TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2003
EASY TO BE HARD: Here at THE HOWLER, were still waiting for Amazon to deliver What Liberal Media, in which Eric Alterman examines the notion that the press corps is driven by liberal bias. (To read his first chapter, click here.) But Altermans book is already provoking essays about the corps liberal ways. If were going to gain from Altermans effort, we all need to do a little work. All of us need to get a grip on the logic of liberal bias.
Is the press corps driven by liberal bias? In arguing against this potent myth, Alterman has an easy task. And then again, he has a task that is hard.
Why does Alterman have a difficult task in debunking liberal bias? Because the treasured claim has been with us for decades, pushed hard by conservative spinners. People have heard the spin-point so often that Americans assume it is accurate. In the aftermath of Election 2000, for example, some polls showed that majorities of Democrats believed that Gore got better press than Bush. This is an utterly ludicrous notion, but the idea that the press corps favors liberal policiesand helps Big Demsis deeply engrained in the public belief. That belief will be hard to dislodge.
But Alterman has an easy task because the claim has become so absurd. We stand at the end of the Clinton-Gore decade; eleven years into the Whitewater hoax, and in the wake of the earth tones election, can anyone seriously claim that the press corps still tries to help Dems get elected? Even Bernard Goldberg, in his goony book Bias, disavowed the pleasing notion that the press corps tries to help Dems. If asked, Goldberg will openly say that his book only deals with coverage of certain social issues; if asked, he will explicitly contradict the pleasing notion that the corps helped out Clinton and Gore. And now, with heroic portraits of Bush and Frist flowing and with silly tales about Kerry being bruited, only a fool could keep insisting that the press corps just loves them Dem pols.
Consider again the silly coverage directed at Kerry by the liberal Boston Globe. The mixed-up Globe still hasnt abandoned its deep concern over Kerrys initials; columnists still complain that Kerry wore monogrammed shirts bearing his own initialsJFKwhen he was a student in high school! And the Globe has always gone after Kerry in this mindless manner. Through the years, the Globe has criticized Kerry for the shape of his jaw; invented tales about his home movies; flogged his dating and his wifes parking tickets; and the Globe has even made up tales accusing the solon of war crimes. That astonishing incident came just one week before Kerrys 1996 re-election, in which he was battling popular governor Bill Weld. Kerry survived the astounding slander, and the Globes reputation survived the mess too. The paper is still denounced for its liberal waysand last week, it sent genealogists spanning the globe, hoping to show that Kerry doesnt know who he is. But no matter. In the midst of all this fatuous foofaw, we still will be told of the Globes liberal bias. Spinners will happily peddle the chargeand the public will assume that its true.
What explains the Globes treatment of Kerry? In November 1995, the Kerry-Weld race was shaping up, and Globe columnist Alex Beam predicted how the race would be covered:
BEAM (pgh 1): Should Gov. Weld decide to challenge John Kerry for the Senate, one underappreciated factor will weigh heavily in his favor: He will have the press on his side. Most political reporters dont hold with Welds Gingrich Lite-wing ideology, but they like him as a person. With Kerry, its just the opposite. Reporters approve of his politics. Its him they cant stand.Beam recited the standard complaints. What was wrong with Kerry? The Forbes money, the years at St. Pauls and Miss Yales Finishing School are too, too telling, Beam sadly said. In insider patois, hes a stiff. Then Beam brought out the big guns:
BEAM (pgh 3): Worse still, Kerry whines. Several years ago, he repeatedly begged the late John Robinson not to tell Globe readers about his much-publicized Hollywood dalliances. When the story The Senates New Romeo? appeared, Kerry said the Globe should be ashamed for printing such twaddle. (But well-written twaddle: Robinson called Kerry the tall, dark-haired former Navy officer with the surgically improved chin, and referred to Kerrys inamorata, actress and fellow St. Pauls grad Catherine Oxenberg as virtually without talent in her chosen field.)For the record, this is not the Beam column we quoted yesterdaya 1998 column which flogged the same themes. At any rate, after more complaints about Kerrys whining, Beam summed up. Is this corps in the throes of liberal bias?
BEAM (pgh 5): So why does Weld, who out-patricians Kerry on almost any reasonable scale (Middlesex, Brattle Street, two degrees from The Worlds Greatest University) get a pass from the press? For starters, he doesnt whine. Hes drop-dead smart (but not openly arrogant), and his affected insoucianceshould I play squash or kick 10,000 more people off welfare?resonates with the press corps.According to Beam, when Weld joked about kicking people off welfare, it resonated with the press. That was a 1995 portrait of the corps liberal bias. One year later, the Globe ran a crackpot storyone it quickly retractedaccusing John Kerry of murder.
Beam provided a service with this column; almost surely, the scribe presented an accurate picture of your press corps values. Indeed, over the course of the past decade, weve read many profiles like this oneprofiles explaining why the corps liked Weld more than Kerry, Bush more than Gore, Bill Frist more than all known humans. These profiles usually maintain a pleasing fiction; they pretend that the press corps enjoys these guys despite their troubling japes at the poor. Your press corps still likes to think that its liberal. But in fact, your press corps is driven by Millionaire Pundit Values, a fact which became increasingly clear as the past decade rolled on.
TOMORROW: The logic of liberal bias
KURTZ: Democratic presidential candidates dont usually have any problem beating up on each other. Al Gore and Bill Bradley went at it (Gore called Bradley a quitter), as did Bill Clinton and Bob Kerrey (who predicted the Republicans would crack Clinton open like a soft peanut), as did Gore and Michael Dukakis in 88 (with Gore the first opponent to raise the Willie Horton issue).Note what Kurtz doesnt say. He doesnt say that Gore was the first to bring up Willie Horton, since he surely knows that Gore didnt do SO. Cheap and sleazy, fake and phony, Kurtz instead takes the Clintonesque routesaying that Gore raised the Willie Horton issue. Your Millionaire Pundits are pieces of work. They will never stop deceiving their readers with slick, approved scripts that they like.
Why does Kurtz like this fake, phony story? Someone should ask the man to speak. But in the past, we have explained where this preferred story came from (the RNC) and weve explained why Kurtz said Willie Horton issue (to make his misleading claim technically accurate). For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02 and 11/4/02. By the way, is Howard Kurtz driven by liberal bias? Only a fool would keep insisting. But dont worry: Well-paid spinners will.
STOP SUE MYRICK BEFORE SHE SPENDS MORE: Sue Myrick was once our leading deficit hawk. Now shes telling David Firestone why deficits are in. Theyre OK:
FIRESTONE: [A]fter terrorist attacks and the Republican takeover of Congress and the White House, Ms. Myrick, and the group she leads, have adopted a new attitude toward the deficit they once abhorred. They are not fond of it, and they hope it goes away someday, but for now they say it plays a useful role in fighting off something they like even lessgovernment spending.Something they like even lessgovernment spending! Sadly, Firestone fails to ask the obvious questionsince Myrick hates government spending so much, what current spending does she oppose? It would be fun to watch this faker and phony pretend that her values are still in placeor that she has values at all.
Does Myrick even know who she is? Dont expect to read profiles asking that question. That troubling question is reserved for Big Demsand its reserved for the things that really matter, like what your grandfathers name was in 1901 or what color clothing youre wearing. Your press corps enjoys its Millionaire Pundit Values; pundits dont care about matters like this. But because theyre pro-choice, they still like to think that theyre liberal. They like to believe that they luvvv Weld and Frist in spite of those japes at the poor.
By the way, lets go one step beyond Firestones limning. Firestone suggests that Bush (without saying so) is driving up debt to discourage future spending. But hes likely pursuing another course, too; hes forcing some future Democratic prez to use his capital cleaning up Bushs mess. Clinton burned chits cleaning up after Reagan/Bush; the next Dem prez will clean up after Dub. Dubbists will yell tax and spend, tax and spendand the press will explain that they just like these guys, in spite of their troubling policies.