Jeffords: As Moderate as the New York Times

Posted: Jun 01, 2001 12:00 AM
Bernard Goldberg worked in the network news business for decades, and he thinks the notion that media liberals deliberately plot to squelch, smear and skewer conservatives in their newscasts is bunk. Instead, he thinks they're hopelessly clueless to the concept that they're liberals and that they're biased. Now retired from CBS News, Goldberg has written a second scathing indictment of his industry and documents his contention dramatically. His Exhibit A: Dan Rather insisted it was bad form for Goldberg to blast his CBS colleague Eric Engberg several years ago in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and considered it "especially appalling" since the editorial page was conservative. "What do you consider the New York Times?" Goldberg asked, since Rather had written for them. "Middle of the road," was the answer. In the eyes of liberal elites, there are only two perspectives: conservative (with all its pejorative connotations) and middle of the road. Keep that in mind when you consider the coverage of Sen. James Jeffords, the media-toasted "independent thinker" from Vermont, who divorced his Republican colleagues for a new, well, to use the local vernacular, "civil union" with the Democrats. Everywhere you turn, Jeffords' lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 27 is described by the media as "moderate." It doesn't matter that he lands about 25 points to the left of more mathematically centrist Republicans like Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. From those who think the New York Times is "middle of the road," Jeffords is clearly in the mainstream. But when reporters explain that center, it's to laugh. NBC's Andrea Mitchell, for example, insists that Vermont isn't liberal or conservative -- it's just "socially conscious." This kind of reporting is politically unconscious. The ridiculous "moderate" tag allows the liberal press to posit anything to its right as "conservative" -- mean-spirited conservative, that is. When Jeffords took the dramatic step of ripping chairmanships away from Jesse Helms and Orrin Hatch, as well as the majority leader's mantle from singing partner Trent Lott, these conservatives were not cast as victims. Somehow they became the victimizers. NPR's Nina Totenberg put it most dramatically: GOP moderates are "in an abusive relationship ... the moderates are the enablers and the conservatives are the abusers." It's the old saw, all over again. Whenever conservatives prevail over liberals -- GOP platform fights, Bush vs. McCain, tax cuts -- it's presented by journalists as a sad day for Republican political fortunes, and as terribly mean and insensitive to the massive Jeffords Republican constituency out in the country that never manages to win on its own. And once again, reporters are demanding the Republicans feel the moderates' pain and move the party left to keep it from shrinking. By now, Republicans should know better than to accept political advice from the media who are dancing and doing cartwheels in the streets over Majority Leader Daschle. The one storyline all the media elitists were avoiding was what otherwise comes naturally to cynical reporters: What's in it for Jeffords? With Strom Thurmond wavering in midnight Senate sessions, and Jeffords' committee chairmanship elapsing under term limits in 2002, couldn't those scribes who prefer to leave no cynical stone unturned find a smidgen of self-interest? Robert Novak is just about the only pundit who pressed this line. Another was none other than David Letterman, who put that question to Tom Brokaw twice, but Brokaw wasn't buying. "I think he campaigned on the very issues that he said he's leaving the Republican Party for ... those flinty New Englanders, they treasure their independence, and they like someone who stands up for their state and for principle." The same could be said for North Carolina and Jesse Helms, but the same will
never be said for North Carolina and Jesse Helms by Tom Brokaw. What puts the lie to all this principle-over-party blather is the counter-example to Jeffords: the pro-life Democrat. How many of them have bathed in media encomiums to independence? How many network anchors bray of their abuse at the hands of the liberal party majority? Bryant Gumbel asked Evan Bayh: "Is there no such thing as a moderate wing of the Republican Party?" Where was Gumbel reaching out to Bayh's Republican counterparts when the Democratic majority insisted last year that Bayh's one pro-life vote (out of six in two years) made him too impure to be Al Gore's running mate? In the final analysis, the coverage begs the average viewer to see that despite its hold on the White House and the House of Representatives, only the Republican Party is on the ropes and in desperate need to pay attention to moderates. That's how you look at the world when you think like Rather and Brokaw, and the New York Times is your definition of America's political center.