"However agreeable and successful he turns out to be, the new president is doomed to be seen by many Americans as a bastard." That gnarly sentence about George W. Bush from Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is one of the many strong entries in the Media Research Center's 14th annual competition for "The Year's Worst Reporting."
I've been one of MRC's judges during that whole period, so a lot of the examples of bad reporting by the networks and national newsweeklies are not surprising. In my experience, local newspaper reporters do a much better job than the big shots. Even when the locals are liberal, they are generally willing to listen and learn to the point where they are capable of writing a fair story. The folks at CBS and similar venues, though, tend to be so full of themselves that they won't change their preconceived notions
This year's pre-Sept. 11 entries, therefore, reveal:
?? The usual psychobabble. NPR's Nina Totenberg said the GOP and its "moderates" are "in an abusive relationship ... the moderates are the enablers and the conservatives are the abusers."
?? The usual kneejerk turning to Washington to solve all problems. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas on July 31 breathlessly announced: "More trouble at the nation's amusement parks, two dozen people injured. Why won't Congress let the government regulate those parks?"
?? The usual anti-Christian bigotry. Newsweek attacked John Ashcroft repeatedly and asked, "Can a deeply religious person be attorney general?"
?? The usual close-mindedness on abortion. CBS Early Show co-host Jane Clayson announced at the beginning of one discussion, "First off, we should say we're not here to debate the right and wrong of abortion, just different generations' commitment to reproductive rights."
After Sept. 11, I hoped to see a new maturity in the press, and initially some change was evident. Dan Rather made patriotic statements, and Lance Morrow wrote in Time: "For once, let's have no 'grief counselors' standing by with banal consolations, as if the purpose, in the midst of all this, were merely to make everyone feel better as quickly as possible. We shouldn't feel better. ... This is the moment of clarity. Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started."
Soon, though, the moment of clarity turned into weeks of fog, as the moral relativism and amoral multiculturalism taught at most universities, and cemented at most major media offices, reasserted itself. Steven Jukes of Reuters wrote, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." CBS foreign correspondent Allen Pizzy said on Oct. 14, "Freedom is a perception that lies in the eyes of the beholder."
The rewriting of history also recommenced. The dean emeritus of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, said, "Throughout his eight years in office, President Clinton warned us that the next great menace was international terrorism." This is the same Bill Clinton who taught Wahhabi Muslims that American presidents were moral lowlifes who might lob a couple of public relations-guided missiles at tents left behind, but would not take any serious action.
These quotations are just isolated examples, of course, but they do indicate the problem of press bias that many scholarly examinations and surveys have noted -- and now, an insider is providing more insight. Former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg's about-to-be-published book "Bias" shows how CBS executives are "a bunch of hypocrites" so tilted leftward that they can't distinguish between propaganda and news.
This comes through most clearly on family issues. "Feminists are the pressure group that the media elites (and their wives and friends) are most aligned with," Goldberg writes. He cites the way "CBS Evening News" senior producer Susan Zirinsky regularly turns to the National Organization of Women for reaction soundbites and ignores conservative views: "She didn't conspire with anyone to freeze out conservative women. She just thought NOW was the logical place to go. NOW wasn't a liberal group, to Zirinsky. It was a sensible, reasonable and rational group."
Which it is, to those with faith in radical feminism, but not to most Americans. CBS and its clones abuse the trust they are given -- but, as Nina Totenberg teaches us, millions of viewers are their enablers.