Media bias, anyone?
On Jan. 22, 1993, Peter Jennings of ABC News reported on Bill Clinton's first initiative as president: "President Clinton keeps his word on abortion rights. President Clinton kept a promise today on the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Mr. Clinton signed presidential memoranda rolling back many of the restrictions imposed by his predecessors."
NBC, on the same day, echoed this theme, with anchorman Tom Brokaw stating, "Today, President Clinton kept a campaign promise and it came on the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade legalizing abortion."
CBS's Dan Rather, on that date, said, "On the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, President Clinton fulfills a promise, supporting abortion rights. It was 20 years ago today, the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark abortion rights ruling, and the controversy hasn't stopped since. Today, with the stroke of a pen, President Clinton delivered on his campaign promise to cancel several anti-abortion regulations of the Reagan-Bush years."
President George W. Bush, in his first initiative, reversed a Clinton policy and cut off federal funds that go to international organizations that counsel abortion. How did the same media outlets handle George W. Bush's first executive action? ABC's Jennings said, "One of the president's first actions was designed to appeal to anti-abortion conservatives. The president signed an order reinstating a Reagan-era policy that prohibited federal funding of family planning groups that provided abortion counseling services overseas."
At CBS, Dan Rather echoed the theme, "This was President Bush's first day at the office and he did something to quickly please the right flank in his party: He reinstituted an anti-abortion policy that had been in place during his father's term and the Reagan presidency but was lifted during the Clinton years."
And NBC's Tom Brokaw said, "We'll begin with the new president's very
active day, which started on a controversial note."
Get it? President Bill Clinton "keeps his word," "kept a campaign promise," "fulfills a promise." And despite the controversial nature of abortion, none of the anchors called Clinton's move "controversial," almost as if any fair-minded, responsible person would have done the same thing.
But in Bush's case, the anchors' tones appear almost prosecutorial. Bush didn't "keep a campaign promise." No, Bush acted "to appeal to anti-abortion conservatives," "to quickly please the right flank in his party," and he "started on a controversial note."
The not-so-subtle theme: Clinton practices good government by honoring his promises. Bush, on the other hand, caters to, and becomes the errand boy for, the "right flank" in his party, as if the party's non-right flank feels a whole lot different about abortion.
Remember in 1992, when George Bush, the elder, went to the National Grocers Association convention and displayed his unfamiliarity with a grocery scanner? Critics like San Francisco Examiner columnist Rob Morse howled at the out-of-touch elitist patrician: "In a classic Bushian sentence fragment, he told the assembled grocers: 'Amazed by some of the technology.' This is like the time Reagan went to McDonald's and didn't think he had to pay. We are governed by a president who thinks a bar code is the Secret Service's name for his wife. It raises the question of what other aspects of American life Bush has missed ... George Bush doesn't know that you're supposed to stand 5 feet behind the person using the automatic teller, because he's never even walked by one."
But, in a recent article about Bill Clinton's "ex-presidency," The New York Times said that Clinton is "learning how to use his ATM cash card ... " Unfamiliar with an ATM card? No jokes, no guffaws, no charges of out-of-touch elitism.
What the media chooses to report and how "mainstream media" chooses to cover an issue affects how Americans perceive that issue. In 1993, a Gallup poll showed that 90 percent of Americans "think the country is in a health-care crisis." Yet recent polls put the number alarmed about health care at 44 percent. Wait a minute. In 1993, government figures listed the uninsured at 37 million. Today, many place the figure at between 40 and 44 million. So, at 37 million, we have a crisis, but at 40 million, we don't. Why a crisis then and not now? In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned for the presidency with health care as a big issue. And a sympathetic, uncritical media helped whip up the flames.
Again and again, members of the media deny bias. They dismiss a poll of Washington, D.C., reporters, showing that in 1992, 89 percent of them voted for Bill Clinton, with only 7 percent voting for Bush. Many members of the media simply believe in redistribute-the-wealth-socialism. And some see Republicans, quite simply, as the enemy.
Or, as actress Julia Roberts recently put it, "'Republican' in the dictionary comes just after 'reptile' and just before 'repugnant.'"