It was the fall of 1995, and there was open warfare in Washington over the Republicans' Contract with America.
Liberals had declared that civilization as we knew it was imperiled by the evil machinations of Newt Gingrich and Co.
This is to be expected of liberals on Capitol Hill -- but those weren't the effective ones. It was their colleagues in the national so-called "objective" so-called "news" media whose "reporting" was poisoning the public discourse.
Former CBS anchor Dan Rather was a frequent target of conservatives' ire. On November 28, he was a guest of Mike Rosen, the top-rated conservative radio talk show host in Denver, Colorado. Rosen directly accused him of having a liberal bias, but Rather would have none of it.
"I'm a lifetime reporter. What I care about is news," Rather insisted in his telephone interview with the KOA host.
"I'm all news, all the time. Full power, tall tower, I want to break in when news breaks out. That's my agenda. Now, very respectfully, when you start talking about a liberal agenda and all the, quote, liberal bias in the media, I quite frankly, and I say this respectfully but candidly to you, I don't know what you're talking about. ... What I don't like, and if you want to see my neck swell or the hair begin to rise on the back of my neck, is to be tagged by somebody else's label."
Rosen was unimpressed, insisting that Rather was biased. Callers called and repeated the accusation.
Rather was in knots.
"Oh, bullfeathers, bullfeathers. Total, complete bullfeathers! Look, there is a limit where you have to just say, 'Listen, this is off-the-wall stuff,' and this is off the wall. ... Listen, my answer to the lady [is] Madam, prove it and I'll report it. Or get somebody to prove it and I'll report it."
But then the golden moment arrived. Rosen asked about the "Mediscare" campaign and how the press was willfully echoing the Democratic Party line that Republicans wanted to cut Medicare coverage, which was simply false.
Rather's answer was remarkable: "On the 'CBS Evening News,' here's what we try to do. We catch it from both sides on this, which doesn't necessarily mean we've been doing it right. Some of the time, we use the language, 'Medicare cuts,' which is what the Democrats insist these are, and some of the time, we use that these are, 'cuts in the rate of growth for Medicare,' which is what the Republicans prefer. We try to walk that line, we try to call it one way one time, one way the next time ..."
This was too much for Rosen, who pointed out that it simply was not true that CBS was giving equal time and, besides, if it were, it would mean that at best, CBS would be telling the truth only half the time.
Click. Rather hung up.
It was a perfect illustration of the challenge conservatives faced 15 years ago with a national news media almost uniformly liberal and arrogant and blatantly advancing a political agenda rather than reporting news. Their contempt for anything conservative was palpable, and should an uppity right-winger -- Ronald Reagan, Gingrich -- catch fire, the media hellfire was as ferocious as it was predictable.
Conservatives didn't stand a chance. They owned a handful of newspapers and opinion magazines, and if they combined their audiences, they could match perhaps a tenth of the audience of just one television news network.
Conservative talk radio was exploding, to be sure, but as opposed to "news reporting," Rush Limbaugh and the industry he spawned were (correctly) labeled as biased, and their reports labeled commentary.
The nature of their business was such that conservatives could only react with opinions to what liberals presented as objective truth.
Today, the internet has changed everything. Enter the citizen journalist, the person (or entity) that can now create news and present it directly to the public without going through the filter of the liberal press.
The left no longer controls the flow of information and therefore no longer can control the narrative. For years, there's been systematic corruption at federally funded outfits like ACORN; it took James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles -- armed with a camera and a chinchilla coat -- to bring them down.
The liberal press has filed hundreds of stories about "racism" at the Tea Party rallies; one black conservative activist at BlackandRight.com, armed with a camera and a creative impulse, simply filmed the blacks who participate in the rallies to shatter the canard.
In 2004, Dan Rather tried to take down President George W. Bush when he challenged the authenticity of his military service; instead, conservatives on the internet exposed the dishonesty of his hit piece and took down Dan Rather.
The left is, of course, apoplectic now. "Why, just look at the abuses!" they scream, even when they can't find them. Are there land mines out there? Sure. Could the citizen journalist abuse the public trust? Hypothetically, of course. Conservatives must all guard against this.
An example of abusing that trust is the attempted prank by O'Keefe against CNN, which I have clearly stated is not in line with the conservative movement.
Let there be scrutiny, by all means. But however it's done, those who devoted themselves to advancing a liberal agenda on the traditional media, all the while calling it "news," and those who turned a blind eye to these abuses over the past half-century, should kindly recuse themselves from the conversation.