Do network television and major bastions of the press lean to the left? The Media Research Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) diligently monitors what mainline pressies say on television. Every year it asks moderates and conservatives to pick the year's top "notable quotables" - especially egregious leftwardly-biased quotations. Investor's Business Daily terms the exercise "a useful and humorous reminder of the media's insularity and ideological arrogance." I term it a measure of the depth and breadth of the chasm separating many in the media elite - the hive - from the rest of us.
This year, I was one of about 40 judges of the contest. Here is a sample of the most outrageous of 2001.
ABCnews.com Commentary By ABC Anchor Carole Simpson, Jan. 7: "What an exhilarating moment it must have been for her - the first first lady in history to be elected to public office. There, for all the naysayers to see, was the woman who had finally come into her own, free at last to be smart, outspoken, independent and provocative, all qualities she had been forced as first lady to 'hide under a bushel.' Still she was voted one of America's most admired women."
CBS' Dan Rather, Feb. 27: "President Bush tonight outlines his cut-federal-programs-to-get-a-tax-cut plan to Congress and the nation. Democrats will then deliver their televised response, which basically says Mr. Bush's ideas are risky business - endangering, among other things, Social Security and Medicare."
And Rather, March 28: "On Capitol Hill, the Republican-controlled House voted mostly along party lines tonight to pass President Bush's federal budget blueprint. This includes his big tax-cut plan - partly bankrolled, critics say, through cuts in many federal aid programs for children and education."
Newsweek's assistant managing editor Evan Thomas on CBS' Inside Washington, December 23, 2000: "Well, you know, attorney general is actually an important job. Why can't [the incoming Bush administration] buy off the right wing with unimportant jobs? I mean, [the John Ashcroft nomination] is a sop, I assume, to buy off the wing nuts."
Exchange on ABC's Good Morning America, April 25:
Charles Gibson: "Have you ever, in the first hundred days, consulted or called former President Clinton?"
President Bush: "No, I haven't."
Gibson: "To talk to him?"
Bush: "No, I have not."
Gibson: "Don't you feel the need?"
Newsweek's Eleanor Clift on PBS' McLaughlin Group, March 24: "Arsenic in the water. Starting up the Cold War. Make as much carbon dioxide as you like. Laugh about it. Bush has set himself up as a huge target. And the arsenic is going to be the equivalent of what [Newt Gingrich] did with cutting school lunches."
CBS' Bryant Gumbel, Dec. 13, 2000: "We can't let Justice Thomas pass on [the Bush v. Gore Florida election case]. There's no opinion of his in here. He doesn't ask questions in court. Does he do anything besides vote and rubber stamp Scalia?"
Time's Margaret Carlson on CNN's Capital Gang, April 7: "Remember when Ronald Reagan tried to save a few pennies on the school lunch program by classifying ketchup as a vegetable? Last week the Bush administration went further, axing a regulation that forced the meat industry to test hamburgers served in school for salmonella. Imagine, Mad Cow Disease among children, K through 12. The day it hit the papers the proposal was quickly withdrawn. [If] the Bush administration keeps trying to kill health and safety regulations at this pace, soon we won't be able to eat, drink, or breathe."
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter on NBC, December 11, 2000: "If Bush is elected and it's proved on a hand count that Gore actually carried Florida (not to mention the popular vote), what will the country say? 'Oops' isn't going to cut it. ... However agreeable and successful he turns out to be, the new president is doomed to be seen by many Americans as a bastard."
ABC News President David Westin at a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism event Oct.23 (shown four days later on C-SPAN): "The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that, and it's important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. ... I can say the Pentagon got hit. I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is. But for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it's for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on. I'm supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be."
Bill O'Reilly: "I want to ask you flat out, do you think President Clinton's an honest man?"
Dan Rather: "Yes, I think he's an honest man."
O'Reilly: "Do you, really?"
Rather: "I do."
O'Reilly: "Even though he lied to Jim Lehrer's face about the Lewinsky case?"
Rather: "Who among us has not lied about something?"
O'Reilly: "How can you say he's an honest man?"
Rather: "Well, because I think he is. I think at core he's an honest person. I know that you have a different view. I know that you consider it sort of astonishing anybody would say so, but I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things."
Time's Jack White on CBS' Inside Washington, Sept. 1: "There is no liberal bias in the press in the whole. In fact, if there is a bias, it's on the other side. It's hard to find a person really, truly, of the liberal persuasion who [is] making any important decisions in any important media institutions in this country now. I've looked for them. I consider myself one, [but] I have very few birds of a like feather around."
ABC's Peter Jennings on CNN's Larry King Live, May 15: "I think there is a mainstream media. CNN is mainstream media, and the main, ABC, CBS, NBC are mainstream media. And I think ... we are largely in the center without particular axes to grind, without ideologies which are represented in our daily coverage, at least certainly not on purpose."
Bill Maher on ABC's "Politically Incorrect", Sept. 17: "We [Americans] have been cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away - that's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building - say what you want about it - is not cowardly.