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July 11, 2002

Media Bias for Bush?

I have nothing good to say about Bush, but I disagree with The Hauser Report's argument that Bush gets some unique pass by the media. Bush's early Presidency has had a rather unique situation-- a honeymoon period radically extended by the post-911 "if we say anything bad about the commander in chief, the terrorists win" syndrome.

Maybe Army Secretary White's sleaze would have taken him down already in a previous administration, but on pro-corporate sleaze, Bush has benefitted from what I call the Leno inoculation. Jokes about Bush being sold out to the corps has been the staple of late-night comics-- there is just none of the shock necessary for a good scandal when it turns out to be true. The same thing happened with Clinton on sex-- only the pack media was "shocked, shocked" to find out Clinton was getting some on the side after years of Leno jokes.

People factored in both Bush's corporate connections and Clinton's personal failings into their original votes-- so it takes a new level of corruption beyond the expected to take them out. Bush and company would need the financial equivalent of a semen-stained dress to launch the full-scale Lewinsky-style media attack on them. Harken doesn't quite cut it, so it mostly raises policy hypocrisy problems for Bush, not the necessary level of personal sleaze for the media attack machine.

But frankly, that's fine-- I don't think the GOP gained much ideologically from their attacks on Clinton. They delayed some policies and stole an election, but the whole conservative ideological assault of the mid-90s lost its intellectual steam. Conservatives are spending most of their time trying to pretend they support expanding Medicare, regulating corporations and increasing support for education. Not exactly what the Gingrichites had in mind a decade ago.

Posted by Nathan at July 11, 2002 10:51 AM

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I disagree with your disagreement. Throughout the 2000 campaign, Bush's inaccurate statements (especially those concerning his proposed tax cuts), were largely overlooked in favor of the media's fixation on alleged Gore embellishments and on his choice of apparel.

The failure of certain Bush administration officials to timely divest themselves of financial interests that might cause a conflict of interest barely caused a ripple in the Washington press corps.

The constant malaprops contained in almost every Bush public announcement were corrected by the media in their news reports.

All of the above occurred long before 9/11. I could go on, but I trust the examples provided above are sufficient to prove my point. If not, put yourself back in 1992-1993 and ask yourself -- if the above had occurred then, would the media have been as cooperative?

I'll finish my comments with one more comparison. During a 1992 Meet the Press appearance, as Clinton was explaining his position on some issue, reporter David Broder said -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- "Oh, I see. you want to have it both ways." Throughout the 2000 campaign, I waited for Broder to make a similar comment concerning the many Bush campaign promises that most media folks knew were impossible to accomplish. In vain.

Posted by: Rogelio F. Arteaga at July 11, 2002 05:30 PM

I have to agree with Rogelio on this. The unwillingness to question Bush's background and the feasibility of his proposals goes back to the 2000 campaign and never varied. The horrible fact is that the press did not really change its line on him much after 9/11 except that those who had been joking about his "Bushisms" stopped for a while.

Whitewater was boring for two reasons - it's not just that it was a dull business story, but that there was really nothing to it. Yes, the Republicans had to lie to turn it into a story - but that's just the point: Even a lazy reporter should have been able to figure out after a brief look at it that there was no story there. Spikey wasn't lazy; he put a lot of energy into trying to find some angle that would turn it into something real. The fact that his employers allowed this suggests, at the very least, a personal bias against Clinton.

But the election story was the real kicker. There is no way that it makes sense to say that counting the ballots is the wrong way to go. Even lazy reporters can't think there's anything unusual about people wanting to be sure that the candidate who is put into office is the one the people voted for. Reporters talking about how speed was more important than accuracy were either biased to the hilt or too stupid to live. And the ballot-count consortium knew months before 9/11 that Gore had really won; that they deliberately delayed releasing the story until they could come up with excuses to distort it to unrecognizability has to tell you something.

Posted by: Avedon at July 13, 2002 10:47 PM

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