The prospects of war dominate the current focus of political
news, and Democrats are looking for a way out. They want to change the issue
agenda back to domestic and economic issues, where they feel they have the
natural advantage in offering compassionate subsidies for whatever ails you.
By contrast, those domestic issues currently fill gutless Republicans with
anxiety and dread.
You can understand their matching senses of comfort and angst
when you take a look at how the TV networks cover the economy.
During the summer months, Democrats decided to make a major push
against -- which is to say, make political hay out of -- corporate
corruption. It was all the GOP's fault. Network reporters picked up the
talking points and repeated them. The opposing view was either boiled in
skepticism or ignored. A major Media Research Center review of economic
coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox documented how the network news stars
organized their stories almost entirely around liberal themes and arguments.
(No surprise: The Fox News Channel was the exception to the
For example, as the stock indexes plunged, most reporters
presented tough, new government regulations as the only way to "restore
confidence" after the scandals came to light. CNN's Aaron Brown suggested
that President Bush's "credibility" was in doubt unless he embraced
liberalism with all his heart. In a span of less than four hours on July 15,
ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all repeated the Tom Daschle spin, contrasting the
liberal Paul Sarbanes bill as the gold standard, threatened by a "weaker"
bill passed by the House. They all ignored the point made by CNBC financial
reporter Ron Insana a few days earlier on the "Today" show, that
"professional investors are getting scared that the climate could turn
inordinately hostile and chill the economy and the business environment."
Network reporters also fussed and furrowed their brows about the
returning federal deficit. But that didn't stop them from assembling little
advertisements for another permanent entitlement program -- a prescription
drug subsidy for millions of elderly people in the Medicare program. Instead
of exploring the potential fiscal black hole of paying for the rapidly
growing prescriptions by a rapidly growing elderly population, journalists
could only stage little dramas of impoverished senior citizens in dire
ABC's Linda Douglass cued the violins: "As she watched the
debate, Frieda Moss's hopes for prescription drug coverage faded once again.
... Frieda spends $500 a month on medicine for diabetes, high blood pressure
and heart trouble. The drug bills eat up her entire Social Security check.
She has little money for anything else." There's never a zero-sum game, in
which Frieda Moss is taking money away from young parents with kids.
Watching the TV news, you might think money just comes off a Washington
printing press instead of out of other people's pockets.
In the liberal media formulation, deficits are not caused by
piling on the social program benefits but by passing a tiny tax cut that
sent $300 checks across America. Even before most of the Bush tax cut has
left the starting gate, network stars campaigned to crush it. NBC "Meet the
Press" moderator Tim Russert, who normally leads the pack with balance and
good homework that can crack the conventional wisdom, has campaigned against
tax cuts like a Democratic whip. He asked 40 questions lobbying to delay or
repeal tax reduction but never once asked about jump-starting the economy by
accelerating the trend.
The depressing act of reviewing this summer of skewed news
inspires three pieces of advice for any network news producer who cares
about balance and fairness. First, reporters should resist their temptation
to present liberal theories and assumptions about taxing and spending and
statism as unassailable fact. (That's why "we report, you decide" is a
resonating motto. If only the networks weren't always trying to indoctrinate
instead of moderate.) Second, fairness demands that interviewers shouldn't
throw conservative experts 100-mile-per-hour beanballs and then set up the
tee for the liberals. Third, if the policy debate is intellectual combat,
couldn't we invited more free-market advocates to the battlefield and less
hanky-wringing anecdotes about starving Friedas?
The headlines are understandably dominated by huge bankruptcies
and fraudulent accounting statements. It's not the "what" in the media's
coverage that's problematic; it's the "why." A look at their record shows
the media require an audit every bit as much as these other corporations.
They're cooking the books in their own way, making themselves look less like
market watchdogs and more like snake-oil salesmen of liberalism.