On CNN the other night, Peter Jennings was asked by Larry King if there was a slant to news reporting. "I think bias is very largely in the eye of the beholder," the ABC anchor answered. "Good journalists work very hard to leave their bias beside the typewriter, or the computer as it may be."
Mr. Jennings, behold your colleague George Stephanopoulos.
It's hard to imagine a televised spectacle more ridiculous than former Clinton hatchet man Stephanopoulos demanding that Bush nominees should be required to show "absolute candor" before they're confirmed.
This from the man who insisted Bill Clinton loved his wife like Ward Cleaver, never found that draft notice in the mail, and never consorted with S & L crooks, to name a few of his whoppers. Now he's on national television as a journalist parading around a solo segment as the paragon of honesty in government.
Does Mr. Jennings' boss David Westin ever give a thought to the appearance of objectivity? First, he pays Stephanopoulos a six-figure salary to sit around the studio and analyze politics, as if someone died and made him Walter Lippmann. Then he lets him play with the "objective" jobs, like hosting "Good Morning America." Now on "This Week," he's picked to anchor entire segments on the Clinton years, and presented as an objective interviewer of ... Ken Starr, the alleged out-of-control Clinton hater. The idea that ABC cares about political balance is a sad, sick joke.
But let's try to examine the finer points of Uncurious George's latest stab at journalism. His target was Ted Olson, President Bush's nominee for Solicitor General. His issue: "Did Olson tell the whole truth about his ties to an anti-Clinton project of the right-wing American Spectator?" Let's get something straight here. The only people who are still obsessing over who financed the Spectator's journalism are those who resent the magazine ripping the phony facade off Clinton in the first place. It's what you do when you can't refute the Spectator's findings.
George's inspirations here are writers like Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, whose hanky-waving, Clinton-swooning book "The Hunting of the President" presents board meetings about the Spectator's "Arkansas Project" as if they were crypto-Nazis concocting the Final Solution to the Fleetwood Mac-humming presidency.
George gave nary a breath of consideration that the party-line 9-to-9 vote on Olson's nomination might be Democratic revenge for the Florida debacle or an ideology-over-competence putsch. He didn't point out that those Democrats holding up Olson on ethical grounds also voted unanimously against impeaching the most unethical president in history. Instead, like a good Democrat, George explained that "Democrats voted against Olson because they're not sure he's been a straight-shooter." And like a loyal Democrat he painted their motives as noble in asking Ken Starr: "Isn't this record of failing to be forthcoming with the Congress evidence that Mr. Olson might not be forthcoming with the Supreme Court?"
He started his interview with Starr with a 45-second speech -- er, question -- explaining how Olson's answers about the Spectator under Democratic prodding were inconsistent: "How does that square with absolute candor and fair dealing?" When Starr mentioned that even spurned Spectator staffer David Brock said Olson hadn't lied, Stephanopoulos leaped to the next Democratic attack line: "What they say is it was literally true but misleading. And what would you say to critics who say that's just the kind of legalistic parsing that you and Mr. Olson criticized Clinton administration officials for during the Monica Lewinsky and Watergate investigations, Whitewater, excuse me?" The hypocrisy here just boggles the mind. Even if one could equate Olson's ethics with Clinton's -- which you cannot do,
period -- how dare these Democrats now assail Olson after spending eight years defending Clinton's performance!
Stephanopoulos saved his most hilarious question for last: "Is it possible then that perhaps Mr. Olson, because of his long record as a partisan, is simply too partisan for this appointment and maybe that's what Democrats are upset about?" This from the mouthpiece for the president who sent his supposedly nonpartisan Solicitor General to argue for all sorts of save-my-bacon penumbras of privilege, such as the Secret Service should never testify against a president. Thank goodness for George that partisanship is never a disqualification for serving in the special role of TV network interviewer, provided you're a Democrat.
Ted Olson's treatment at the hands of the liberal Democrats in the U.S. Senate and their blow-dried axe-grinders in the national media underline why many potential government officials sidestep stooping to the confirmation process.
"Bias in the eye of the beholder?" Even a blind man can see it.