At almost this time in his presidency -- in June of his second year -- President George H.W. Bush announced he would put tax increases on the table in budget negotiations with House and Senate Democrats. His conservative supporters were shocked, but the TV news anchormen were well pleased. On the night of June 26, 1990, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw reported: "President Bush today conceded that new taxes will be necessary to get the federal budget deficit under control."
The key word in that sentence is "conceded," a verb that packed a wallop. It said that the president's conservative position was admittedly wrong; the liberal position was right. For two years after "read my lips," the media had hammered the anvil of conventional wisdom: Raising taxes was the only solution to rising deficits. Now the president had shifted, and the press could subtly declare victory.
This verb came to mind again on the night of June 3, 2002, after the New York Times gleefully placed on its front page the news that the Environmental Protection Agency was sending the United Nations a report on global warming that socialist bureaucrats everywhere would enjoy. The report echoed the U.N. gospel that blames the pestilence of people (and all their producing and driving and exhaling) for grave environmental damage to come. Suddenly, a GOP administration was echoing the media, with dire weather forecasts of vanishing coastal islands and ruined mountain meadows.
Once again, it looked like a President Bush was sliding toward another cherished consensus of the liberal media. What verb would Brokaw use? "This White House acknowledges" -- which is to say, concedes -- "human activity is responsible for greenhouse gases, and the problem poses some threats to this country's future."
The networks all reported this in the same tone: Bush "acknowledges" that liberals were right, after that foolish period where he said the science was incomplete. Over on ABC, Peter Jennings asked White House reporter Terry Moran: "This is not the first time that the Bush administration has recognized man's contribution to global warming, is it?" Now Bush needed to "recognize" the truth.
The media have spent more than a decade manufacturing a conventional wisdom: Everyone knows that human industry threatens to turn the planet into a blast furnace. They've ignored thousands of scientists who insist there is no scientific basis for all of the dire warming scenarios. They painted a world in which everyone but George W. Bush supported drastic measures, especially the UN's Kyoto treaty, even though the Senate roundly rejected it years ago, and virtually every nation on earth has failed to sign it.
If the media lived up to their own ridiculous claims that they apply an adversarial tilt toward every president, they would have interviewed or at least cited scientists who insist the doom-and-gloom consensus is politically motivated junk science. But to no one's surprise, they refused. The Bush team had located the correct position, and the incorrect position didn't deserve any publicity, especially now.
But opposition to this EPA-trumpeted concession did emerge -- from the alternative conservative media. Rush Limbaugh asked, "George W. Algore, anyone?" Matt Drudge highlighted the happy New York Times reporter's story and then linked up to Rush. So the next day, the White House went into its usual mode, with aides singing that old tune "What Changed Position?" When he was asked about it, President Bush said, "I read the report put out by ... the bureaucracy," and said he opposed the Kyoto treaty, since it would ruin the economy.
NBC's David Gregory cited the Limbaugh criticism as a reason for the flip, and then so did ABC's "Good Morning America." ABC's Claire Shipman laid out an entire story documenting conservative displeasure with Bush positions on the pork-laden farm bill, the steel tariffs and the policy allowing tax-funded stem-cell research on already-destroyed embryos.
But on every issue cited by Shipman, the media have concentrated almost totally on liberal complaints in recent months while ignoring conservative viewpoints. Worse, when the conservative viewpoint is cited, it's reduced to the political, never given consideration as serious policy. There was not one syllable about the substantive conservative case against the EPA policies from those who have devoted years to discussing the liberal one.
This isn't just the media's fault. The Bush administration hasn't found the courage to make the substantive conservative case. It put Christie Whitman at the EPA, and its environmental positions have been muddled at best. The Bush administration ought to know that in the final analysis, you can't please everybody -- conservatives and liberals, Limbaugh and Brokaw, free-market purists and SUV-banning wackos. Like Bush I, you might end up "conceding" defeat -- at the polls.