When Republicans win the White House, it's never the force of their ideas. It has to be some kind of dirty trick.
Think back to 1988, and the endless barrage of news stories condemning the independent pro-Bush ads focusing on Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who was released on a weekend furlough and traveled to Maryland and raped a woman. It didn't matter that the Bush campaign didn't produce the ad. Throughout the entire Bush presidency (and even beyond), the major media vented their collective spleen at Republican race-baiting, the exploitation of white fears of black crime.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is now airing an ad that seeks to exploit black fears of white crime. Actually, that's too kind. Over a black and white video of a pickup truck dragging a chain, the daughter of the Texas dragging-death victim James Byrd declares, "So when Gov. George W. Bush refused to sign hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again."
Gov. Bush is being tied directly to a vicious racist lynching. And from Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, Shaw & Co. -- not a peep. Clearly this is the most unfair, divisive and repugnant ad in many moons, and it's met with silence? At the very least, if the media were truly disinterested observers of the campaign and truly interested in the appearance of balance, they could draw an easy parallel between the Horton and Byrd spots for their hallowed "Ad Watch" pieces. But that would be false parity. Nothing Gov. Bush did led to Byrd's death, and under Gov. Bush, two of his assailants will be put to death, while the furlough program under Gov. Dukakis allowed the release of Horton to commit more violent crimes.
But the media did something worse than sheer silence. They are portraying
Bush as the villain of last-minute negative advertising, bringing the public's attention to a different ad, a strange reproduction of Lyndon Johnson's outrageous 1964 "Daisy" ad that suggested Barry Goldwater would lead America into nuclear war. The copycats behind this silliness tried the two-wrongs-make-a-right strategy, suggesting Chinese espionage under Clinton-Gore could lead to nuclear war.
The ad buy was tiny -- just $60,000 -- but the media gave it millions of dollars worth of airplay. Why the rush to this mysterious ad? An Associated Press story on Oct. 27 began: "The Gore campaign said a new Republican attack advertisement modeled after the infamous 'Daisy' commercial ... is a 'desperate tactic' by conservatives to help George W. Bush." While the AP promoted the "Daisy" ad story today as "top news," they did not report on the NAACP ad. It didn't matter that the NAACP boasted of spending $2 million, not $60,000, on their advertising attack.
The media also ignored the differing responses on reckless and uncivil ads. The Bush campaign demanded the "Daisy" buyers pull the ad, which they did. The Gore campaign found nothing wrong with the NAACP ad. Joe Lieberman, in yet another blow to his personal integrity, thought it was fine on "Meet the Press." Gore flack Mark Fabiani told CNN, "That's not any of our business, and we haven't weighed in one way or the other on it."
The media never find anything harsh or controversial in the things black liberals say. Pressed to defend their ad on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond ridiculously claimed it was just a nonpartisan act of education. (James Byrd's daughter added disingenuously that her comments weren't intended to hurt Bush.) This is the same "nonpartisan" Julian Bond who thought Republicans in the Reagan years acted like "crazed locusts" waging "an assault on the rule of law." In the same vein, talk-show host Tavis Smiley feels free to go from TV talk show to TV talk show talking about the death penalty, suggesting, "As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer."
With this kind of kooky left-killer talk in the air, where are the racial healers, those champions of peace and harmony who deplore dividing one race from another for political gain? Where are the national nannies to gnash their teeth over negativity? Where are the comparisons of the NAACP to "crypto-racist" Lee Atwater "fouling the civic atmosphere"?
If Al Gore wins this election through last-minute depictions of George W. Bush as a murderer, will the media haunt his presidency with the specter of the NAACP ad? Forget it. Perceived mandates for liberalism are trumpeted. Perceived mandates for conservatism are buried in denunciations of unfair campaigning. For too many in the national press, the ends continue to justify the means.