Politics & Policy

Falling Down

Not all spills are equal at the Washington Post.

It was September 19, 1996. I woke early, hurriedly dressed for a long day at the office during campaign season, walked out the front door of our townhouse, opened the Washington Post and beheld a vast, above-the-fold, picture of Bob Dole falling off a stage at a campaign rally in a Little League field in Chico, California. It was so patently wrong, so unfair, so mean-spirited, so petty that anger, pity and sadness all fought inside me for equal time. I was not alone.

Washington Post executive Leonard Downie Jr. received more than 150 irate calls that day. His response at the time was that if Bill Clinton had fallen off a stage somewhere, there was “no doubt” the Post would have run the picture.

Chris Matthews was, inexplicably, as irate as any of the 150 callers to the Washington Post. “What’s the point of that picture? I ask any editor at the Post, why’d you put that picture in the paper on the front page?”, he asked on air.

And the Washington Post was not alone in running with a picture of Dole’s fall. Other newspapers printing the picture were:

New York Times B-10

L.A. Times A-2

New York Daily News Page 2

Long Island Newsday Page 7

San Francisco Chronicle A-3

Houston Chronicle A-8

Miami Herald Section A

Rocky Mountain News A-2

Boston Herald Page 2.

Fast forward to this campaign season.

It is now March 20, 2004. It is one day after John F. Kerry had a spill on the ski slopes and cussed out one of the secret-service agents duty-bound to protect him.

I woke early, walked out the front door of our home, opened the Washington Post and was greeted with a full color, above-the-fold, picture of children injured in the fighting against terrorists in Pakistan. But, I was not greeted with a picture of a falling John Kerry. I was greeted by a ridiculous non-story about a Bush-Cheney 2004 sweatshirt made in Burma. But, I was not greeted with a picture of a falling John Kerry. I was greeted by a full color “gallery of soldiers who died in Iraq” on pages A14-15. But, there was no picture of Kerry’s spill.

In 1996, the Los Angeles Times wrote that Dole’s fall was a “visual metaphor for a presidential bid that has stumbled.” Given Kerry’s week, couldn’t the same thing be said of Kerry’s campaign?

Let me be blunt. If the Washington Post thinks it is newsworthy to run a picture of a conservative falling off a stage at a campaign rally, why wouldn’t it run a picture of a liberal falling down and cursing a security agent there to protect him?

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.

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