In the chummy corridors of the liberal media establishment, no self-satisfying myth is more prevalent than the notion that there are two types of national news networks. The first is FOX, the fiendishly opinionated, Roger-Ailes-manipulated Republican Party organ. The second is the non-Fox establishment, serenely gliding above the political fray on a magic carpet of nonpartisan open-mindedness.
The conventional "wisdom" further insists that in cable news, Fox is the feisty right-wing upstart, while CNN is the underappreciated grande dame of objectivity. But then something always seems to come along that bursts that silly bubble.
The June 18 edition of CNN's "Inside Politics" addressed Senate action to add a costly new prescription-drug subsidy to the Medicare program. Anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed ultraliberal Sen. Ted Kennedy on the bill, advertised as the largest expansion of Medicare benefits in the program's history. Now, a good, objective news anchor would play devil's advocate and hold Kennedy's feet to the fire, asking him challenging questions from the right. For example: How astronomically expensive would this new entitlement become when the baby-boom generation starts hitting the age of Medicare eligibility in the next decade?
That's not what Ms. Woodruff asked. Incredibly, she argued the bill wasn't liberal enough .
As they say, This ... is CNN.
Instead of inquiring about rising deficits and a mushrooming supply of Medicare beneficiaries, Woodruff worried out loud that this massive new program wasn't big enough. Even its supporters admit it will cost a whopping $400 billion over the next 10 years, and its detractors say it will be much more.
Woodruff explained her first question to Kennedy: "I began by asking him about his signing off on a plan that would leave some seniors with less drug coverage than they need and whether he undercut those seniors and some of his own Democratic allies." Ted Kennedy is hereby nominated by CNN as a senior-citizen sellout for not making a new entitlement 100 percent subsidized from the very beginning. The senator quickly defended himself by pointing out that he knew seniors would be spending $1.7 trillion on their prescriptions in the next decade. "We're only providing $400 billion. That's only 22 percent. I'd like to do much better." Of course he would, with our money.
Conservatives are used to anchors pounding their desks for ever-larger tidal waves of social spending, but Woodruff wasn't done protesting Kennedy's supposed sellout to conservatives: "Whatever you do in the Senate is going to have to be compromised in the direction of the House version, which is much friendlier to the insurance industry and which has provisions in it which you've already called a poison pill."
Where, oh, where was even the pretense of objectivity in that screed? That hysterical statement is code for a White House proposal that would give senior citizens a drug subsidy if they chose private health plans. That's the "poison" a socialist can't swallow.
If by now you haven't already heard enough to conclude that Judy Woodruff sounds like she's repeating questions yelled into her earpiece by James Carville as he's getting his makeup on for "Crossfire" in the next room, it gets worse. She started worrying like a Democratic precinct captain about how this apparently premature compromise of socialism is hurting the Great Society Party's chances. "At a time when the Democrats are trying mightily to carve out distinct positions for themselves against a very popular Republican president," she complained, "in effect, what you have done is helped a Republican president take a very controversial issue off the table."
This question is totally at odds with the usual network protocol (if there still is such a thing). Anchors usually greet the passage of liberal legislation with words like "finally," sounding exasperated at any delay in the liberal agenda. Anchors usually tut-tut any attempt to save "the issue" for campaign season instead of stomping the accelerator pedal down on more government. But Senator Kennedy was up to the Woodruff challenge, promising another pot of taxpayer gold over the rainbow. "When we pass this, we are going to say in 2004, elect Democrats. We'll finish the job."
It's a good thing "Inside Politics" attracts a wonky audience of political veterans, because the unschooled viewer would find it easy to conclude from this interview that Ted Kennedy is a rogue conservative Democrat helping George W. Bush's political chances at the expense of needy old people. Now what was that fuss about the biased anchors on FOX?