Hillary Rodham Clinton is featured in a flattering black-and-white photo on the cover of Time magazine this week -- the 10th cover story for Hillary Clinton since she appeared on the national scene hitched to Bill Clinton's wagon in 1992. That's got to be a record of sorts. But one thing was very different this time. The headline featured a poll question with two little boxes to check: "LOVE HER" or "HATE HER."
What? Someone might not love her? This must be the handiwork of Time's new Managing Editor, Richard Stengel. He’s made a public fuss about his desire to see Time be a major player in the shaping of America's opinions.
This newest cover story is a departure from the norm, the royal covers she's so often received, with titles like "Ascent of a Woman," "Turning Fifty," "Hillary In Her Own Words," and the late-Lewinsky-scandal classic, "'It's Nobody's Business But Ours.'" The normal Time magazine Hillary cover could be mistaken for the cover of Ladies' Home Journal. (There was one exception. One cover in 1996 carried the caption "The Truth About Whitewater" and featured a harshly spotlighted Hillary, but it wasn't advertising a Time article inside, but a book excerpt from James Stewart's "Blood Sport.")
Over the last five years, the resurgent radical left has found empowerment in the Democratic Party through what the political scribes antiseptically call the "Internet grass roots." When hawkish Sen. Joe Lieberman lost by four points in the Democratic primary in Connecticut to ultraliberal millionaire Ned Lamont, the media credited this hard left with the upset. In truth, however, the liberal media themselves were a major part of the equation.
It is certainly true that a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to news photographs, and it’s especially true of news photographs from war zones.
One of the famous photos from the war was a 1968 Eddie Adams photo for the Associated Press showing a general shooting a Viet Cong fighter in the head with a pistol on a Saigon street. That picture became the left’s rally poster for American withdrawal from Vietnam. Adams won the Pulitzer in 1969 for his Vietnam photos, but he regretted the unintended consequences to his dying day. As he wrote in Time magazine, "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths."
For the last decade or two, the Big Three network news ratings have declined and their once-iron grip on public opinion has loosened, prompting this debate: is this decline merely a sign of increasing 24-7 media availability (cable news, Internet sites) or is the liberal tilt of the networks driving conservative viewers away from these networks in favor of alternative outlets?
Network news executives have consistently chosen the former, denying a liberal bias and denying that the ratings decline means they should have to change their modus operandi in any way. They are in denial of the obvious. A new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press proves the point. It shows a dramatic decline in nightly network news viewership in the last four years among the Republican viewers they polled. While the number of Democrats saying they regularly watch network news increased from 35 percent in 2002 to 38 percent in 2006, the number of Republicans who say they view major TV newscasts declined from 34 percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2006.
The following letter was sent on Friday to Rob Owen, President of the
Television Critics Association, in reaction to
reports that about 100 TV
critics walked out of a presentation by Fox News Channel Chairman and
CEO Roger Ailes, in protest of Fox’s "conservative spin."
Rob Owen, President Television Critics Association
Dear Mr. Owen:
I was appalled when I read news accounts
about the utter lack of respect that so-called "fair" and "balanced"
members of your organization exhibited toward Fox News Channel’s
Chairman Roger Ailes Monday night. Such open contempt for Fox speaks
volumes about their personal intolerance and disdain for any point of
view that doesn’t reflect their liberal ideology.
Who says The New York Times has lost touch with reality? A recent puff piece by TV reporter Bill Carter on MSNBC’s “Countdown” host Keith Olbermann honors him as the "centerpiece" and "great growth story" of MSNBC. He’s up “30 percent” in the 25-to-54 demographic. How significant is this? Since Olbermann came to TV as a sportscaster, let’s just say this is like celebrating a .200 hitter for having the best batting average on a last-place baseball team.
The Times shoe-shine carried the headline “MSNBC’s Star Carves Anti-Fox Niche,” yet in his report Carter had no choice but to place that grandiose statement in its proper perspective: “Olbermann’s show remains little more than a dot in the rearview mirror of Fox News” - followed by this spin - “Even from that far back, he seems to have been able to honk his horn loud enough to raise hackles at Fox.” What followed was a supportive recycling of Olbermann’s trash talking about Fox headliner Bill O’Reilly, and Olbermann’s constant naming of O’Reilly as the “Worst Person in the World.”
eye on building audience anticipation, and maybe a little political
gravitas, CBS sent its anchor-in-waiting Katie Couric on a six-city
promotional tour complete with town meetings. AP reporter David Bauder
compared her “listening tour” to Hillary Clinton’s, and like the former
First Lady’s sojourns, these were frantically pre-screened to be safe
and boring. (A blogger in Minneapolis had his pen confiscated.)
Couric told gossip writer
James Brady in Aspen she was going out to see “real people,” but Couric
has been doing something else at tour stops. She’s been raising money
for local cancer charities at $150 a plate. Since her husband Jay
Monahan and her sister Emily Couric died of cancer, Couric has been a
very active fundraiser for anti-cancer causes. Working with a charity
called the Entertainment Industries Foundation (EIF), she is a
co-founder of the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA).
They have built a Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at New
York’s Presbyterian Hospital.
In her sister’s memory, she
has pledged to serve as honorary chairwoman of a campaign to raise $100
million for a new cancer center at the University of Virginia, her alma
mater. In May, Couric gave a short commencement address at the
University of Oklahoma for an eye-popping fee of $115,000 paid by
private donors. The six-figure sum was sent directly to the UVA
charity. Will she do more six-figure speeches for charity cash?
Couric has established an
admirable record of public activism in the fight against cancer and is
to be commended for her efforts. But this also being the first time
we’ve had one of the nation’s leading news anchors have an aggressive
high-profile side career in philanthropy (we’re not counting Dan
Rather’s one-night stand helping raise $20,000 for the Democratic Party
of Travis County, Texas in 2001). Couric's activity triggers the
uncomfortable but necessary question: Is there a political conflict of
interest at play here?
The line between old-fashioned objective reporting and opinion writing is blurry enough on the big subjects like the war on terrorism and the economy, but in entertainment journalism, it’s becoming nearly impossible to differentiate between the two, especially since those who deliver this product don’t, and won’t.
Take it from me: This is a rough neighborhood to work in if you are lobbying for decency and family-friendly programming on television and regularly deal with the entertainment press. In the daytime, you’re working with reporters you assume are dedicated to telling the story in an objective and balanced manner. But when they go moonlighting on more opinionated Internet web logs, entertainment reporters often make it clear that the concept of upholding decency is a bad joke.
There was the expected wailing and gnashing of teeth from the left when New York’s state Court of Appeals ruled against installing so-called "gay marriage" by judicial fiat, as they had in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. The New York Times, as expected, was stunned that the judges could find a "rational basis" for traditional marriage, and that judges would defer to elected legislators.
This outrage was plastered at the top of the Times with two "news" stories. One was a front-page editorial (they call it a "news analysis") by Patrick Healy, who focused on the "gay rights advocates"and their disappointment. "Nowhere did gay marriage seem more like a natural fit than New York,"he complained, where "a history of spirited progressivism" should have made the victory of the marriage-manglers inevitable.
Editors of the New York Times, along with their allies in journalism, are defending the publication of anti-terrorism programs by declaring their actions to be in the “public interest,” making them a watchdog against what they view as excessive government power and secrecy. But the tables need to be turned. What about excessive media power and secrecy?
There’s something bizarre about the Times rushing out to protest excessive secrecy in the Bush administration – and then touting the testimony of secret sources as its evidence.
With Katie Couric lounging in the wings, Dan Rather is now expendable, and the suits at CBS News are squeezing him out of his last remaining gig on "60 Minutes." This has caused great distress for those who like their news to look like a long commercial for MoveOn.org, which is to say, the Dan Rather fan club.
CBS smiled politely as they pushed him away, but the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted an anonymous former CBS executive, who denounced the shove-off as "disgraceful. He's a legend. He gave his life to that company. Even though he made a big mistake, he did 43 years and 11 months' great work."
If Rather’s that great, why didn’t the executive have the courage to go on the record?
Rather had a Nixonian ending, resigning from the anchor chair in disgrace after being in complete denial about his own political corruption. It’s not surprising that some will now try to rehabilitate his reputation, but they won’t have much more luck than Nixon did. Dan Rather does not have a sterling record of journalism. He is a grand example of the anchorman as a powerful and partisan national politician who never had to be elected, yet had a lot more visibility and wielded a lot more influence than most elected officials.
Our media today seem absolutely allergic to good news, especially when it comes to Iraq.
In the early morning of June 8, the story broke that American forces had killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, our most infamous terrorist enemy in Iraq. This was terrific news, a time for rejoicing in America. A man who viciously caused the death of thousands, and killed Americans like Nicholas Berg by personally sawing off their heads, would kill no more.
This should have been a time for national euphoria, and for most, it was. But the media’s hearts clearly weren’t in it. Within just a few minutes of the “Today” show announcement, a viewer could draw the clear sense that the poor-mouthing had begun. Matt Lauer began by noting the “timing” was certainly right for a Pentagon dragged down by allegations of a Marine massacre at Haditha. NBC invited Sen. Joe Biden to describe how President Bush has been “basically crippled at home and abroad because of the incompetence of the way his administration has operated at home and abroad.” We’re going to discuss Bush incompetence – minutes after we learn Zarqawi was located and eliminated?
In Washington these days, all eyes are directed to the White House as literally the center of the political universe. President Bush’s job approval rating is the benchmark by which the left measures his clout – and by contrast, its own. When he is brought low, it means they are having a good year.
This is especially true for the national news media, which can barely refrain from a collective self-satisfied smirk these days. But here’s the funny thing. Nobody looks at <ital>their<ital> approval rating. A Harris poll in February found that only 25 percent said they have a “great deal of confidence” in the White House – but only 19 percent had great confidence in TV news, and only 14 percent for “the press” in general.
There are days when you get up and stare at the front page of the newspaper and you just have to put the paper back down. May 30 was one of those days. After escaping for the long Memorial Day weekend, one returns to the real world Tuesday morning. But those who read The Washington Post are reminded that some people live forever in the world of make-believe.Witness the front-page headline: “Clinton Is A Politician Not Easily Defined: Senator's Platform Remains Unclear."
That is to politics what “The DaVinci Code” is to theology.
The Dixie Chicks and their marketing gurus clearly know publicity. They asked themselves: How can we get ourselves featured on the cover of Time and hailed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” just before the new CD comes out? Easy. Trash George W. Bush again.
Time’s cover had the three women framed in black with the celebratory title “Radical Chicks.” They were famous not because of their music, but because “They criticized the war and were labeled unpatriotic.” That’s a bit off. They criticized George W. Bush, with lead singer Natalie Maines telling a London audience the band so despised him they were ashamed to be from the same home state. That isn’t exactly a brilliant anti-war policy statement that Madeleine Albright would crib. It was an insult.
When Mel Gibson introduced "The Passion of the Christ" into the public conversation, Hollywood had a lot to say about it. Now Hollywood is offering its response with the upcoming release of "The DaVinci Code," inviting commentary not on that movie, but on Hollywood itself.
Three years ago, Mel Gibson gambled his own personal fortune on a great creative risk, going completely outside the established Tinseltown system to produce a horrifyingly realistic reenactment of Our Lord’s crucifixion, and resurrection. It took not just sacrifice but also real courage to make this. The studios all scoffed at the idea. The reviews were horrible – before anyone had seen a frame of it.
Here is the most insincere question a liberal TV news star can ask: How can President Bush turn around his poll numbers? Imagine how they would have reacted if Rush Limbaugh had pretended to worry how Bill Clinton was going to turn around his fortunes. The media’s crocodile tears are not even laughable, just nauseating. Pushing down the president’s approval rating seems to be their daily task.
The newest manufactured brouhaha – over the National Security Agency creating a database of phone records to track terrorist phone patterns -- was just the latest in a long string of stories trumped up to make Bush look not just incorrect, but dictatorial, even evil. USA Today hyped the story, and the media pack lapped it up, but it failed the first test of newsworthiness: is it new? No. USA Today’s scoop was mostly a retelling of what the New York Times reported last Christmas Eve, that the phone companies had given the NSA "access to streams of international and domestic communications."
You may want to look fast, but the Democratic National Committee’s website still has a “Republican Culture of Corruption” page, implying that by installing the Democrats back in the congressional majority, we’ll have a virtual monastery of ethical restraint in Washington – with leaders like Patrick Kennedy setting the example.
The Democratic “culture of corruption” charge is taking more of a beating than the traffic barricade that introduced itself to Congressman Kennedy’s car last week. ABC, CBS, and NBC all devoted some serious air time to the story, and the fact that Capitol Police supervisors waved off a sobriety test and protectively took the son of Ted Kennedy home.
It could be argued that by Friday, May 5, the network attention to young Mr. Kennedy was historic. Pundits and academics have spent the last twenty years lamenting that the networks can’t seem to give presidential candidates more than about seven seconds a clip in soundbites. Now ABC gave Kennedy an amazing 60 seconds to read his statement announcing he was returning to the Mayo Clinic for rehabilitation. Even that wasn’t enough for NBC. This network gave him a two-minute soundbite.
A few weeks ago, the pollsters for NBC and The Wall Street Journal asked this question: "If thousands of immigrants in the U.S. do not show up for work on May 1st in protest of immigration policy, do you think this will do more to help their cause, do more to hurt their cause, or have no real effect either way?" Fifty-seven percent said it would hurt their cause. Only 17 percent said it would help.
But that point is being roundly and deliberately ignored by the national media. Tossed and turned by internal diversity police who demand a greater minority presence and minority consciousness in the newsrooms, those who report the “news” are doing their level best to ensure that the protesters for “immigrant rights” get the best possible publicity boost.
The recent unveiling of the Pulitzer Prizes had more of the same politicized whiff that the Oscars oozed earlier this year. Merit is taking a back seat now to "edginess" in both the news and entertainment media. "Speaking truth to power" is in vogue, even if it’s not true and even if it’s not in the public interest.
The roster of Pulitzer winners had an unmistakeable get-Bush smell to them, especially Dana Priest’s exposing secret prisons in Europe for terrorists in the Washington Post, and James Risen’s and Eric Lichtblau’s NSA-surveillance exposure in the New York Times. The Pulitzers have a prize for Public Service, but these leaks in the War on Terror might better deserve an award for Public Endangerment. As Bill Bennett put it, many Americans think it’s odd that on these stories, "the leaker can be prosecuted, but the person who wrote it down, told every citizen about it, and told every enemy of every citizen of this country gets a Pulitzer Prize."
On April 10, left-wing organizations held a massive rally in Washington and other cities, demanding rights (and taxpayer benefits) for illegal aliens, and the liberal media couldn’t have been more excited. The networks had multiple stories, going from city to city, and breathless phrase to breathless phrase. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer played the worn cliche card: “Not since the protests of the Vietnam era has there been anything quite like it.” Bet ten bucks that CBS has said that about just about every large liberal protest they’ve covered. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, CBS also used on-screen graphics with earth-shaking metaphors like “Awakening Giant” to describe the protesters.
Poor John Green. The executive producer of ABC’s weekend “Good Morning America” broadcasts got a month-long involuntary vacation after his private e-mails were exposed saying “Bush makes me sick,” and that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has “Jew shame.”
Once the e-mails were publicized, the people inside the media were agitated. How many of them are equally guilty? How many people inside the liberal media send snarky anti-Bush notes to each other every day? The New York Times lamented the “chilling effect.”
The Washington Post isn't very good at hiding its feelings about abortion when it lets its political reporters profile the Washington elite in their Style section. The latest example was a star turn for Cecile Richards, the new leader of Planned Parenthood. By gum, she's a lovable, open, down-to-Earth girl, the perfect soccer mom -- who also just happens to run a chain of abortion factories.
A few weeks back, reporter Darragh Johnson began her profile of the new CEO of the nation's leading abortion provider with sympathy for her personal life. Her mother, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards (the one who taunted President Bush in 1988 and then lost to his son in 1994), is undergoing cancer treatment, but she still had advice for her granddaughter's attire for an interview with CBS for a summer internship. She needs a "new spring suit." But Mom said she would just buy her a new shirt. Johnson also makes sure to mention she's following the NCAA basketball tournament so she can talk brackets with her husband.
To mark the third anniversary of launching the war to depose Saddam Hussein, the manufacturers of the “news” have established their usual template, Realistic Media vs. Pollyanna Bush. It’s not pessimism versus optimism, but reality versus hallucination.
How, then do we greet the bleats of liberals as they wildly overstate the alleged utter awfulness of the war situation? On CNN, Time writer Joe Klein, one of the nation’s leading worshipers of Bill Clinton, declared to Anderson Cooper, “Rumsfeld ran the most criminally incompetent military campaign, you know, in the last 100 years, perhaps in American history.”
Will former White House reporter Helen Thomas ever go away? She's now written up a jeremiad perpetuating the myth that our media are mere whimpering lapdogs of Bush, tinny arfs all around. She hones in on that old, diseased chestnut that the liberal media went all soft in the "rush to war" in Iraq.
Helen's harangue appeared in the appropriate platform: The Nation magazine, which advertises on its website the slogan, "If you think it's time to impeach Bush, then it's time for you to subscribe to The Nation."
You’d think Katie Couric would aspire to be an anchorwoman for all the American people, now that CBS appears to be wooing her for the Throne of Rather. So why did she have to be so rough on Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, for being a Catholic?
Monaghan has an extraordinary American story. After struggling badly with his brother in a failing pizza business, he bought his brother out in 1960 and by the 1980s had accumulated amazing riches. He was enjoying them, too, all the gaudy trappings of success, and then he read the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. Reading about the great sin of pride, his life changed dramatically. He stopped concentrating on material things, instead focusing his energies, and his wealth, in pursuit of spiritual good. He poured millions upon millions of dollars into pro-life and Catholic philanthropy. Among other ventures, he founded Ave Maria University. After facing zoning problems with his first location in Michigan, Monaghan struck a deal in southern Florida, not to merely build a Catholic college, but a truly Catholic town, open to anyone aspiring to live in communion with traditional values.
Objectivity shows up in the funniest places on TV news. Take, for example, the latest taped message from Osama bin Laden, where the architect of 9/11 spits in America’s face by comparing the "criminality" of the American military to that of Saddam Hussein. The TV networks repeated this robotically, without comment. Far be it from them to pass judgment.
On the morning shows, they merely passed along Osama’s message of moral equivalence, reading it with no attempt to rebut it, rethink it, or reject it. On the evening news, Osama’s Uncle-Sam-same-as-Saddam message wasn’t treated as a stinging lie about our forces. It was, instead, forced through the same well-worn storyline: It’s more proof that the plotters of the Iraq war were wrong to connect Saddam to al-Qaeda.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell insisted that "On its face, that would seem to contradict the administration's pre-war claims of a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda." CBS anchor Bob Schieffer asserted: "It sounds like Osama didn't like Saddam any more than we do." Apparently, there’s no lower way to insult Saddam Hussein than to compare him to the U.S. military.
Time and Newsweek put Dick Cheney’s hunting accident on their covers this week, a dying story already eight days old. The shooting victim, Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, went home after apologizing for all that Cheney had to go through, meaning the thoroughly juvenile media frenzy that followed.
Time and Newsweek no doubt imagined Cheney delayed alerting the press until Sunday so that they couldn’t put him on their Earth-changing covers last week. We’ll show you, they said, fists shaking at being so obviously dissed.
But we already know every single bit of the story, having heard it hundreds of times over the last week. How to make these covers newsworthy? Easy, if you’re a melodramatist at these magazines.
Newsweek’s cover promised a look at “Cheney’s Secret World,” over a picture of Cheney shooting his gun in the field. They headlined their cover story “The Shot Heard Around the World.” Now, whoa, as they say in Wyoming. Muslim rioters are killing people over mild Muhammad cartoons in Denmark, and this birdshot accident was the “shot heard around the world”? It gets worse. The subheadline told a conspiratorial tale: “He peppered a man in the face, but didn't tell his boss. Inside Dick Cheney's dark, secretive mindset – and the forces that made it that way.” Cue the “Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack.
Once it was clear that the man sprinkled with birdshot would survive, Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident was widely expected to become a late-night comedian’s bonanza, a frenzy like Wal-Mart shoppers scrambling for $29 DVD players.
As “Today” replayed the comedian clips on Tuesday, NBC’s Matt Lauer asked, “Had a feeling that was coming, didn’t you?” Katie Couric replied: “Well I mean when you heard the story you just knew they were gonna go crazy with it, so they did.”
With apologies to the Cheney friend who received the pellet facial, the incident was funny. Now we learn the vice president received a warning citation from a Texas Ranger for not buying a $7 hunting stamp in advance. As a friend e-mailed me, “Where else can you shoot a lawyer in the face with a shotgun and get off with just a warning?”
The debate over the propriety of intelligence-gathering by the Bush administration is complicated, and the programs themselves can lose their secrecy (and effectiveness) the more they are debated. The media aren’t monitoring the debate. They started the fight by blowing the lid off the NSA activity in the New York Times, and they’re pushing the fight day and night, clearly coming down against Bush, that arrogantly unconstitutional rogue.
When given a choice between more information about our intelligence-gathering methods and less safety, or less information about our intelligence-gathering and more safety, which do the public choose? The public tends to prefer more safety. The media prefer more information. And the media would prefer the public believe it agrees with them, even if it has to cook a few surveys to establish that canard.