For several weeks now, the national media have looked like the servile monkey to Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe's organ grinder. Not only have they pounded the Democratic attack line against the president, chanting "questions linger, questions linger, questions linger" about Bush's honorable National Guard service, they have touted the efficiency and electability of John Kerry, and implored his remaining opponents to quit immediately.
Then, after all the Bush-bashing and the Kerry-boosting, they unveil a new media poll and squeal with excitement that Kerry's opened a lead. Who would have guessed media manipulation had anything to do with those numbers?
On Feb. 12, Republican Party leader Ed Gillespie, one of the few spokesmen allowed to deviate from the Sesame Street sweetness of the Bush team, gave a speech in Reno that revealed what could be called the Republican news agenda, the stories they would like to see the media develop and underline for the voters. Needless to say, the silence is so deafening you can hear the crickets chirping. So let's review some of Gillespie's list of particulars:
1. John Kerry has a long record of voting to slash spending on the military and intelligence agencies, even as Al Qaeda & Co. bombed the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole. Network coverage? None. They're too busy replaying footage of Kerry in Vietnam, as if that's a coherent answer to Kerry's ultraliberal voting record.
2. Our forces found a 17-page memo in Iraq, allegedly written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to Al Qaeda. The memo indicates that the resistance is recognizing our resolve to win the War on Terror. Of the United States, it says, "Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By God, this is suffocation!" You mean, we're winning? This doesn't sound the nightly network news tone, does it?
On the evening of Feb. 9, the Big Three networks warily acknowledged the memo as potentially authentic, but only CBS quoted this "suffocation" line. Reporter Elizabeth Palmer immediately added: "But the letter, even if it's genuine, doesn't prove that Al Qaeda is responsible for violence in Iraq. On the contrary, it may be an appeal by desperate local operators to Al Qaeda to get involved."
Unsurprisingly, ABC preferred a different line, one that demeaned the United States. Martha Raddatz pointed out that the letter says of Americans: "As you know, these are the biggest cowards that God has created, and the easiest target."
3. Gillespie reported that Sen. Bob Kerrey, the Vietnam veteran and Democratic presidential candidate in 1992, told the New York Sun that he supported the Iraq war in no uncertain terms: "It breaks my heart whenever anybody dies, but we liberated 25 million people who were living under a dictator. It puts us on the side of democracy in the Arab world. Twenty years from now, we'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says it wasn't worth the effort." Network coverage? Zero.
4. The bald-headed leftist pop musician Moby was quoted in the New York Daily News as promoting the idea that his fellow Kerry supporters should work to "punk" Bush supporters by planting lies in Internet chat rooms. He suggested telling pro-lifers that President Bush drove a former girlfriend to an abortion clinic and paid for her abortion. Network coverage? Zero.
5. Gillespie noted that Teresa Heinz Kerry gave over $50,000 to the League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed her husband's candidacy in January and has run ads on his behalf. Network coverage of this conflict? Zero. Instead, ABC touted the endorsement in two evening stories on Jan. 24, and George Stephanopoulos touted it again on his show the next morning. On Jan. 15, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell aired an entire story giving environmentalists free rein to attack Bush, beginning with the sentence: "The League of Conservation Voters grades the president with the first 'F' in the group's 34-year history."
6. Finally, the Kerry campaign engaged in nasty push-polling tactics in Iowa. Gillespie underlined: "It's on videotape!" A documentary filmmaker covering the Dean campaign was present in a home when the Kerry campaign called on the night of the caucuses and accused Howard Dean of being an environmental racist.
Gillespie cited an ABC News report as the source. He's right, but there's a little problem. Protective ABC only put this Jan. 17 report by Jake Tapper on its Web site, and spiked it from appearing on television, despite obtaining the damning videotape. CBS and NBC never bothered to cover this, either.
Does this litany of Democratic favoritism give voters any confidence that the TV networks will be reliable referees of the campaign this year? The proper confidence level in network news coverage? Zero.