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Dole's Still Right on Media Bias

Dole's Still Right on Media Bias
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 31, 1996

As the clock runs out on the 1996 campaign, Bob Dole has reprised his summer attack on the news media's liberal bias. Why would Dole take on a topic that will do little to close the gap with Bill Clinton, evokes images of desperate George Bush in '92, and only threatens to anger the reporters on the bus?

Maybe it's because he's dead right, and it simply needs to be said. As usual, it's the media responses that always amuse. With few exceptions - ABC's Sam Donaldson and Brit Hume, for example - the company response is once again "Who?w Us?"

NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert told The Washington Post: "I find it ironic that Dole is criticizing the media for not covering all the stories we broke. Whether it's the Indonesian gardener or the Buddhist monks, he should be crediting the L.A. Times, Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. I think his anger is misplaced."

"We" broke? I find it ironic Russert never credits his own network. Then again...he can't. While the newspapers have taken on these newest Clinton scandals, the networks once again ignored them, or when forced to cover it, try to paper over the Democrats' outrages with the "both sides do it" spin. Even when DNC fundraiser John Huang hid in the D.C. area to avoid federal marshals, the networks didn't find that worth covering for days at a time.

The lamest response to Dole's charges comes from hopelessly liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who picked up a bat and took three weak swings at the idea that the media aren't the 89-percent pro-Clinton cheerleaders they most certainly are. Strike one: "At the same time the media fixated on Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert Hill, Little Rock bankers accused of making illegal contributions to Mr. Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial campaign, the networks all but ignored the record criminal fine being levied against Simon Fireman vice chairman of Mr. Dole's '96 finance committee."

Wrong. Fireman (not the "vice chairman," but one of a list of them), almost immediately pled guilty to charges in July, making a one-day story more possible. The Branscum-Hill trial ran from June 17 to August 1, and followed a trial in which independent counsel Ken Starr won a big victory. Rich is correct to say the networks didn't cover the original Fireman story (although two of the networks grasped it last week in the wake of DNC troubles). But were the networks "fixated" on the Branscum-Hill trial? The networks aired only ten full stories on the trial. If an average of 2.5 news stories per network in six weeks is a "fixation," than Rich is consulting one bizarre dictionary.

Strike two: Rich pointed out the media ignored The New Yorker's investigation of Elizabeth Dole's blind trust, and the allegation that Dole directed millions of tax dollars to a supportive Brooklyn rabbi's yeshiva. If this kind of story is important, isn't it far more controversial that the Clintons failed to create a blind trust for months after entering the White House? Meanwhile, their investments in a Value Partners account included health stocks at the same time they were pushing for socialized medicine. Rich conveniently overlooked that scandal, perhaps because a check on network coverage - zilch - would blow his argument to pieces.

As for the yeshiva, one could list hundreds of examples of Clinton pulling strings for political buddies that haven't been covered by the media. Example? Try that little thing called Whitewater, which Rich's newspaper broke in March 1992, and everyone (including the New York Times) completely ignored for the rest of the 1992 campaign. Next?

Strike three: Rich claimed the Center for Public Integrity (a liberal organization, naturally undefined in his piece) "found many media takers" for its report that Clinton awarded fat cats with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, while its scoop on a Dole real-estate tax shelter went ignored. Wrong again. The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Time all published small Lincoln Bedroom stories buried within their pages. And what about the networks? Not a single one among those "many media takers."

If Rich thinks the Center's attacks on conservatives are uncovered, he ought to consider their February attack on Pat Buchanan supporter Larry Pratt's appearance at a forum shared by white supremacists - which led off all the network newscasts and made all the newspaper front pages.

Instead of a serious media response, we get nonsensical claptrap from the likes of Frank Rich, who knows next to nothing about the subject. The media love to rain down pious judgments on the candidates from their perch on Mount Olympus, but when their own performance is questioned, they sound like the very candidates they cover - "engaging in harsh personal attacks or changing the subject rather than discussing the issues."