John Leo

In a burst of anti-war triumphalism, Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post wrote last week that President Bush and the Bushies have run out of “elitists whom they can demonize.” Hmm. That is a problem. Where will we find the punching bags of tomorrow? Wait! I have it. How about the elite news media? Will they do?

Meyerson celebrated Cindy Sheehan “whose down the line dovishness is more than offset by her standing as the mother of,” etc. etc. Actually, Sheehan was more or less a summer-long anti-Bush media construct, kept aloft by withholding the news that she regards “insurgents” in Iraq as “freedom fighters,” hates her country (America “is not worth dying for”) and thinks Lynne Stewart, the lawyer convicted of aiding terrorists, is a real-life Atticus Finch, the heroic attorney of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She’s a loony Michael Moore clone, protected by the media’s “bereaved mom” image.

The major papers pulled all of our string with stories, mostly played big on page one, about the 2000th American soldier killed in Iraq. Every military death is a tragedy, but more than 58,000 died in Vietnam and almost 7,000 in a single World War II battle, Iwo Jima, all without front-page anti-war articles posing as compassionate news stories. The modern front-page editorial is easy to find these days. On November 21, the NY Times felt it had to run FOUR, page one photos of Bush trying to exit a Beijing meeting though a locked door. What a doofus! First he doesn’t listen to us, now he doesn’t even know how to leave a room!

President Bush deserves heavy blame for his current predicament, but it is impossible to watch network news or read the elite newspapers and not conclude that anti-Bush and anti-war reporters are pushing things along. Reporters keep citing the switcheroo argument (that Bush premised the Iraq invasion on WMDs, then switched to other reasons when those weapons weren’t found) without mentioning that Bush and the administration cited other reasons many times. The war resolution that all those Democrats voted on (and apparently forgot) mentioned seven or eight strong reasons.

The media are fond of citing Condoleeza Rice’s “mushroom cloud” statement as an example of unwarranted hype about non-existent WMDs. Her full sentence, however, was a reasonable one: “There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly (Saddam) can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Another favorite press chestnut is Vice President Cheney’s statement on Meet the Press that Iraq has reconstituted nuclear weapons. Yes, he said that, but several other times on that program he talked more carefully about the possibility of Iraq reconstituting such weapons. Whether that one “reconstituted” was a verbal slip, I can’t say. But he retracted it on another edition of Meet the Press (alas, six months later). The retraction usually goes unmentioned.

When President Bush belatedly y responded to his critics, the Washington Post ran the story as “Bush Spars with Critics of the War; Exchanges with Democrats Take Campaign-Style Tone.” The Power Line blog got it right: “a non-partisan paper would headline the story of Bush's defense of the integrity of his administration by saying something like "Bush responds to critics’”…But the Washington Post isn’t non-partisan…So it tries to make the president sound like he’s engaging in partisan quibbling rather than finally responding to charges which, in their strongest form, cast him as one of the great villains in American history.”

Or take Rep. Jeanne Schmidt’s “coward” outburst about Rep. John Murtha. Her statement was well over the top. But it was followed by typical media overkill. Schmidt, who apologized immediately, was pounded for days. (‘Mean Jean’ Goes to Washington and Invites a Firestorm, said an alleged news article in the NY Times.) Meanwhile, Murtha, who few people had ever heard of, emerged as an astonishingly important congressman. His call for immediate withdrawal of troops was spun by Democrats as something more moderate and nuanced, and the media went along. The resolution for immediate withdrawal, defeated in a House vote of 403-3, was denounced by Nancy Pelosi as “a disgrace,” though the text of it was almost exactly the same as Murtha’s.

The story was not played as a defeat for Murtha. In fact, the defeat was glossed over as somehow irrelevant, buried in some major papers beneath “uproar in the House” reports. If the vote had gone Murtha’s way, you can bet that the press corps would not have played the “uproar” angle as more important.

Can it be that many national reporters are so afflicted by Bush hatred that they can’t let go long enough to report stories straight? Could be. Consider the entire backward-looking thrust of so much reportage, focusing sharply on what happened in 2002 and 2003, less on the stake we have in prevailing in Iraq. If we lose in Iraq, it will be the first great victory for global jihad, with tremendous consequences for the U.S. Can the media get over their obsession with Bush and focus on that?


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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