Allergic to profit, addicted to liberalism

Posted: May 03, 2002 12:00 AM
ABC's longtime morning physician, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, has been suspended for a week without pay from her slot on "Good Morning America." Dr. Snyderman committed the grievous offense of touting Tylenol in a radio commercial. Liberal media types often treat profit-oriented interests like mice infected with bubonic plague, but why can't they find any reflex for objectivity when "public interest" groups come calling? Years ago, ABC banned its correspondents from speaking to "political groups," which can be narrowly defined as corporate interest groups like the pharmaceutical companies or the Fertilizer Institute. Why? Because attending fundraisers for the NAACP or the Children's Defense Fund or Transafrica didn't rise to the level of assisting a "political group." These are acts of conscience, I guess. At the same time "Good Morning America" was flexing its ethics muscles with Dr. Snyderman, they were promoting ESPN fixture Robin Roberts to the newscaster's chair. No one saw any conflicts of interest in Roberts, who hosted a fundraiser for liberal presidential candidate Bill Bradley in November of 1999, predicting the former New York Knicks star would be going "from Madison Square Garden to the Rose Garden." Roberts claimed she didn't understand her hosting the million-dollar Bradley cash-haul might be controversial. But it didn't ruffle a feather around ABC. It is as if ABC is just tone deaf when it comes to appearances of impropriety where ideology is concerned. Of late there have been many whispers in TV Guide and elsewhere that Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts will be given the bum's rush on Sundays to make room for scintillating George Stephanopoulos on "This Week." It's a bumpy transition. The show will have gone from David Brinkley, who famously declared Bill Clinton was a titanic bore, to Stephanopoulos, a proud member of the titanic bore's bimbo-battling brigade. But that's lost, utterly lost, on ABC management. Some analysts still completely miss why Republicans see Stephanopoulos as a very recent, and very virulent, partisan enemy. National Journal's William Powers suggested ABC could hire a Bill O'Reilly type for Sunday morning, but then he went nutty: "There's a place for ideology on TV, but to bring it to 'This Week' would be to destroy the spirit of the Sunday shows, which are inherently centrist. Lefties and righties love ridiculing the old Washington establishment, but it's still there, holding the system together, and it lives on in these shows. Stephanopoulos is nothing if not a young establishmentarian, and perfect for this gig." Where to begin? One cannot uniformly categorize Sunday shows as "centrist." Yes, NBC's Tim Russert has earned a reputation for fairness and balance, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer can also qualify (usually) -- but that's it. CBS predictably pounds the liberal line; ABC's lone conservative is George Will, now segregated into his own segments. And Stephanopoulos as a "young establishmentarian" -- doesn't anyone remember the standard Clinton White House analysis, with Dick Morris representing Opportunistic Centrism while Stephanopoulos held down the fort for Ted Kennedy Liberalism? Maybe that's what makes him "establishmentarian." Let's not assume that the casual attitude toward supporting the self-evidently correct liberal establishment is contained to ABC. National Review's Byron York recently reported that annual reports from People for the American Way list many major media organizations among its financial supporters: Disney (ABC's parent), CBS, NBC, America Online, Time Inc., and the New York Times Company. Media company flacks told York that they'd attended several ritzy $500-a-plate dinners for the liberal group, but only Time Inc. seemed to regret the potential appearance of partisanship. People for the American Way began as a self-described "nonpartisan constitutional-liberties organization" limited to bashing religious conservatives. In the last few years that mission has expanded into more high-profile lobbying, first against Bill Clinton's impeachment, with the motto "Move On." Now, in the Dubya Era, the motto has changed to "No One Gets to Move On." Their boss, Ralph Neas, is happiest when barking orders at supine Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. His pressure has meant most of Bush's nominees to federal circuit courts -- a solidly conservative and intellectually impressive bunch -- have twiddled thumbs for a year without even a confirmation hearing. But Neas has placed his bizarrely coiffed head into every kind of Washington business, even leading an unsuccessful campaign against the Bush tax cut. York's scoop ought to be a bigger scandal, but it isn't. Dr. Snyderman's endorsement of Tylenol is.