They're not referees

Posted: Oct 27, 2004 12:00 AM

 If anyone is still being sold the civics-book baloney that our national press corps is just the referee of our democracy, the disinterested moderator of our national debate, the media's performance in this election year has just blown that concept to smithereens in their collective and transparent desire to deny George W. Bush another four years.

 To the uncommitted voter, let us state directly: The media are partisan players. They see their role as journalists as not to inform, but to persuade. They aim to make society better and believe the great society is a society drained of its poisonous vestiges of conservatism. They aim to elect liberal Democrats to office, pretending all the while that these liberals are really moderates, and even -- don't laugh -- fierce warriors for our national defense.

 The media do not believe in an "axis of evil" in the world, or a "war on terror." This, they deeply believe, is right-wing fear-mongering. In the 1990s, they did not crusade against the evils of al-Qaeda, but did crusade against our real mortal enemies: Microsoft, the tobacco companies, gun manufacturers, talk-radio hosts, the House impeachment managers and independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

 No ethical guideline or professional code has seemed to restrain the press this year. Dan Rather so hated Bush that he would try to impress voters with ersatz Texas Air National Guard documents his own experts told him were probably fabricated. Why would he believe he could get away with it? Because he's Dan Rather, and with the mystique of the "objective" press, enough would accept his "objective" attempt to take Bush down.

 The national media aim to set the agenda, and set it in a way that perpetually puts right-leaning, wrong-thinking Republicans at a disadvantage. Just look at the network story counts.

 This year, ABC, CBS and NBC have combined for more than 75 stories on George W. Bush's National Guard Service, with virtually nothing to say about Kerry's scandalous anti-war behavior. They've done more than 50 stories on "skyrocketing" or "record high" gasoline prices, rarely admitting prices are lower today than they were under St. Jimmy Carter. They've aired hundreds on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, while the mass graves of Saddam are a yawner.

 Do some authors have an anti-Bush agenda? If so, the networks welcome them in. Bush-hating Kitty Kelley just makes stuff up about the Bushes, and she gets three days in a row on NBC. Bush-hating Seymour Hersh and Al Franken were all over NBC, as well as the other networks. Bush-despising Michael Moore is everywhere. "60 Minutes" spotlighted a pile of anti-Bush authors: Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Bob Woodward, Anthony Zinni. Liberals at the top of the best-seller list? The networks deserve a thank-you card.

 Stories that might embarrass John Kerry? Never mind. The U.N. Oil for Food scandal certainly would hurt Kerry, since he wants the U.N. to run Iraq and he wants France to be a major partner. Arms inspector Charles Duelfer found the U.N. Oil for Food czar was taking oil-voucher bribes from Saddam Hussein, as were officials close to French President Jacques Chirac. How many stories did the networks do? Four. NBC was the best -- with a piddly three. ABC aired one. CBS, working on a perfect record of partisanship, aired nothing.

 Teresa Heinz Kerry, after six months of delay, released a tiny fraction of her tax return covering her huge estate. No one at these networks cared to ask about them during the entire delay. They yawned when the returns, which showed Mrs. Heinz Kerry paying less as a percentage of taxes than the usual middle-class family, were released. Kerry's been railing all year about the tax advantages of the rich, but CBS and NBC had nothing on this whopping hypocrisy. An ABC anchorman made a joke about it.

 Some might say that all this liberal-media talk is just a partisan game to intimidate the "objective" press, to "work the referees." But look at what the media themselves admit when asked: They're liberals.

 In July, Newsweek's Evan Thomas said the media would favor and promote Kerry and Edwards as young and dynamic and optimistic and all," and "that's going to be worth maybe 15 points." At the Democratic convention, New York Times columnist John Tierney asked a sample of 50 Washington-based journalists who they favored, and they said Kerry, by 12 to 1. In May, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 34 percent of national reporters surveyed described themselves as liberals, while only 7 percent said they were conservative.

 A majority of 55 percent told Pew pollsters the media weren't critical enough of President Bush, while only eight percent thought they were too critical. How critical is critical enough for the national press? Enough to get President Kerry elected.