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Media Bias 101
Even after you explain it to them, they are clueless.


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Jonah Goldberg

Okay, so nobody’s talking about campaign-finance reform, and even when they do, the topic’s more boring than a Dukakis family slide show. But it’s during these fallow times that you can really see why it’s such a bad idea. Here are two examples from this morning’s news.

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ITEM 1. 
The hyperventilation about the upcoming “Million Mom March” this Sunday is sucking so much oxygen out of the air I’m getting light-headed. Katie Couric has been holding Café Vienna Moments with allegedly apolitical moms who just want to get rid of the guns and save the children. They’re not liberal, they’re moms. They’re not partisan, they’re moms.

Tom Brokaw called the organizer of the March “a mother who’s never been politically active.” ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas called her “a typical mom you might say, who has made it her mission to stop the bloodshed.” Ms. Vargas says Donna Dees-Thomases has never organized anything larger than a car pool. Golly, that’s so authentic-sounding it could have come out of Al Gore’s focus group (“I think the Vice President looks more compassionate in chartreuse!”).

Even Lisa Myers, one of the few journalists to take her responsibilities seriously when it comes to Bill Clinton, goes gaga for the Mom of the Million Mom March. “Donna Dees-Thomases, a suburban mom. Too busy with her two daughters and a part-time job to pay much attention to politics. Describes herself as apathetic until one day last August. Thousands of miles away from her home in New Jersey, this scene on national television: The aftermath of a gunman’s attack on a Jewish center in Los Angeles.”

In interview after interview, Dees-Thomases sort of giggles and ridicules any notion that she’s anything but a mom.

There’s only one obvious problem with all of this. It’s a lie. Or at least it’s a wildly implausible spin of the truth. As the incalcuably valuable Media Research Center has been pointing out, Donna Dees-Thomases is a former Hill staffer to two Democratic senators, a donor to Hillary Clinton, and a former publicist for Dan Rather.

(Does anyone remember — say — Ken Starr’s “ties” to Richard Mellon Scaife? Starr had never met the man, nor even had a phone conversation with him. And yet, in the spirit of fairness, balance, and full disclosure the press felt compelled to raise the allegation whenever they mentioned Starr.)

Meanwhile George Bush got raked over the coals this morning by Katie Couric for not wanting to make the word “gun” a hate crime.

ITEM 2.
By now most people have probably heard about Diane Rehm’s interview with President Clinton yesterday. Rehm is a well liked, very liberal NPR talk-show host. In the past she has voiced her very strong feelings about how Right-wing radio demagogues like Rush Limbaugh are ruining radio, because they have a political agenda that stifles the full and balanced flow of information.

So here is an excerpt from her interview with President Clinton yesterday.

REHM: What does eight years in the White House do to a marriage?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think it’s been good for ours, because I got to live above the store. You know, until Hillary started running for the Senate, we actually probably had more time together than we did previously. And of course, in the early years our daughter was finishing up junior high school and high school, and we were together at night a lot. You know, we talked about her schoolwork and what was going on in her life, and that was a lot of fun for us. Then, after Chelsea left and went off to college, we were able to go to Camp David more.

This is really quite a wonderful place to live. It’s a great place to — there’s a swimming pool here, and Hillary and I spent a lot of happy days out there just talking and reading, or on Sunday afternoons up on the Truman balcony. I mean, you can get busy and drift apart, I guess, in any circumstances. But for us, we worked hard before we got here, and we had a lot of things to do, and we’ve probably had more time together in our time here than at any point in our marriage. And I’ve enjoyed that immensely. It’s been wonderful for us.

That is the full answer to Ms. Rehm’s question. So, was there a follow-up? After all, the President’s wife is running for Senate from New York largely to vindicate herself after the President got caught having an affair with an intern (Diane Rehm was very big on the follow-through during the Clarence Thomas hearings, by the way). His disbarment hearing is taking place right now in Arkansas, largely because he lied under oath about the affair. And, oh, yeah: The affair led him to be the only elected president ever to be impeached. All I’m saying is that Diane could have gone in a lot of different directions.

Her choice for a follow-up?

REHM: “Looking ahead, when Chelsea is 50, what kind of a world is she going to see? Is it going to be better or worse than it is today?”

Well, that’s certainly one way to go.

Okay, this may seem like piling on, but look at this exchange from an edition of the thankfully canceled CNN show “Sonya Live” in 1994. Rehm was asked, “Should people feel confident about what they hear? Is it the truth? Should they feel more informed, or is somebody trying to manipulate them and put them on a track?”

REHM: It depends on which talk show you’re listening to. If, in fact, you’re listening to a talk show hosted by perhaps someone with a political agenda, then you’ve got to be careful.. On my daily talk show, what I’m trying to do is offer a variety of points of view, to have listeners hear all of the information about a particular topic, and then make up their own minds.

SONYA: Are you suggesting that if I listen to you, I would not know what your political agenda is or what your point of view might be?

REHM: For the most part, that’s absolutely right.

So, what does any of this have to do with campaign-finance reform? Well, a lot. The mainstream media honestly don’t consider themselves to be biased. When they rip apart and question the Promise Keepers, but let the “Million Moms” slide, they honestly don’t see the problem. Bryant Gumbel once introduced some quiz, by saying “This test is not going to tell you whether you’re a racist or a liberal.”

Often, even after you explain it to them, they are clueless. When the producers of The West Wing are asked if their show is liberal, they look as confused as my basset hound used to when I offered him a grape (but somehow a big dopey “huh?” on a basset’s face is much more endearing).

Dan Rather actually calls liberal bias “one of the great political myths.” No seriously, he does. Stop laughing.

For a conservative, or simply unpopular, group to break through this cacophony of liberal group-think, it often has to buy exposure in the form of newspaper ads or television commercials. Even if they get a lot of free media, the attendant commentary is wildly biased. Most notions of campaign- finance reform involve some form of curtailing the amount of money that can be spent on public arguments. The news media loves this idea because they trust themselves to be fair. But that doesn’t make them trustworthy. There are plenty of other reasons to be against campaign-finance reform, but whenever I see the media go nuts, this is the one I think of.

ONE MORE THING ABOUT THOSE MOMS
There is one more peeve about the Million Mom March that’s a little off-topic. It’s the word “Million.” It’s never in quotation marks, it’s rarely given a “so-called.” I know the phrase is allusive now, ever since Louis Farrakhan gathered a few hundred thousand people to hear him explain that the number 6 is the pregnant number full of portent for the future and 9 is the arrogant number, while the number 4 is named Todd and hogs the remote control, or whatever that rant was about.

But there is no chance that a million people will be showing up on Sunday. And, while all the talking heads understand that it is an ironic name rather than a literal one, I have no confidence that everybody else does.

ONE MINOR CLARIFICATION
I know I owe a big blow-out corrections column, but my dog ate it. In the meantime, I want to correct one oversight on my part. Last week I wrote an article responding to The New Republic’s assault on media critic Howard Kurtz. The author of the article, Frank Foer, bemoans the fact that media criticism is obsessed with process rather than the content of the page. My major point was that conservative media criticism still cares about what is on the page. I listed a number of exemplary conservative media critics, and left out Brent Bozell and the gang at the Media Research Center. When it comes to cataloging liberal media excess, MRC is a virtual Library of Alexandria. My apologies for the error of omission, and will their loyalists please stop e-mailing me now?

NOT OUT OF AFRICA
While I’m done with Africa for a while, my number-one fan at antiwar.com is angry at me again and has pounded his fingerprints off in another screed against me. Now, while I do not think for a moment that Mr. Raimondo is an idiot, I do believe that Murphy’s law proscribes getting into arguments with cranks and oddballs as well; people still might not know the difference. So I will make this very brief and stick to his personal silliness (my columns on Africa can speak for themselves). Besides, considering his animosity against the ideas of nearly every prominent conservative in America, I’ll simply bask in the company.

Mr. Raimondo calls me Clintonian in my attitude. Yawn. Next, he suggests that perhaps I have hang-ups with how I got my “place at the conservative table,” i.e. that I’m embarrassed about being my mother’s son and defending her honor and by extension Linda Tripp’s actions.. Well, if there is a single topic I’ve bared my soul on more in this space I do not know what it is. I’ve got nothing to apologize for, nor have I concealed anything, save perhaps the full extent of my exhaustion with the topic. All of my columns are archived, have at ‘em. If you’d like to save time, I’ll tell ya: I was a part-time writer and proud neocon policy gnome before the president’s pants exploded. Afterwards I became a full-time writer and dropped the neo- part of my conservatism. The exposure helped. Guilty as charged.

Still, I find it amusing that Mr. Raimondo finds media catapults so interesting, considering that a cursory Nexis search reveals that he vaulted into what prominence he has due to the fact that he was Pat Buchanan’s chief — if not sole — gay cheerleader in 1996. Now, that is a dog bites man story if I ever heard one.

Then there is the issue of my accusing him of making stuff up. I’ll give you two examples. Mr. Raimondo rants — with an anger rarely applied simply to inanimate real estate — against the Upper West Side. His assertions that this is a hotbed of conservative radicalism are still good for a chuckle, as would be a similar charge about his town of San Francisco. But so zesty is his dislike for the most famous Jewish liberal neighborhood in America, that he assumes anyone who disagrees with him lives there too. Indeed, he asserts — often — that I want to rule from my perch on the Upper West Side. Trouble is, I do not live there and I haven’t collected my mail within 200 miles of Zabar’s for more than a decade. Normally it would be a trivial error, save for the fact that it seems so central to his whole schtick. It seems clear he’s got problems with what used to be called rootless cosmopolitanism, but that doesn’t mean all of us live there.

Then there is his assertion that “The first time I ever saw Jonah Goldberg he was sitting next to Lucianne Goldberg, his mother, describing — in some detail — just how that stain happened to get on Monica’s infamous dress.” Well, that’s simply false too. During that entire year, I only appeared on two TV programs with my mother, both times on Larry King and only once in the same studio. I have the transcripts. I don’t think I ever offered any “detail” about Mr. Clinton’s redesign of that dress. Sure, Mr. Raimondo may get some frisson from imagining me talking about Mr. Clinton’s bodily fluids in front of him and my mother, but that doesn’t mean it happened.

I could go on a great deal about Mr. Raimondo’s bad faith, gassy ravings, and the like, but that would obviate his last criticism of me. He is very upset, it seems, that I did not muster the courage to link to his column (perhaps he needs the traffic). Well, rather than go on I invite anyone who has the patience or desire to read his assault on me. Here ya go.



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