John Leo

Extreme politics. The mainstream media’s lack of interest in these little verbal grenades is astonishing. According to a computer search, not one of them made it into news coverage by the New York Times. The Times has a public editor, or ombudsman, who might want to ask why. One explanation for the news failure is that the media wedded themselves early to a simple narrative line-the president, holed up on his ranch, refuses to meet with and comfort a grief-stricken mother. This narrative became frozen in cement when columnists of the left began talking about the “moral authority” of a parent who loses a son in war. This story line-moral mom versus stone-hearted president-didn’t allow much room to note Sheehan’s great contempt for America. There is also the vituperation she has been showering on Bush for years. She campaigned against him in 2004, vigorously promoting his impeachment, not seeking a meaningful heart-to-heart chat with the “evil maniac.” Nor did reporters point out that Bush would set himself up for more abuse if he sat down with Sheehan, probably in the meeting and surely in the press conference afterward. By sticking to the anguished-mother story line and declining to publish her outlandish verbal abuse, mainstream reporters protected the public from an inference that would otherwise been obvious: that Sheehan had either gone around the bend psychologically or, more likely, had simply thrown in her lot with the extreme America-hating left. Whenever the mainstream media inched toward actual information about what Sheehan was up to, they employed the familiar “conservatives are claiming” construction, not directly reporting Sheehan’s odd comments and extreme politics.

        On the whole, the mainstream media depicted Cindy Sheehan as a moral figure without blemish. Maybe reporters and editors felt paralyzed by the “absolute moral authority” rhetoric or justified by polls showing declining support for the war. Some reporters, of course, detest Bush and oppose the war. For whatever reason, they weren’t able to break from the original soft narrative line about a mother’s grief and tell us what was really going on.

John Leo

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

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