John Leo
Have we had enough coverage of George W. Bush's vulgar comment about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer? For a while there, it seemed impossible to turn on the tube without hearing a bleeped version of the candidate's one-line outburst into an open mike. But with all the attention, few journalists bothered to address the substance of the issue raised by the naughty word: Does Bush have a legitimate beef about Clymer's reporting?

Mickey Kaus thinks he does. Kaus is a reconstructed liberal (he calls the unreconstructed, reactionary kind "paleo-liberals"). He is also one of the sharpest and most entertaining of the Internet commentators (kausfiles.com). Kaus raised the issue of Clymer's bias on his own, a week before Bush's remark.

In the Times' news columns, Clymer had reviewed a Bush TV ad on prescription drugs, calling it "flat wrong in essential elements" and giving it a "zero" score for accuracy. Clymer also told his readers, "Bush does not have a prescription drug plan" (not "Bush hasn't yet put forward a drug plan," just a flat statement that Bush doesn't have one, which turned out to be untrue -- Bush had a plan and has since announced it). Kaus reviewed Clymer's review, calling it "heavily biased against Bush," and giving it a "poor" rating for accuracy.

Clymer's assessment of the Republican ad raises an interesting question of journalistic ethics. Should a reporter who is covering a candidate (objectively, let's say) get into the subjective business of judging the fairness of his political ads? Shouldn't this be done on the opinion pages by someone else?

Clymer put a lot of attitude into his reports on Dick Cheney's charitable giving. Over a decade, Cheney reported $209,832 in direct charitable contributions on an adjusted gross income of nearly $21 million -- or about 1 percent a year. This isn't very much. In other media coverage, reporters just listed the facts and let readers and viewers draw their own conclusions. But Clymer felt compelled to badger the candidate: "Asked if he considered that level 'generous,' Mr. Cheney replied, 'I answered your question.' When a reporter, noting that he is a multimillionaire, asked him, 'What do you think is a proper level of giving for someone who has millions of dollars, in terms of percentage?' he replied, 'I think that's a choice that individuals have to make ...'"

Any sensible copy editor would wince at this stuff and strike it out. Nobody cares whether Adam Clymer thinks Cheney is a cheapskate. Just give us the facts and get out of the way.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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