In Washington these days, all eyes are directed to the White House as literally the center of the political universe. President Bush's job approval rating is the benchmark by which the left measures his clout -- and by contrast, its own. When he is brought low, it means they are having a good year.
This is especially true for the national news media, which can barely refrain from a collective self-satisfied smirk these days. But here's the funny thing. Nobody looks at their approval rating. A Harris poll in February found that only 25 percent said they have a "great deal of confidence" in the White House -- but only 19 percent had great confidence in TV news, and only 14 percent for "the press" in general.
Why is this so? Perhaps the smirk is more noticeable than they thought. The public can't help but see the media bend and shape the "news" like Play-Doh into whatever bizarre shapes please them most.
Take the economy, which is performing superbly. The objective truth about economic performance must be obscured. It might help Bush's approval rating. For the last several months, the economy has been measured not by gross national product, unemployment, productivity or inflation in general -- all of them traditional litmus tests. It's been driven by the price of a single well-advertised commodity: gasoline. Between April 12 and May 2, we counted a stunning 183 news stories on gas prices aired on ABC, CBS and NBC.
Some media outlets have made a spectacle of themselves (even in liberal media circles) for greeting good economic news with petulant denial, like kindergarteners singing playground songs at full volume with their index fingers in their ears. Exhibit A is CBS, and not just because they have specialized in stories about how "skyrocketing" gas prices are going to cost senior citizens their Meals on Wheels. There's more.
As June arrived, the government announced that the unemployment rate had fallen a tenth of a point to 4.6 percent, the lowest level since July 2001. Substitute anchor Russ Mitchell was sent forth to declare the awful news: "There are new signs this evening that the economy is slowing down." Reporter Anthony Mason added that "rising interest rates and rising gas prices are beginning to put the brakes on the U.S. economy."