July 6, 2001
A few summers ago, baseball's All-Star Game inspired me to compile a roster of the nation's foremost media players. Now it's that time of year again; I've reviewed my lineup of media stars—and guess what? Except for the designated hitter, they're all still at the top of their games!
So, here is America's beloved Media All-Star Team of 2001 :
Cokie Roberts Tossing a classic mix of curveballs and changeups, Roberts can baffle anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of American history. Her delivery, like her wisdom, is utterly conventional.
Christopher Matthews The spinning pitchman of "Hardball" on cable television, Matthews currently makes frequent use of the spitter when the wind is at his back. Formerly a nominal lefty, he is now proudly ambidextrous.
George Will This hurler has cultivated an elaborate windup. Yet he can also throw a mean fastball from a stretch position. Will specializes in wide curves that nick the right edge of the plate. Catchers dread handling his arch knuckler—and sometimes get embarrassed when Will argues that even his wild pitches are strikes. If riled, he resorts to the beanball.
Jim Lehrer His lackadaisical "NewsHour" style belies the fact that Lehrer is adept at the well-placed bunt and beats many throws from across the diamond. Boosted by multi-year endorsement contracts from the agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, he's an excellent corporate-team player.
Dan Rather Off at the crack of a bat, Rather can stretch a cliche into a stand-up triple. He often hits line drives up the middle.
Patrick Buchanan Known as a "Ty Cobb wannabe" for his flashing spikes and surly manner, this slugger always swings for the fences. Crouched far to the right side of the plate, Buchanan doesn't seem to mind that he rarely connects. Dugout mates say he complains that batting was much more enjoyable before the days of Roy Campanella. (Although Buchanan has been benched a lot lately, he remains a media all-star because many key players go back a long way with him.)
Barbara Walters This consummate pro has decades of experience playing shallow center field. While she defends her turf in the sunny outfield, observers have become heavy-lidded to the point of somnolence.
Michael Kinsley Affable and almost erudite, Kinsley has the unfortunate habit of roaming the middle of the outfield for most of each game, thus leaving vast expanses vacant. Some people swear that he has never come near the left-field line, even to snag a simple pop-up.
Rush Limbaugh Limbaugh, who likes to hug the right-field line, boasts of many putouts in foul territory. However, he is rued by umpires, who find him abusive and prone to hallucinations.
David Gergen At bat, Gergen is a deft switch hitter. Wearing a mitt, he's a fast man in the pivot—able to pull off a double play with dazzling agility that makes all his maneuvering look easy. Fans marvel that he always seems to land on his feet.
Mike Wallace This seasoned receiver knows how to call the signals without antagonizing the front office.
Katie Couric Nice and savvy enough to be safe when it counts, Couric makes every "Today" look professional, even when sliding around without purpose.
Bill Gates If winning is the bottom line and sharing can be understood as market share, then Gates is a great guy to run the team.
Rupert Murdoch He has a reputation as a foxy mogul with plenty of acumen. But some players grumble that Murdoch's team is weakened by his refusal to allow southpaws on the mound.
Disney-AOLTimeWarner-NewsCorp-GeneralElectric-Via com Park The media All-Stars wouldn't think of playing the game anywhere else.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. He co-authored (with Harvey Wasserman) the 1982 book "Killing Our Own : The Disaster of America's Experience With Atomic Radiation."
Norman Solomon's archived columns may be found at FAIR/Media Beat
July 17, 2001
The belated discovery that George W. Bush’s campaign applied two disparate standards for counting overseas ballots in Florida – liberal for Bush strongholds and stringent for counties carried by Al Gore – underscores again the huge advantage that the well-funded conservative news media gives the Republicans.
By having a powerful media of its own – from TV networks to nationwide talk radio, from news magazines to daily newspapers – the conservative movement can give its stamp to events during the crucial few days when the public is paying attention. By the time, the truth comes out – if it does – it's often too late to change the outcome.
Now, eight months after the razor-thin Florida vote – and nearly six months into Bush’s presidency – The New York Times reveals that a key moment of Election 2000 came when the Bush campaign labeled Gore unpatriotic for insisting that Florida's law be followed in counting overseas absentee votes, including those from military personnel.
Immediately, the Gore-as-unpatriotic charge was picked up by the conservative press and echoed on the TV talk shows. The mainstream press joined the stampede.
Gore also faced accusations of hypocrisy for seeking hand recounts for ballots kicked out by vote-counting machines while urging that legal requirements be met for overseas ballots. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore’s running mate, was verbally bludgeoned on NBC’s “Meet the Press” until he agreed that the overseas military votes should be given the “benefit of the doubt.”
The Bush strategy opened the door for Republicans to press for lax standards on overseas votes in pro-Bush counties while enforcing narrow rules for pro-Gore counties, a six-month New York Times investigation found. The result was that about 680 questionable ballots were counted that would have been rejected under the terms of Florida’s election statute.
Those overseas ballots lacked required postmarks, were postmarked after Election Day, were mailed inside the United States, were cast by voters who had already voted, were missing signatures or contained other irregularities. Meanwhile, hundreds of ballots with similar flaws in pro-Gore counties were thrown away.
It could not be determined exactly how many votes Bush gained from the disparate standards used to count flawed ballots. But the Times reported that a statistical analysis of the 680 questionable ballots indicated that Bush probably netted about 292 votes, meaning that his official victory margin of 537 votes would have been trimmed to 245 votes if those ballots had not been counted. [NYT, July 15, 2001]
Adding the Tallies
That finding – combined with newspaper analyses of Florida ballots that were kicked out by voting machines but that indicated a presidential choice – means that Gore most likely would have won the state and thus the presidency if a statewide recount had been conducted and the flawed overseas ballots had been excluded.
The Miami Herald and USA Today reported that Gore registered a net gain of 682 if so-called “overvotes” had been checked by hand. That number alone would be more than enough to erase Bush's 537-vote margin, but the newspapers made other adjustments to the tally as they incorporated uncounted ballots that showed intent of the voters.
The newspapers concluded that Gore would have won by 242 if ballots with multiple indentations -- indicating a malfunctioning machine -- were counted. Gore's margin would have swelled to 332 if ballots with indentations only for president were counted. If all indented ballots were thrown out, however, Bush would have won by margins of 407 or 152, depending on whether ballots with hanging chads or only fully punched through chads were counted, the newspapers reported.
The New York Times' finding suggests that if the faulty overseas votes were disqualified -- trimming Bush's lead to 245 votes -- Gore would have won under three of the four standards for counting ballots.
Additionally, USA Today reported that Gore lost about 15,000 to 25,000 votes from ballot errors that resulted from confusing ballot designs in some counties.
In another move that cut into Gore’s tally, Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration improperly purged hundreds of voters – predominately African-American – after falsely identifying them as felons. According to exit polls, Gore carried the African-American vote by a 9-to-1 margin, so the phony felon purge predictably hit him hardest.
Now, with The New York Times’ findings, it is even clearer that Gore was the choice of Florida voters as well as the U.S. electorate which favored him by more than a half million ballots. Nevertheless, the American people ended up with George W. Bush in the White House.
The will of the American voters was overturned in large part because the Bush campaign and its conservative media allies succeeded in portraying Gore as the interloper and Bush as the rightful claimant of the presidency.
From Election Night on, the conservative news media and much of the mainstream national press granted Bush a sense of entitlement. This pro-Bush tilt was a carryover from the campaign where the national news media’s distaste for Bill Clinton’s vice president was a key factor in helping Bush overcome a public impression that he lacked the qualifications to be president.
Often relying on false Gore quotes or applying hostile interpretations to his remarks, the news media neutralized many of the doubts about Bush by portraying Gore as dishonest or delusional. By contrast, deceptive remarks by Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, were given a virtual pass by both the conservative and mainstream news media. [See "Protecting Bush-Cheney" at Consortiumnews.com]
During the Florida recount battle, the pattern continued. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and other conservative news outlets treated the certification of Bush’s victory by Secretary of State Katherine Harris as decisive. They also portrayed Gore as a “sore loserman” and were quick to promote other Republican “themes” such as the attack on Gore’s initial insistence on applying state law to overseas votes.
Mainstream news outlets sometimes struggled for a more neutral position, though the competitive pressures caused them to jump on many of the bandwagons set in motion by the conservative outlets. There was no countervailing media organization investigating and highlighting misdeeds by the Bush campaign.
So, for instance, relatively little attention was given to the Bush campaign’s financing of hooligans who were dispatched from the Republican congressional offices to Florida to organize rowdy demonstrations, including a riot outside the offices of the Miami-Dade canvassing board as it was trying to start a hand recount of votes on Nov. 22.
In the months since the election, the Bush campaign has refused to release information about how it spent roughly $8 million on the recount battle. Though that data could be vital to understanding how the Bush campaign pursued its hardball political strategies, there has been no clamor from the national news media for this information.
The spending data also might shed light on one startling disclosure in the new Times story. The newspaper reported that Secretary of State Harris, a co-chairman of the Bush campaign, allowed “veteran Republican political consultants” to set up a “war room” in her offices from which they “helped shape the post-election instructions (from Harris) to county canvassing boards.” Among those instructions were the requirements for counting overseas ballots.
During the key days of last November, however, conservative media outlets and much of the mainstream press portrayed Harris as the victim of a Democratic smear campaign when the Gore campaign challenged the objectivity of her decisions.
Beyond the 2000 Election, this conservative media tilt has become a dominant reality in modern U.S. politics.
The imbalance also was not an accident. It resulted from a conscious, expensive and well-conceived plan by conservatives to build what amounts to a rapid-response media machine. This machine closely coordinates with Republican leaders and can strongly influence – if not dictate – what is considered news.
There is no countervailing media on the left-of-center side, except for are a handful of small-circulation leftist journals whose writers often join with conservatives in attacking Democrats though for different reasons.
The only major media force, outside the conservative fold, is the mainstream media – sometimes called the corporate media since it is owned by huge companies such as AOL Time-Warner, General Electric or Viacom. This media operates with the goal of maximizing profits and thus seeks to avoid alienating well-heeled consumers among its diverse viewers.
Since the conservative media aggressively pushes its information into play, however, the mainstream media often feels obliged to match the conservative-oriented news rather than lose out competitively or be seen as holding an anti-conservative bias.
This dynamic has been apparent for years, though little commented upon. It began to emerge during the Reagan-Bush administration as the conservative media grew and mainstream journalists found themselves attacked by the right as alleged “liberals.” To protect their careers within corporations that were generally favorable to the Republican administration, mainstream journalists shifted their reporting to the right as a way to prove they weren’t “liberal.”
That tendency increased during the Clinton administration as the right-wing press and the mainstream press teamed up to promote “scandals” such as the Travel Office firings and the Clintons’ Whitewater real-estate investment. Stories of such minimal importance would have been one-day events, if reported at all, during the Reagan-Bush years. But the conservative media whipped these stories along and mainstream reporters followed so they wouldn't be tagged as Clinton apologists.
The Thomas/Hill Factor
From 1993 to 2000, the conservative media also mounted well-funded investigations of the Clintons’ personal lives, a strategy driven in part by a chip-on-the-shoulder conviction that the liberals had done the same in falsely accusing Republican Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of a bizarre pattern of sexual harassment toward female subordinates, including boasts about pornographic movies he had watched.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Thomas had angrily denied the charges and conservative journalist David Brock had discredited Thomas’ principal accuser, Anita Hill, as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” in an article that ran in the American Spectator.
Now, a decade later, Brock has recanted his attacks on Hill and his defense of Thomas. In his upcoming book Blinded by the Right [excerpted in Talk magazine, August 2001], Brock described how he was recruited and paid by right-wing forces to destroy Hill.
“I saw my introduction to right-wing checkbook journalism as a big break,” Brock wrote. “I set out to rehabilitate Thomas and clear his name for the history books by exposing the treachery of his liberal detractors; in framing the article I would play to the deeply ingrained conservative suspicion that the ‘liberal media’ had hidden the real story behind Hill’s case.”
This myth of the “liberal media” dates back even further to the 1970s when conservative activists blamed the press for losing the Vietnam War and hounding an innocent President Richard Nixon from office over the Watergate scandal.
These beliefs have remained conservative doctrine in the quarter century since, even though the U.S. military has conceded that the Vietnam War was lost by poor strategy and high casualties, not from disloyal reporting. [For details, see The Military and the Media : The U.S. Army in Vietnam by Pentagon historian William M. Hammond.].
The conservative certainty about the media’s unfairness to Nixon also has held firm despite the release of hundreds of hours of incriminating White House tapes.
Nevertheless, conservative activists felt that this perceived enemy – this “liberal media” – justified their creation of a separate right-wing media and their attacks on mainstream reporters who dug up information unfavorable to the conservative cause. “We needed our own media, our own reporters, and our own means of getting out our side of the story,” Brock wrote.
Beyond admitting now that he unfairly maligned Hill to protect Thomas, Brock adds stunning details about how the smear campaign collaborated with leading conservatives, including key judges on the federal courts.
One of those judges was U.S. Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who was one of two judges who overturned Oliver North’s Iran-contra felony convictions in 1990.
“Though the confirmation battle had been won, Thomas’s closest friends knew that a full-scale defense of Thomas would help confer legitimacy on his Supreme Court tenure,” Brock wrote. George H.W. Bush's White House passed along some psychiatric opinion that Anita Hill suffered from “erotomania,” Brock wrote, but some of the more colorful criticism of Hill came from Silberman.
“Silberman speculated that Hill was a lesbian ‘acting out’,” Brock wrote. “Besides, Silberman confided, Thomas would never have asked Hill for dates: She had bad breath.”
According to Brock, Silberman’s wife Ricky played an even more active role in the campaign to discredit Hill. [Prior to his appointment as a federal judge, Laurence Silberman also was implicated in questionable contacts with Iranian emissaries during Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign. For details, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason.]
After Brock expanded his assault on Hill into a best-selling book, The Real Anita Hill, the Silbermans and other prominent conservatives joined a celebration at the Embassy Row Ritz-Carlton, Brock wrote. Also in attendance was U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle, the other judge who had voted to reverse North’s Iran-contra convictions. [Sentelle also cast a deciding vote in overturning Iran-contra felony convictions of Reagan’s national security adviser John Poindexter.]
In 1992, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist named Sentelle to run a three-judge panel that selected special prosecutors. In appointing Sentelle, Rehnquist waived statutory guidance as well as years of precedents that sought to give control of the special-prosecutor apparatus only to senior or retired judges who did not have strong partisan reputations.
By contrast, Sentelle was a junior judge and a protégé of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Sentelle used his new powers to appoint conservative lawyers to handle sensitive investigations. Sentelle’s selections included conservative activists to investigate alleged offenses by the Clinton administration, most notably Kenneth Starr to examine Clinton’s business and personal affairs.
Brock’s disclosure about the direct interest by federal judges in partisan activities, including dishonest efforts to discredit Anita Hill, an American citizen who had testified about the qualifications of an appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, might have been big news if the United States had a different news media.
Instead, the debate about Brock’s Anita Hill confession focused on whether the admissions of a liar like Brock should ever be believed. There was no independent journalistic effort to evaluate the detailed evidence that Brock presented about the conservative cabal that went to extraordinary lengths to turn Hill’s life into a living hell.
Brock’s admission also might have prompted a fuller discussion of the national press corps' behavior during the Clinton administration.
After the Thomas-Hill controversy, Brock spearheaded another conservative-funded journalistic inquiry into the Clintons’ personal lives. In late 1993, Brock wrote an article for the American Spectator that pulled together various allegations from state troopers and others in Arkansas about the Clintons’ alleged sexual dalliances.
The story provoked a new controversy dubbed “Troopergate,” which gave rise to the dubious sexual harassment allegations against Clinton from Paula Jones. The conservative media seized on those charges, in part, as retaliation for the supposedly bogus Anita Hill charges against Clarence Thomas.
Before long, the mainstream news media joined in the pursuit of the “Clinton scandals,” leading to an unprecedented press assault on the private lives of a First Family.
As this assault proceeded, there was almost no reporting about the remarkable behind-the-scenes story of a right-wing cabal to regain the White House through scandal-mongering. Indeed, when First Lady Hillary Clinton complained about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in 1998, her remarks were met with howls of ridicule and derision. [The few exceptions included Salon.com and Consortiumnews.com]
The national press corps behaved then – and continues to behave to this day – as if her allegations were beyond ludicrous. After all, if such a conspiracy had existed, the crack Washington press corps would have known about it, right? [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Quisling Press."]
The Bush Election
Yet, in many ways, the culmination of this media phenomenon was not the impeachment of Clinton in 1998. It was the campaign and election in 2000.
Key journalists at both conservative and mainstream outlets – angered that Clinton had survived eight years of investigations – took out their frustrations on Vice President Al Gore.
Even leading newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, put words into Gore’s mouth about his role in the Love Canal toxic-waste cleanup and then dragged their heels about running corrections. Other bogus Gore quotes became urban legends, such as his supposed assertion that he had “invented” the Internet.
The exaggerated reporting about Gore’s supposed exaggerations also put the banana peel under his foot for the moments when he made real, though minor, slip-ups.
In October, the news media went into overdrive after a presidential debate when Gore incorrectly recalled a trip to Texas with the director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Gore had actually gone with the deputy director. The Bush campaign fed the mistake to the press and the error dominated the campaign for a week.
A completely different media posture was apparent when Bush or Cheney made similar or worse misstatements – including Cheney’s lie that the government had not helped him in his business career at the helm of Halliburton Co. The truth was that Cheney had lobbied successfully for federal loan guarantees and other government largesse. Those falsehoods, however, were deemed not worthy of reporting by the major national press.
The Recount Experience
The pattern of looking only one way continued into the Florida recount battle. Gore was portrayed as the aggressor trying to overturn the rightful result of Bush’s victory. Little attention was paid to the maneuverings by the Bush campaign to secure the electoral votes in defiance of the will of the voters.
After the recount battle, BBC journalist Greg Palast disclosed how Jeb Bush’s subordinates had mounted an extraordinary effort to purge felons from the voting rolls and knowingly included legitimate voters with similar names and addresses.
The scheme denied the right to vote to a disproportionate number of African-Americans, but there was scant follow-up in the major news media. The Washington Post did not write its matcher of Palast’s work until almost half a year after the election.
Also in the months after the election, the Bush campaign refused to release details about its recount-battle spending, with barely a whimper from the mainstream press.
Now, nearly six months into the Bush presidency, The New York Times discovers that Bush padded his tiny lead through a strategy of letting in questionable overseas votes in his counties while blocking them in pro-Gore counties.
(To add insult to injury, the Bush campaign got five conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court -- including Thomas and Rehnquist -- to block a statewide Florida recount in December on the grounds that disparate standards would be used in counting the votes, exactly what Bush had done with the overseas ballots.)
What the Future Holds
Yet, as Bush finishes his first six months in the White House, the imbalance in the U.S. news media only worsens.
Fox News has become a leading force in cable news as it dishes out a steady diet of conservative opinions and slanted news coverage.
“Fox News Channel has become a vanity showcase catering to the Angry White Male in his autumn plumage,” observed writer John Wolcott. [Vanity Fair, August 2001]
Bland CNN – now part of the media behemoth AOL Time-Warner – is planning a makeover, presumably to challenge Fox for some of it’s A.W.M. viewers.
Though CNN is sometimes portrayed as the liberal counterweight to Fox, in reality, it gives equal or greater weight to conservative voices, with the “liberals” often represented by centrist journalistic types. By contrast, right-wing columnist Robert Novak does double duty on CNN, giving his opinions and showing up as a reporter.
On the AM dials, Rush Limbaugh and copycat radio opinion hosts continue to rant. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, with his mysterious source of seemingly unlimited cash, continues to subsidize the Washington Times as a daily voice for harsh attacks on Democrats and strong defenses of the Bush administration. The Wall Street Journal editorial page does the same, not to mention Murdoch’s New York Post and other hard-right publications around the country.
Conservatives also dominate the magazine racks with many of their publications, from the Weekly Standard to American Spectator, heavily subsidized either by right-wing funders or conservative foundations coordinating their spending to get the biggest ideological bang for the buck. [For more details about the conservative media, see "Democrats Dilemma."]
By contrast, the Bush-Gore election debacle has sparked virtually no response from well-heeled liberals to create or support news outlets that could change the current imbalance.
Even as Bush pursues a hard-right agenda – including repudiating the Kyoto global-warming protocol and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty – liberals seem content to cede control of the national news to a combination of hard-charging right-wing bulls and cowed mainstream types.
Except for a few new Web sites, apparently run by rank-and-file Democrats, there has been no change in the media dynamic – and the Web sites clearly reach only a tiny percentage of the American people.
Liberals apparently feel that the situation will either fix itself or can be overcome by more grassroots organizing, a view comparable to the resistance of some companies in the 1950s to shift their marketing from door-to-door salesmen to television advertising. Ironically, the conservatives have shown themselves more amenable to change than the liberals.
Despite the new disclosures about Bush campaign shenanigans, the larger reality for now and for the foreseeable future is that conservatives will continue to hold the upper hand on how the press perceives and reports the political news, at least during the crucial days and weeks when power is in the balance.
Marshall McLuhan's famous quote might need some editing.
Today, it might read : "the media is the mess."
During the 1980s, Robert Parry broke many of the stories known as the Iran-contra affair for The Associated Press and Newsweek.
August 6, 2001
With special thanks to Stephanie
The right wing claims there is no such thing as a "vast right wing conspiracy" but that the "liberal media" is alive and well, and standing in the way of freedom, democracy, Mom and apple pie.
But more evidence is uncovered every day that the right wing conspiracy does exist, especially if one believes the allegations of David Brock, one of the hired "assassins," whose assignments included tarring and feathering Anita Hill, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The liberal media doesn't exist any more than
"compassionate conservatism" or a "new tone of civility in Washington,
The liberal media doesn't exist any more than "compassionate conservatism" or a "new tone of civility in Washington, DC."
The conspiracy exists, though. In fact, the conspiracy exists in more forms than most of us previously realized, and is more pervasive than could have been imagined. In order to succeed, it needs in fact, a conservative media bias, and it depends on feeding misinformation and propaganda disguised as "truth." Fox News Network is not "fair and balanced," Rush Limbaugh does not have "talent on loan from God," Matt Drudge is not a "journalist" and George W. Bush has not restored "honor and dignity" to the White House. But none of that matters for a significant number of us who believe what they're told uncritically and have the advantage of being able to understand only one side of any given issue. I suspect that many of us want to believe what we're told is true, partly because it's easier than doing our own thinking.
It is hard to blame these people, in a way. Most of them got trained to be that way from their earliest days, and it began in school, most specifically in classes about history and government. We've all had the experience of realizing that the real way the government works and this country is run has nothing to do with what we're taught in civics and history texts. Textbooks are an important medium for indoctrinating the masses of us into one amorphous lump of unquestioning obedience of authority, and so I'm including them as part of the "media." The antidote to being taken in by the broadcast and print media's distortions and omissions is to do independent research and study non mainstream sources, and the same is true of how to correctly look at and interpret history.
But first, we need to know history, and what we're taught in school is only part of the story, or a slanted and limited view of what actually happened. The same is true of the lessons we are told we can draw from history. History is taught in a way that discourages students from realizing the power that individuals and groups out side of government or power can exercise, and it works on a very subtle, low-key level.
One part of the process is to downplay the contribution individuals and outside groups have made to this country. History is taught so that people have a subconscious conditioning that makes them feel that when a problem or crisis arises, some great figure (almost always a white male) rose to the occasion and led this country out of the darkness. It is usually taught in a way that downplays any link that the present has to the past. A good example is Abraham Lincoln and his place in the history books ending slavery. He becomes the focal point, ignoring the efforts of countless thousands of individuals risking their lives; many of them free white men. Slavery is cast as a one-dimensional situation, ignoring the socioeconomic, foreign policy and other aspects of slavery. And so we come up with a literal impression that Lincoln ended slavery, African Americans were free to enjoy full citizenship, with all its rights and privileges and all was well with the world. But since slavery doesn't get looked at in depth, the history books we learn from are free to cast the Civil Rights struggles as something completely separate from the previous century. Now we have that boiled down pretty much to Martin Luther King, Jr., keeping the troops focused on the goal, and another great American, Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Acts. Once again, crisis averted, problem solved, everything's in the past.
My favorite example, though, of how hero creation works is Helen Keller. We all know who she was, struck blind and deaf at a young age, taught by Anne Sullivan to read and speak, and went on to become an orator and writer. Her story is meant to be an inspiration to us all, because if someone who started out with so many strikes against her can make it, why can't all of us? After all, this is America, and the American Dream is in reaching distance of anyone who's not too lazy to work hard. Right?
Question : What did she speak and write about? Was that covered in any class most of us went through? How could it be that we could be presented with a role model without us studying her work? Can anyone reading this say what her subject matter was? Besides being an advocate for the blind, what was her life about?
For one thing, she was a Socialist, and a radical one. She marched in protests, and she used her visibility to be a real pain in the ass to the status quo. She marched, wrote, and advocated for safe work conditions and was a cofounder of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was a prolific writer, and she used her pen to agitate. Here's an excerpt left out of the history books-this is from Keller to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, a former supporter who withdrew his praise when she became a Socialist :
"Oh, and ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! What an ungallant bird it is! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness that we are trying to prevent. The Eagle and I are at war. I hate the system which it represents ... When it fights back, let it fight fair ... It is not fair fighting or good argument to remind me and others that I cannot see or hear. I can read. I can read all the socialist books I have time for in English, German and French. If the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle should read some of them, he might be a wiser man, and make a better newspaper. If I ever contribute to the Socialist movement the book that I sometimes dream of, I know what I shall name it : Industrial Blindness and Social Deafness."
Our history texts also leave out the accomplishments of groups of individuals, ordinary citizens who have helped change the landscape of this country. In the 20th century, there were widespread civilian uprisings, protests, demonstrations, sit-ins ... in the decades before the '60's. We aren't taught what organized groups and labor unions accomplished by banding together and making their voices heard. We have a 40 hour work week, minimum wage, child labor laws, and a long list of other things, not because our good and kind leaders gave them to us, but because ordinary people spoke up, organized, and made their voices heard.
Did you read about this in school? In 1932, during the Depression, more than 20,000 WW1 vets marched on Washington, DC demanding that the government pay off government bonus certificates early. The vets were camped across the Potomac River from the Capitol, and forced Congress to consider emergency bills to pay off the certificates. The bill passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate. President Hoover ordered the army to remove the protesters.
Thousands of veterans and their families were tear-gassed, and their huts were set on fire. Thousands of veterans were injured by gas; several vets were killed, as well as an 11-week-old baby.
Three of the commanding officers in charge of ending the protest are mentioned in history books, but for other things: Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, who was in charge of the operation.
This is one of the events that led to the New Deal. The New Deal may not have happened if the government hadn't been forced to acknowledge that people were hurting and it was up to them to do something about it.
We are trained that our chance to influence our direction and policies come along solely whenever there is an election. Otherwise, we must wait it out and trust out leaders in the meantime. But the truth is that there are times where it becomes necessary for change to happen apart from the election process. Large masses of citizens have felt this way and mobilized countless times in the history of the United States, though mention of those times is mostly ignored in our history books.
Ironically, we are force fed how noble the cause was of the men and women whose protesting and resistance to then existing policies and relations led to the founding of the greatest civilization to ever exist on this planet, the United States. At the same time, the implication is that the rest of us only need to sit back and trust our leaders, we are helpless to do anything, and besides, we are nowhere near as smart as the Founders, and what do we have to complain about besides?
None of what was accomplished would have ever been given freely if citizens had just sat and waited to be noticed. It was true in colonial times, and it is true now.
Sometimes the situation in this country reaches a point where enough people are unhappy, disenfranchised, persecuted, or negatively affected in many other ways by this country's policies and it becomes necessary to band together, to stand up to power. It is true that the little guy almost never wins. The system we have is stacked too much in favor of the big guys, but every once in a while it is possible that the big guys do have to retreat a bit when ordinary people organize and demand to be heard.
We learn about the New Deal in school, but we don't learn that what was largely behind it was widespread unrest and the probability of increasingly widespread violence. It was a concession to the masses. Other changes brought about by grassroots mobilizing end up being neutralized after the existing power structure adjusts to the new reality and finds ways to circumvent changes to the system. The minimum wage and Civil Rights are two battles that were originally won that need to be constantly refought.
Does this mean we shouldn't ever try? No, it means we need to never let up. Nothing is ever going to be freely given, and nothing is ever going to continue to be available after we relax our guard and stop paying attention. It's been proven over and over.
Now we are in a station where we have a Federal government that represents the opposite of what more than half of the people who voted in the last election wanted. It took less than 48 hours for the new administration to officially begin to show us how little it thought of us or cared that we even exist. It unofficially showed us several months previously when it started the process of shoving down our throats the Great Impostor, George W. Bush, the most illiterate, intellectually void, mean-spirited and unqualified pant load that ever ran for the office as someone whose inevitability to be president couldn't be challenged. We were told that he was a compassionate uniter who would restore honor and dignity to the White House, and he was installed in that office by illegal, shady means. Our Constitution, which has been under continuous assault for many years by these same parties, was subverted in a way that showed that it might as well not exist.
Over 50 million people found out that we can't trust the lies we're told in history class, when our votes were erased as if they had never been cast. Our right to vote in the future is in serious question. We're finding out now after the fact how extensively the fix was in, and how much trouble was gone through to install the Monkey King in the toughest job in the world, all for the purpose of tilting the table in favor of those who need help the least.
We haven't had a democracy in this country for quite some time, and it looks like things will probably get worse before they get better. It's getting time again for grassroots voices to be heard.
We have to be loud, we have to be consistent, we have to be persistent. What we have going on now affects many different sections of the population equally now, some of which didn't have much in common with each other before. Black people didn't just get screwed in the election's theft, we all did. Women, the elderly, children, every person of color, the lower economic classes, gays, lesbians, you name it. We have to exercise our power together, and we have to do it with one consistent, unanimous voice.
Get involved if you're not already. If you're like me, the Supreme Court decision left you with a feeling in your stomach like you had swallowed a bowling ball.
Copyright (c) 2001 Isaac Peterson
Isaac Peterson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
July 27, 2001
Three high-profile politicians are currently involved in potentially criminal events. One, U.S. congressman Gary Condit, had an affair with an intern, Chandra Levy, who subsequently disappeared without a trace 13 weeks ago. Where she is, whether she’s alive, and what happened to her remains unanswered as I write this. A second politician, Philip Giordano, the mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut, and unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate, is charged with sexually molesting a child under 16.
According to reports, the mayor is suspecting of sexually abusing a number of children as young as 9 and 10; he’s also facing a plethora of campaign corruption and fraud charges that may stretch back as far as 1995. A third case involves another U.S. representative; aide Lori Klausutis was found dead in the Florida offices of Rep. Joe Scarborough on the morning of July 20; she had been dead for nearly two days. Cause of death is still under investigation. Klausutis, like Levy, was a fitness buff who was reportedly in the prime of health when she suddenly died.
The Condit-Levy case is front-page news in most major media outlets and prime discussion fodder for just about every political commentary show on the airwaves. Condit is being compared to Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Jeffrey Dahmer, among others. Mobs of reporters and photographers dog Condit’s steps and camp out on the Levy family’s lawn. The GOP released the results of a poll they sponsored that claimed to show the Condit case was resulting in national disenchantment with the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the Scarborough-Klausutis case is hardly being reported at all; the few news articles I could find online are from regional Florida papers such as the Northwest Florida Daily News and the Pensacola News Journal. The second of two articles I could find in the NFDN archives is headlined “Klausutis’s Death Not Suspicious” and makes it clear that Scarborough is not considered a suspect (the first reported the death and emphasized that Scarborough was not under suspicion). Another article, from July 21, reported the death along with the police’s immediate assertions that Klausutis died of natural causes, and that Scarborough, again, was not a suspect. The Giordano charges are apparently getting statewide attention in Connecticut – the Hartford Courant, for one, is following the story very closely – but it seems most national media outlets are all but ignoring the situation.
A Google search for “Lori Klausutis” and “Joe Scarborough” turned up one document, a HUD listing. No news articles. A similar search for “Philip Giordano” and “sexual misconduct” also turned up one document, a Roll Call election preview. Again, no news articles. A search for “Gary Condit” and “Chandra Levy” turned up 8,410 documents; the first results were variously titled “A Sex Scandal?,” “The Naked Truth about Gary Condit,” “Don Juan in Hell,” “Gary Condit is Acting Just Like Bill Clinton,” and so forth. On today’s CNN.com front page, Condit-Levy is a featured article, with film and a timeline. No mention is made of either the Scarborough or Giordano cases; the Giordano case is the last entry in the “More News” links on the US News page, while I had to search the CNN archives for any mention of the Scarborough case – no articles were listed on the death of Lori Klausutis, and a single article appears about Scarborough’s announcement in May that he would resign his office due to “chronic back pain” and “personal soul-searching.” (Not only did Scarborough not resign, he now claims he will not run for further office, apparently because of reports that he impregnated one of his own aides.) America Online’s national news is full of the latest on Condit’s interviews with the FBI and DC police, while I scanned the first 200 articles in their archives without finding a listing for either the Scarborough or Giordano cases.
Call me biased, but I see a disparity here. One case – a vanished intern who had had an affair with a U.S. congressman – is getting blanket coverage on the national stage. Two other cases – a corrupt mayor sexually molesting children and an aide found inexplicably dead in a U.S. congressman’s office – get virtually no coverage.
Why? Well, let’s see. Gary Condit, focus of saturation coverage by the national media, is a Democrat. Scarborough and Giordano, ignored by the media, are Republicans. Think that might have something to do with the media’s selective coverage?
We can’t prove it, but we can sure think it.
Rush Limbaugh is spending hours a day roaring and fulminating about Gary Condit and his alleged complicity in the Levy disappearance. You’d think he’d be just as harsh about a mayor and Senate candidate who molests little children, but apparently he doesn’t talk about it. Fox News and MSNBC are giving viewers daily barrages of opinion on the Levy case. Isn’t it even more suspicious that an aide to a congressman is found mysteriously dead in his office, especially in light of the fact that said congressman has decided not to run again because of his affair and subsequent impregnation of an unnamed aide? Why isn’t Sean Hannity regaling us with conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough and the possibility he had Klausutis murdered to keep her mouth shut? Bob Dornan goes on O’Reilly’s show to talk about the Condit case and ends up yowling about Clinton being a draft dodger who had no business being commander-in-chief. Hmmm, I don’t see Alan Dershowitz publicly speculating about the connections between Joe Scarborough and George W.
On Larry King Live, media pundit Nancy Grace quotes directly from Condit’s initial interview with the police – an interview that hasn’t been released yet. Can you say “fabricated quotes?” Paula Zahn is shuttling psychics on and off of her show to tell us just how Levy died. Maybe we should get Miss Cleo on the case. A crazed Pentecostal preacher made a spurious claim that Condit had an affair with his 18-year old daughter (his allegation made headlines, his admission that he made the whole thing up hardly appeared at all). And Rush regales us with the Darrel Condit-Roger Clinton connection : “Gary Condit is to Bill Clinton as Mini-Me is to Mike Myers. The parents of Chandra Levy now want the cops to start looking into Condit's brother's behavior. We all know the Roger Clinton story, so there may be something to learn there." Say what? We know both Clinton and Condit had affairs, and we know that both brothers have had tangles with the law, so this suggests…what? That Gary Condit is a murderer? Run that by me again? And even better, this somehow reflects on Bill Clinton? What we aren’t hearing is that of every woman who disappears in America, a third of them disappear from the streets of Washington, D.C. Is it only the ones who are connected with Democratic lawmakers who get the press?
And I saw yesterday on “Hardball” that only now, 13 weeks after Levy’s disappearance, are the local cops bothering to question the 20 or so identified sex offenders living in Levy’s neighborhood. You think they might be worth questioning? Of course, the pundits blew past that little tidbit to get back on the topic of Condit’s alleged complicity. Oh yeah. (Check The Daily Howler’s Web site for more info on just how bizarre, and how erroneous, the nation’s media pundits have been on the Condit case. As they say, “howling ignorance of basic facts is a staple of Tabloid Nation. In Tabloid Nation, pandering phonies like Zahn and Matthews go on the air each night rubbing their thighs, shedding wet tears and telling the world how much they want to find Chandra. Meanwhile, anyone who follows their work in detail sees that they frequently don’t know elementary facts – facts that any journalist would know if he had made any effort to study the case.” It would be nice if, during their 24/7 coverage of everything Condit, they’d actually get some of their facts right. But we’ve seen this all before. Sometimes the facts just don’t cooperate with the need to tar them damn Demoncrats. And isn’t it interesting that the same pundits could give a hoot in hell about finding out how Lori Klausutis died, or publicly sympathizing with those brutalized children. No, it’s All Condit All The Time.)
To my mind, the saturation coverage of the Condit case is all about the connections with the Democratic Party and that icon of political sleaziness, Bill Clinton. Every time media pundits like O’Reilly and Limbaugh talk about Chandra Levy the “intern,” they’re hoping that the public will make the connection with Clinton’s own intern problems and with the Democrats as a whole. Am I defending Gary Condit? Hardly. Condit has to be a prime suspect in the case, and his dodgy behavior with the FBI and police investigators is reprehensible. Given the choice between voting for Condit and, say, B-1 Bob Dornan, I’d shoot the polling machine first. People are right to be outraged with Condit’s attempts to duck out of cooperating with the cops, and the cops’ own refusal to name Condit as a suspect. But what’s with the Joe Scarborough situation? Every news report I’ve seen on the subject says that she died of unknown causes, and that Scarborough is in no way considered a suspect. Oh really Scarborough is leaving office over his own affairs with his own aides, he’s even alleged to have impregnated an aide who has yet to be identified, and now one turns up dead in his own offices? Isn’t Scarborough’s possible involvement even worth considering? Why aren’t Rush, Hannity, O’Reilly, et al howling with outrage over Scarborough’s “coddling” by local law enforcement? And Lord knows no one approves of child molesters. So where’s the public outrage over Philip Giordano’s alleged atrocities? The same pundits who are crucifying Condit with virtually no evidence are refusing to touch either Scarborough or Giordano.
Let’s close with a little exercise. For the name “Joe Scarborough,” substitute “Richard Gephardt” or any other Democratic representative you like. Try to imagine Rush’s reaction; apoplectic would hardly cover it. “Dead!” he’d scream. “Dead in the man’s very own offices! How do they know she died of natural causes? No one’s released an autopsy report yet. And think about our boy already deciding to leave office over allegedly – allegedly, ha ha – getting one of his aides pregnant! Was this poor woman carrying this man’s child? Does anyone else think that he might have something to do with it? Is this unfortunate young woman’s blood on this fiendish Democrat’s hands? We’ll be right back.” Now, for the name “Philip Giordano,” substitute, say, “Richard Daley.” The media barrage would be relentless. We’d hear nothing but tale after tale about how Daley was stuffing his hands down little children’s pants. As we should be hearing about that (alleged) bastard Giordano. And that (maybe) murderer Scarborough. But we’re not. And that tells me the driving force behind the media’s obsession with the Condit case, along with its failure to acknowledge the Scarborough and Giordano cases, is Condit’s political affiliation. Too bad he didn’t join the Republican Party when he was asked. No one would be paying any mind to him, and both he and the vanished Levy would be a blip on the national media’s radar.
Liberal media, my ass.
August 9, 2001
Near the end of Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, Capt. John Miller – played by Tom Hanks – lies dying, wounded after a desperate battle to defend a bridge in Normandy. He signals to Private James Ryan to come close and whispers a final message.
“Earn this,” Miller tells the young soldier. “Earn it.”
The admonition seems harsh. In the movie, Ryan – played by Matt Damon – had lost his brothers in the Normandy invasion and had fought bravely himself. He chose to stay with his unit to defend the bridge rather than leave his post for safety when Miller’s patrol arrived to “save” him.
Like many real soldiers who served in World War II, the fictional Ryan would seem to have done more than his fair share in the defense of his country and in the battle against tyranny. Yet, the message from a dying Capt. Miller to the young Private Ryan was “earn this.”
What a difference a generation or two can make!
As the U.S. today stumbles through one of the greatest affronts to its democratic principles – last year’s overturning of the popular choice for president – the political and media forces that enabled those events are unchastened. Many on the losing side also seem to have learned little from the experience.
Growling on the Right
Six months after George W. Bush moved into the White House, the political-media dynamic that paved his way has grown even stronger. Conservative influence continues to expand over all forms of communications – from newspapers, books and magazines, to television networks, talk radio and well-funded Web sites.
Along with its rightward drift, the national news media has gotten goofier, meaner and more disconnected from any larger sense of decency.
The creepy obsession with Chandra Levy’s disappearance is only the most recent example of the media’s skewed judgment. The punditry’s insistence that Bush is doing a great job is another, even as the economy sinks, the budget surplus disappears, traditional U.S. allies are up in arms and potential enemies are growing closer in defiance of U.S. policies.
Yet, as the conservatives smartly invest billions of dollars in their own media and draw the mainstream press ever more in that direction, the primary liberal response has been to launch a few home-grown Web sites.
While individuals have shown spunk in creating aggressive new outlets, such as smirkingchimp.com and mediawhoresonline.com, the Web sites remain a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the size and sophistication of the conservative effort.
Wealthy liberals mostly have stayed on the sidelines. After the election, Barbra Streisand issued a manifesto calling for a Democratic-oriented TV outlet to counter the conservative media. She also wanted Democratic politicians to show more spine. Yet, when her proposal encountered derision from the Washington Post and other bastions of national journalism, she backed down.
Further to the left, Ralph Nader and his supporters remain in denial about their misjudgment in Election 2000 when they insisted that there was no meaningful difference between Republicans and Democrats.
In just six months, Bush has shattered that myth by proving the obvious – that within the extraordinary might of the U.S. government, the shades of gray in policies as well as in the competence of the leaders can be vitally important. Indeed, those shades of gray can make the difference between whether life on this planet continues or doesn’t.
As Bush has shown, a president has the power to sabotage international cooperation on key environmental issues such as global warming and to touch off a new arms race by backing away from treaties on nuclear and biological weapons. The White House also can begin dismantling the traditional forms of Social Security, Medicare and a host of other domestic policies that are important to many Americans.
Despite this freshly demonstrated reality, Nader still won’t admit that his white-male-dominated presidential campaign might have been wrong and the 90 percent of African-American voters who backed Gore might have been right.
The performance of leading Democrats has been mixed. Sen. Tom Daschle and a few others did orchestrate the narrow Democratic takeover of the Senate, giving the Democrats a chance to advance some of their agenda items, such as the patients’ bill of rights.
But other key Democrats, such as Vice President Al Gore, slipped into the reeds. In his self-imposed silence, Gore avoided confronting Bush at a time when millions of Americans were looking for someone with stature to show leadership.
Presumably, Gore felt that the country needed time to heal the wounds from the election. He also might have needed time himself to sort out his personal goals. Certainly, he bowed to the prevailing view from the Washington Establishment that he should accept Bush’s legitimacy and get out of the way.
In that sense, the silence demonstrated one of Gore’s greatest weaknesses as the kind of leader needed to confront today’s peculiar circumstances. Gore continues to show polite respect for the so-called “meritocracy” of Washington, especially as represented in the national news media.
Like many other prominent liberals, Gore resists the conclusion that the Washington press corps is approaching moral, ethical and professional bankruptcy. The positive liberal view of the press comes from the past, a quarter century ago when reporters exposed serious crimes of state in the Watergate scandal, the Pentagon Papers and the secret records of the CIA.
Similarly, Gore put his faith in the court system and the rule of law during the Florida recount battle. He discouraged his backers from taking to the streets, even as the Bush campaign flew right-wing hooligans to Florida to mount violent demonstrations.
To the bitter end, Gore professed to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court would defend the fundamental right to vote in America, rather than simply render a partisan judgment. He was wrong in his assessment.
Gore efforts to ingratiate himself with the Establishment have gained him little. He certainly won no favors from his media tormentors who now are ridiculing his not-so-usual decision to grow a beard on a summer vacation.
In a reprise of the wacky elite journalism that characterized last year’s campaign, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd seized on the beard as a way to peer again into Gore’s psyche.
“The beard is magnifique,” Dowd wrote. “So Continental, so Pepe Le Pew. In all those pictures from Europe, the newly hirsute Al Gore, looking like Orson Welles, strolls contentedly after a repast in Rome with Tipper. He has a sly, freshly liberated expression that you usually see only on guys of 18, when they’re finally old enough to escape from their parents, principals and guidance counselors, go off on a trek to Europe and grow a goofy-looking beard.
"With his Hemingway growth and Heineken girth, all Mr. Gore needs is a pack of Gitanes and an earth-tone beret." [NYT, Aug. 5, 2001]
In her clever writing style and her emphasis on the personal, Dowd has become the avatar of the new hip-nihilistic press coda that “nothing is everything and everything is nothing.” She is a columnist who holds dearest the belief that a smartly turned phrase is the height of the journalistic experience.
Though Dowd holds a Pulitzer Prize for her commentary, her tendencies are really not so different from the TV pundits who less eloquently mocked Gore for his beard. ABC’s This Week simply showed a photo of Gore’s beard, as the pundits uttered comments like “a gray beard” and “Al Gore. What do you make of this?” and dissolved into laughter.
The Chandra Case
Nor is the silliness over Gore's beard very far from the repellent TV obsession over Chandra Levy’s disappearance.
On Aug. 1, in a classic sequence, the major TV news networks made a madcap dash of helicopters and satellite trucks to Fort Lee, Va., south of Richmond. The spare-no-expense race was in reaction to an anonymous tip published on a Web site that the body of the missing intern had been “shrink-wrapped” and buried in a Fort Lee parking lot.
The next day, the tip turned out to be a hoax, but the networks still broadcast live stand-ups from Fort Lee. Fox News – the conservative news network that has devoted hours and hours a day to the Chandra Levy case, even consulting psychics – did its Fort Lee updates under the slogan, “Fox on Top.”
The pretense behind the media’s interest in Levy’s disappearance was always a heartfelt concern to help her parents find their missing daughter. It was a fortunate byproduct that the disappearance gave the TV news shows a chance to gossip about the young woman’s sexual affair with Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif.
The Chandra Levy case also brought the old cast from the Monica Lewinsky scandal back in force, with conservatives Barbara Olson, Ann Coulter and William Bennett reprising their roles as the nation’s moral arbiters. In one dissonant question, CNN interviewer Larry King asked Bennett about hypocrisy on the part of Republicans who had embraced Condit as a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat before the Chandra scandal and then disowned him.
Bennett, the author of the book, The Death of Outrage, explained the moral relativism: “Look, hypocrisy is better than no standards at all.” [CNN, July 10, 2001]
As the Chandra obsession wore on, some media defenders argued that the intensive coverage was driven by the summer news doldrums. But the explanation didn’t wash, since other news events were underway in Washington, as Bush pushed a wide range of policy initiatives and the Democrats countered with some of their own.
On Capitol Hill, however , it was Condit’s arrival at routine committee hearings that brought news-flash interruptions of regular programming.
Round-the-clock Chandra coverage also couldn’t be dismissed as some seasonal aberration, since similar stories had become the national news media’s preferred fare year-round. If not Chandra, then Jon Benet or Monica or Marv Albert or O.J. or Princess Di or some other celebrity to serve as fodder for the cable-news talk shows.
The commercial reality behind cable TV was underscored in another way when CNN’s new president Walter Isaacson made a pilgrimage to meet with Republican congressional leaders.
Roll Call, a newspaper about politics on Capitol Hill, reported that Isaacson “huddled with House and Senate GOP leaders last week to seek advice on how to attract more right-leaning viewers to the sagging network.” Isaacson met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.; Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; House GOP Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, R-Okla.; and others.
“I was trying to reach out to a lot of Republicans who feel that CNN has not been as open covering Republicans, and I wanted to hear their concerns,” Isaacson explained. [Roll Call, Aug. 6, 2001]
The pilgrimage was galling to some liberals who feel that CNN has long bent over backwards to accommodate conservatives, while offering the usual “balance” of hard-line conservative activists debating centrist journalists. CNN has given right-wing columnist Robert Novak prominent roles as both a commentator and a reporter as well as providing a home for the likes of Pat Buchanan and Mary Matalin.
What apparently has angered some conservatives is that CNN was founded on the notion that it should be an international network – not just an American one. So it seeks to temper its generally pro-U.S. slant on foreign stories with an awareness that other nations have different views. That ambivalence has drawn the wrath of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who calls CNN the “Communist News Network” and has urged a Republican boycott.
Rather than defend CNN’s news gathering on principle, CNN’s new leadership seems interested in placating the Republicans by giving CNN more of a conservative bent along the lines of Fox, although Isaacson denies that is his intent.
Jack Welch's Call
The news media’s catering to conservative interests surfaced in another way with an exchange of letters between Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Andrew Lack, president and chief executive of NBC.
Since February, Waxman had been pursuing allegations that Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, NBC’s parent company, had visited NBC’s decision desk on Election Night, cheering news favorable to Bush and hissing at gains by Gore. According to Waxman’s information, Welch even asked the decision desk, “What would I have to give you to call the race for Bush?”
Waxman said two cameras had filmed action around the decision desk during the night for planned use in promotional advertisements for NBC and that those videotapes might shed light on Welch’s behavior.
Initially, in sworn testimony before Congress, Lack agreed to supply the tapes, while denying that Welch had influenced NBC’s decision to call the election for Bush. “You’re certainly welcome to the tape,” Lack assured Waxman during a congressional hearing in February that had been called by Republicans.
In subsequent letters, however, Lack withdrew his offer, insisting that “there can be no videotape showing” Welch influencing NBC’s election call because, Lack said, he – not Welch – was in charge. Lack’s carefully worded letter did not specifically deny that videotape of the alleged scene existed nor did it exclude the possibility that Welch might have displayed pro-Bush sentiments on Election Night, only that Welch did not dictate the pro-Bush call and that therefore no videotape would show him doing so.
As the letter exchange escalated, Waxman reminded Lack that he was under oath when he promised to supply the tape. In an Aug. 2 letter, Waxman gave Lack a Sept. 4 deadline for producing the videotape and threatened to “seek other means of compelling the production” of the tape if he didn't.
Normally, a confrontation between a senior member of Congress and a major news network over alleged media bias would make for big news, especially given Welch’s high profile as one of the world’s most renowned CEOs.
The allegation that Welch had behaved with such bias – even if his comments were made in a lighthearted fashion – also would support an analysis of how the so-called mainstream news media tilts to the right, following the political persuasions of the corporate chieftains who own the networks.
But the Waxman-Lack story drew little interest from the news media. The exchange of letters was posted at a Web site called Inside.com on Aug. 3 and got some scattered attention, mostly in the trade press. Beyond that, the curious story of the CEO and NBC’s Election Night call failed to make the grade as important news.
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the Washington news media is more concerned about demographics than democracy. It's a different time and ethos from the one depicted in Saving Private Ryan.
Fifty-seven years ago, American soldiers were battling their way across Europe, contributing to the end of one of history’s most tyrannical regimes. That victory gave rise to democratic aspirations around the world, fueling the hope that all nations might finally accept the founding American principle, that governments must derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
At the end of Saving Private Ryan, the scene of Ryan on the bridge in France merges into the face of Ryan as an old man. He has returned to Normandy and searched out the gravestone of Capt. Miller.
Fighting back tears, Ryan says he has tried to live a good life and has thought every day about Miller's admonition to "earn this." He says it is his greatest hope that "I’ve earned what all of you have done for me."