By L. Brent Bozell III, Creators Syndicate
June 1996 – A new survey by Louis Harris and Associates shows once again that the American people do not have enormous confidence in the news media. Only 14% said they had “a great deal” of confidence in the press while 57% had “only some” and 30% said “hardly any.” The media barely beat Congress, and lost to the Clinton White House. Ouch!
When Harris singled out television news, the ratings were a little higher, with 21% having a “great deal” of confidence. So, why are reporters lumped in with politicians in the trust department?
It could be that the public considers reporters to be as partisan and two‑faced as their elected officials. It’s exacerbated by the arrogance of the network anchors denying liberal bias exists, even when a colleague like CBS’s Bernard Goldberg concedes the obvious. On CNN’s March 11 Larry King Live Dan Rather returned to form, alleging, “We don’t editorialize, we don’t want to editorialize – in no way, shape or form.” A few days earlier Rather charged in the New York Post: “The test is not the names people call you or the accusations by political activists inside or outside your own organization. The test is what goes up on the screen and what comes out of the speaker.”
Well, then, put Goldberg back on Evening News
To pass the test, Rather and his network might first put Goldberg back on the Evening News, where he has not appeared since his Wall Street Journal editorial on liberal bias was published. But let’s put the networks to that screen test. Exhibit A: the Republican primaries.
Even before the primaries began, the networks were portraying the Republican candidates as a group of extreme right-wing Torquemadas. In the very first stories on the candidates’ announcements, network reporters used extreme labels 18 times – CBS reporter Linda Douglass alleged: “For years, critics have called [Phil] Gramm an extremist.” CNN’s Gene Randall proclaimed Bob Dornan came “from political stage far right.”
Compare this to the1992 race, when, despite Democratic candidates like Jerry Brown and Tom Harkin, reporters never introduced Democratic contenders with terms like “far left” or “ultraliberal.”
The Media Research Center studied three weeks of primary coverage around the New Hampshire primary in both election years and found the same game played there. On four networks in three weeks, only four liberal labels were used to describe the Democrats in ‘92. Even when ideology seemed obvious, reporters stressed the Democratic mainstream. ABC’s Chris Bury reported on Jerry Brown: “To those who hear him, Brown’s appeal is his idealism, his calls for political reform, universal health care and environmental activism.” Despite that left-wing agenda, Bury underlined: “Some voters seemed surprised Brown did not sound so radical.” The closest thing to a Clinton label came from ABC reporter Jack Smith, who told viewers on Feb. 19, 1992, that Bill Clinton’s economic message “runs counter to so much traditional liberal ideology.”
45 Ways to Call GOP Extremists
Compare the Democrats in 1992 to the Republicans in 1996. This year, Republicans and their voters were labeled on 73 occasions. The networks employed 18 conservative descriptions, six moderate labels and four liberal labels. The other 45 labels were variations on the “extremist” theme that has become a mantra on television.
All but one were used to describe Pat Buchanan. The exception: NBC’s David Bloom called Lamar Alexander a “moderate Republican with a radical plan of devolution.”
Dan Rather’s CBS led the networks with 19 references to Buchanan’s extremism (compared to 12 for CNN, nine for ABC and five by NBC). On six separate occasions, CBS underlined its perception of Buchanan’s views by referring to the network’s Voter News Service exit-poll question that asked if Buchanan was too extreme. In a February 18 interview with Phil Gramm, Dan Rather asked: “There is a perception that Buchanan has around him people with extremist views on race. Do you agree?” This comes from the same Dan Rather who insisted last November that he hates “to be tagged by someone else’s label. I try really hard not to do that with other people, particularly people who are in public service and politics.”
The networks spent 1995 identifying a “far right” dominance of the Republican Party that had no room for moderates. Last November, CNN’s Judy Woodruff insisted: “Republican moderates may have reason to feel more threatened than turkeys this Thanksgiving. With Arlen Specter’s out-of-money exit from the ’96 presidential race, they have no presidential candidate to call their own.” Now that rabid camp of conservative extremists is left with Bob Dole as the Republican nominee, and his aides are cooing that Colin Powell is their “first five choices” for Vice President. If the evening news were a commercial, could we sue for truth in advertising?