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'New media' tracks win as immigration derails

On the morning the immigration bill died -- again -- the ideological Washington Times exposed a supposed plot on Page One: A photo of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the liberal Democrat from New York, conspiring with a Republican "traitor" from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, to put something over on the American people.

In reality, they could have been checking a takeout menu. That Thursday morning, however, Schumer and Graham were in agreement that the Senate should keep talking and voting on revising laws on illegal immigration.

To the conservative media, Schumer and Graham symbolized the enemy. Hours later, the senators' cause was lost. And the new media -- websites, e-mails, conservative talk radio and television -- scored their most clearcut victory since the reelection of President George W. Bush in 2004.

This time the new media did it without strings being pulled by Karl Rove, President Bush's top advisor. Rove deployed these same forces under the mainstream radar in the election. This time Rove, and his president, were on other side, trying to move legislation they hoped would build an Hispanic Republican voting bloc and give Bush a shining legacy.

The dividing line in the aftermath between the new conservative media and the traditional mainstream outlets couldn't have been sharper. National Public Radio dolefully headlined Friday morning that Congress was under attack for failing to pass the immigration bill.

Right wing radio talk show hosts couldn't have been happier. Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were exultant. Michael Savage told listeners on 400 stations that the defeat of the bill was the greatest moment of his life.

A CBS poll showed only 13 percent of those surveyed supported the effort that Bush, Schumer, Graham and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., were making.

If the poll is representative, then where were the other 87 percent getting their information, true or false, about the bill?

The pillars of the mainstream press, the New York Times and the Washington Post, covered the debate like a horse race, offering few details. Same for the networks. Cable news continued its obsession with murders and Paris Hilton.

The details were offered up daily by hundreds of cottage websites and conservative radio, talking to the heartland over the heads of insider mainstream reporters here and in Manhattan.

They were fed by analyses published by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and facts served up by Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. The result jammed the Senate's switchboards and fax machines. It clearly alarmed Establishment senators who supported the bill.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., mocked the notion that a government that could not process passports for its citizens could investigate and document more than 12 million illegal immigrants, and secure the Southern border.

The "Terrorism Assistance and Facilitation Act of 2007," is what Sessions called it, pointing to holes in border enforcement the bill didn't plug.

Sessions and the new media were aided by a number of elements: 1) Bush wasted six years of Republican congresses and tried passing it with the help of Democrats who had no interest in giving him a legacy; 2) It was a deeply flawed bill; 3) There had been no hearings on the measure.

The stunning victory scored by new media in this episode raises a big question for the power structure: The lobbyists, the political Establishment and their friends in the mainstream press.

How are they going to manage the message in the presidential election, when more and more people out there are looking elsewhere for details?


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