Before we begin, how happy is Dick Gephardt that he never has to take another four-hour phone call from Barbra Streisand?
I did not realize how devastating the midterm elections were to liberals until seeing the Great Gray Lady reduced to starting a catfight with Fox News Channel. It has come to this. The New York Times was in high dudgeon this week upon discovering that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes sent a letter to the Bush White House nine days after Sept. 11. As the corpses of thousands of his fellow Americans lay in smoldering heaps, Ailes evidently recommended getting rough with the terrorists.
One imagines Karl Rove running down the hallway to the president's office waving Ailes' letter and shouting "Mr. President! Mr. President! I have the memo! We've got to fight back!"
I assume it's superfluous to mention that there is nothing illegal about Ailes giving advice to the president – though admittedly, I have not consulted the "living Constitution" in the past 24 hours to see if a new penumbra specifically about Fox News has sprouted. But the Times was a monument of self-righteous indignation because hard news men are supposed to stay neutral between America and terrorism.
Of course, the Times hasn't been reticent in giving the president advice on the war. (Surrender now!)
Nor was there much neutrality shown between George Bush and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. After the Norwegians – who gave us the term "quisling" – awarded former President Jimmy Carter the Peace Prize citing his vocal opposition to President Bush's war policies, the press sprang to action. The whole chorus began calling this comically inept president one of America's "greatest." Good Morning America's Charles Gibson said Carter had "become, in the opinion of many, the greatest ex-president of modern times."
MSNBC's Brian Williams – who worked for Carter – asked a history professor if it was fair to call Carter "the best former president in, at minimum, modern American history, and perhaps, well, I guess, the last 200 years?" (Absolutely, historian Marshall Frady replied.) On the "Today" show, Katie Couric said: "I mean, it's so wonderful ... and so well-deserved."
Other great moments in journalistic neutrality include NPR's Nina Totenberg leaking information about Anita Hill that she got from Sen. Howard Metzenbaum's staff, and the Washington Post's Ben Bradlee yukking it up on the phone with President Kennedy and later cheering when President Nixon resigned.
So it's interesting that the Times viewed Ailes' letter as an affront to objective journalism.
But this was more than the media's usual insane point that they – the least impartial industry in America – must maintain absolute neutrality between George Bush and the terrorists. The Times went further to imply that by supporting his own country in the war on terrorism, Ailes had unmistakably marked himself as a "partisan conservative."
If Ailes had written a letter recommending a tax hike, blathering on and on about Ailes' conservative bias wouldn't have made sense. Instead, he had recommended the harshest measures possible against the terrorists. As far as the Times was concerned, this was the smoking gun of partisanship. The paper railed that Ailes purports to be an "unbiased journalist, not a conservative spokesman." Fox News is "the self-proclaimed fair and balanced news channel." But now the Times had caught him red-handed, pursuing "an undisguised ideological agenda." Ailes is secretly rooting for America!
At least we finally have it from the horse's own mouth. The Times openly admits that the "conservative" position is to take America's side against the terrorists. Why do they get so snippy when I say that?
This welcome admission went unremarked upon only because it is simply taken for granted that liberals root against their own country. As the Times said of Ailes' letter, it "was less shocking than it was liberating – a little like the moment in 1985 when an ailing Rock Hudson finally explained that he had AIDS." We always knew you were traitors, and now you've admitted it.
The Times was a whirligig of pointless insinuations – "secretly gave advice to," "back-channel message" "shocking," "confirmed yesterday" and "revelations." (Eager Times readers will have to wait another day for the revelation of "Pinch" Sulzberger's SAT scores.) Belittling Fox News is so pleasurable for the Times that it didn't occur to them that they had given up the ghost on their faux patriotism.
Fox News should agree to admit it is conservative as soon as all other media admit they are liberal. Fox is manifestly closer to the center than the others. On the Times' definition of "conservative" (harsh with the terrorists) and "liberal" (soft on the terrorists), the public is with Fox News. We took a pretty conclusive poll on that a couple of weeks ago. The people, in their infinite wisdom, have spoken.