A bit of background: In chapter 12 of his best-seller, Bias, Bernie Goldberg presents a list of "Notable Quotables" from the Media Research Center. (The MRC is Brent Bozells conservative press watchdog group.) Goldbergs first listing is an iconic quote from Peter Jennings, attributed to "his radio commentary after the GOP won the House, November 14, 1994." Heres the quote as Goldberg presents it:
JENNINGS QUOTE, AS PRESENTED BY GOLDBERG: Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming
Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week
Parenting and governing dont have to be dirty words: the nation cant be run by an angry two-year-old.
Ellipses and all, this is the way the quote appears in Bias. As presented, it sounds like Jennings compared GOP voters in the 1994 congressional election to angry two-year-old children.
But has the quote been edited fairly? Because the statement came from a radio commentary that isnt preserved by LEXIS, we havent been able to track down the full Jennings transcript. And how easy is it to yell "liberal bias" in ways that are baldly misleading? Its very, very easy. Indeed, consider the "Notable Quotable" which appeared right below the Jennings quote on the 1994 MRC list:
MRC NOTABLE QUOTABLE: "The public seemed more intolerant than involved, uninterested in what the candidates have had to say, blindly voting against....The President might argue, with some justification, that its the medias fault: were allergic to good news."Newsweek Senior Editor Joe Klein, November 14.
Word-for-word, that is the quote, exactly as it still appears in the archives of the MRC site.
But how easy is it to yell "liberal bias?" Its amazingly easy to yell "liberal bias"if youre willing to mislead your readers. Kleins quote came from a Newsweek piece which can, of course, be examined in full. Prepare to see how far the MRC went in order to yell "liberal bias."
How much "liberal bias" did Klein display? The headline on the piece was "AN AWFUL YEAR." Sub-headline? "Both parties have run dismal, ultra-retro campaigns." Thats right, kids. Klein was so full of liberal bias that he trashed "both parties" in his piece. For the record, Kleins article was dated 11/14, but it appeared on November 7, the day before the historic election in which the GOP regained control of the House. When he wrote his Newsweek piece, Klein had no way of knowing how the election would turn out.
Klein began with an overview of Election 94. "A truly awful election year," he wrote. "Dismal, depressing and despicable. Especially after 1992, which was pretty good (as these things go). Serious ideas were discussed in 1992
The public was involved, concerned and hopeful. Not this time. The public has seemed more intolerant than involved, uninterested in what the candidates have had to say, blindly voting against." Though that may sound like a clipped quote, thats how the first paragraph ended.
In paragraph two, Klein started slamming the pols. "Then again, the candidates havent had all that much to say," he began. "The most striking thing about this election has been the utter absence of new ideas. I cant think of one." After noting the anti-government mood found in many surveys, Klein began to play his assigned role. He criticized the GOP:
KLEIN (pgh 2): All right, then: it falls to Republicansthe natural beneficiaries of this trendto come up with creative ideas for cutting back government and restoring order (which was the other great voter concern). They havent. Theyve shouted "fire" in our public theater. Theyve run on cutting taxes rather than cutting spending. Theyve run on symbolsthe death penalty, immigrant-bashingrather than cogent antidotes to the family disintegration that caused the anarchy.
If Klein had stopped his piece right there, the MRC might have had a slim point. There would be no sign of actual "bias," but at least they could have said that Klein had written a piece which slammed the GOP.
But Klein, of course, didnt stop there. "But the Democrats havent been any better," he continued, showing off the startling "liberal bias" that made the MRC shed big crocodile ears. Indeed, get a load of the "liberal bias" Klein displayed in his very next sentence:
KLEIN (pgh 3): In fact, one of the few times that a Republican made a bold and responsible suggestion for cutting spendingWilliam Kristols notion that agricultural subsidies should goDemocratic dinosaurs massed and pounced, led by the president of the United States.
You could just see the "liberal bias" there! Indeed, after a few more jibes at Clintons performance, Klein went on to say this:
KLEIN (pgh 3): Which raises the second distinguishing characteristic of this awful year: it was ultra-retro. Most of these campaigns could easily have been waged in the mid-1970s. The Republican "Contract With America" was circa 1980: cut taxes, raise military spending, balance the budget. The president spent most of his time campaigning with Democrats who left their best days in the 1960s, the Kennedys and Cuomos of the party; he moved his cable show, effectively, from MTV to the Nostalgia network.
If you can see "liberal bias" in that passage, youre as daftor as phonyas the MRC. Indeed, who was ultimately at fault for the AWFUL YEAR? You guessed it, boys and girls! Bill Clinton:
KLEIN (pgh 4): How could so much change in a mere two years? In two words: Bill Clinton. A skeptical public gave him the opportunity to show that activist government was still plausibleand he blew it. There have been many accounts of how and why he blew it; the grisly details do not bear repeating here. But one grisly detail has been largely overlooked or misinterpreted: the impact of health-care reform on this election. It has been devastating. The conventional explanationthat Clinton didnt "win" and therefore suffereddoes not suffice. The problem wasnt gridlock, but the nature of the plan itselfan old-fashioned, liberal, bureaucratic mess of the very sort that voters find implausible in this straitened, competitive era. Health care defined Bill Clinton as an old Democrat, just as gays-in-the-military defined him as a lifestyle liberal.
We want to stop and remind you nowthis is an article which the MRC hailed at the latest example of "liberal bias." The cattle came to graze at the MRC site, and went away, mooing and shuddering, at the way the "liberal media" had done it again. But what was the greatest complaint Klein expressed? His greatest complaint was with Bill Clinton, for presenting a lousy health care plan which Klein specifically derided as liberal! According to Klein, Clinton had devised "an old-fashioned, liberal, bureaucratic mess"the very kind of liberal mess "that voters find implausible" today. (He had also let himself seem like "a lifestyle liberal.") "[M]ake no mistake," Klein said in closing, "the ugliness of this election year is a direct result of public anger at a president who lost touch and lost his way."
What can one say about an act of deception as vast as that by the MRC? After reading Kleins piece, the MRC was weeping, boohooing and shedding big tears. It was also baldly deceiving its readers. A number of things surely must be said about a discourse conducted this way.
First, how much "liberal bias" can there actually be if the MRC has to make up such examples? Simply put, this was a case of outright fraud. One can only suppose that the MRC could find no real liberal bias.
But second, what can one say about a mainstream press corps which puts up with such gross deceptions? In this case, the MRC didnt content itself with deceiving citizens who came to their site. The deceptive "quote" from the Joe Klein piece was also flogged by Bozell himself, in an 11/26/94 op-ed column in the Washington Times. ("The liberal national news media knows its agenda was soundly repudiated by the electorate," Bozell wrote. Bozell listed Kleins misleading "quote" as Exhibit B, right after the Jennings quotation.) But have you ever heard the mainstream press complain about such ludicrous accusations of "liberal bias?" For the past decade, an aggressive, attack-dog conservative press has faced a complacent mainstream corpsa group too indifferent and craven to speak up in protest even when the public is grossly misled.
So what did Jennings really say? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But yelling "liberal bias" is amazingly easy to doif youre willing to butcher a quote. Klein trashed Clinton up and downand still was guilty of "liberal bias." The nonsense persists to this very day. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we ask you one question: Where are standards?
MRsee-ing things: Other quotes from the 1994 "Notable" list were puzzling as examples of liberal bias. Here, for example, was a post-election quote attributed to Tim Russert:
MRC NOTABLE QUOTABLE: If Bill Clinton and the Democrats were given a blow on Tuesday because they moved to the left, if the Republicans govern only from the right and abandon the center, my guess is the public will pay them back in the very near future....The American people arent ideological. They dont want a liberal government, a conservative government. They want a centrist, moderate government, maybe tilt a bit right of center. They dont want extremes.Tim Russert, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief, November 13, Today.
Why was Russert guilty of "liberal bias?" Because he said that the public only wanted the government to tilt "a bit right of center." Russerts prediction, of course, turned out to be accurate, as judged by public reaction to the 1995 government shutdown. Of course, coverage of the government shutdown was all "liberal bias" too.
The Daily update (3/4/02)
It all evens out in the end: We arent going to reveal the name of Andrew Sullivans "anonymous economist" from last Monday, but we couldnt help chuckling when several talented sleuths brought her name and CV to THE DAILY HOWLERS attention. As you may recall, Sullivans burqaed correspondent shook her head and tsk-tsked sadly about the way Paul Krugman had been all wet about dereg (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/02). Her complaints, of course, were so utterly vague that there was simply no way to confirm or deny them. It was just Sullivans latest cowardly attack on Krugmans competence and characterno criticism of his correspondent intended.
Heres the humorSullys anonymous economist is a honcho at the Reason Public Policy Institute. Youd never learn that from Sullivan, of courseand youd never learn that the RPPI is funded by every oil company currently found on the face of the earth. Of course, that doesnt mean that Sullys anonymous economist is wrong in her views, whatever they may be. But didnt this whole thing get underway with Sully complaining that Krugman needed to be more open about a past funding matter? How big a clown is Andrew Sullivan? This big: He complains when Krugman fails to tell us every cent that he ever was paid. In rebuttal, he presents another economistand doesnt even disclose her name, let alone her own funding issues. Well say again to the invaluable Jonathan Chaitif you can believe that this utter nonsense is being carried on in good faith, youre a far better man than we.
But we guess it all evens out in the end. Some press types seem to have no standards. But Sullivan neatly balances them off; he has standards, and indeed theyre all double.