks that the GOP is "pretty much a white Christian party," that many of its leaders "never made an honest living," and that a key Republican "is corrupt" and should "start serving his jail sentence."

Some Democrats publicly disavowed the remarks by Dean, their own party chairman.

But Dean did not back down.

"We need to be blunt and clear about the things that we're going to fight for," he told Iowa Democratic leaders Saturday, according to The Des Moines Register. "People have criticized me for being blunt. I do that on purpose. I am tired of lying down."

So is it a strategy?

If so, it's misguided, said analysts contacted by -- unless it's part of a Republican strategy.

"The Republicans are attacking Howard Dean more than Howard Dean is attacking Republicans -- but the way the stories are being handled in the news media, everybody is assuming the opposite," said Anthony Pratkanis, co-author of "Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion" and a psychology professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Experts on propaganda and political branding declared Republicans the winners of the dust-up over Dean's comments, calling Dean's attacks imprecise, poorly targeted and open to mischaracterization (Dean was forced to clarify several remarks once they were reported).

The result is little surprise to George Lakoff, a linguistics and cognitive science professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who said "the Republican message machine" has been far more effective than Democrats in recent years at framing the opposing party through disciplined message management, repetition of phrases and other techniques. Democrats, he said, can't currently match the GOP's level of organization.

"The reason for this [Dean flap] is that you have Republican media people putting this stuff out -- combing through the speeches, taking out a quote and taking them out of context," said Lakoff, a self-styled "progressive" Democrat who was in the audience for Dean's "honest living" remark and feels it was mischaracterized in the media.

Whether the Dean controversy was fueled by Republicans framing Dean's comments or by the comments themselves, the attention paid to it may have revived a media portrayal of Dean as a loose cannon, at a time of falling poll numbers for President Bush and the Republican agenda.

In other words, Pratkanis said, just as they stumbled, Republicans may have pitched a psychological message to future voters that, "We're all that keeps you from Howard Dean."

Dean's recent remarks seemingly elaborated on his quip earlier this year that, "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for."