Media And Politics: Overcoming The Bias
Several years ago I was asked by the Heritage Foundation to deliver a major address discussing the state of affairs between the conservative movement and the liberal press.
My hosts then were expecting a sobering review of a seemingly endless, and uncorrectable problem: What to do about a leftwing national so-called "news" media committed to undermining anything and everything conservatives believe. It came as a surprise to them to hear my title, which title I didn't proffer until I arrived at the hall: "Why Conservatives Should Be Optimistic About the Media."
Preparing my remarks for you today I revisited my observations in that speech, reflected on events that have transpired since that time and I hereby announce a new title: "Why Brent Bozell Desperately Needs to Re-think Giving Speeches Suggesting Conservatives Should Be Optimistic About the Media."
In my lecture to the Heritage foundation seven years ago I suggested we should focus on 1981 as the year the wall of liberal media intolerance began to show the racks of disintegration, thanks to three people.
The first, of course, was Ronald Reagan who in 1980 won the presidency running on a profound, unapologetic conservative platform, and with the unbridled enthusiasm that would become his trademark, overnight transformed the political landscape in America. No longer could the liberal media dismiss conservatives as insignificant troglodytes. Now the media were forced to accept that we were the majority and they the ones in the minority.
The second was, ironically, arguably the most liberal media executive in America, Ted Turner. In 1981 he launched CNN and with it a cable revolution that broke the virtual television monopoly enjoyed by the Big Three Networks for almost half a century. With the launch of cable came also the rebirth of talk radio. Conservatives now had new ways to communicate their message and bypass the biased filter of the monolithic left-wing press.
The third person who made a seminal contribution to the debate in 1981 was Dr. Robert Lichter, who simply demolished the myth of media objectivity when he took and subsequently published a survey of the media themselves. The numbers were dramatic. Lichter found that at least 81% of the news media had voted for the liberal Democrat for President in every election going back to 1964. He found that 90% favored abortion; 76% found nothing wrong with homosexuality; only 47% believed adultery to be wrong; 50% had no religious affiliation; and 86% seldom or never attended church or synagogue. The Lichter study triggered a new national debate about the objectivity of the American news media, with conservatives making it a major item in the public conversation.
When you combine the three phenomena - the surge of conservatism, the explosion of new media outlets, and a public backlash against the establishment press - you arrive at the conclusion that the future did, indeed, look bright for the conservative movement.
But I tempered my optimism in that lecture with a strong cautionary note: "Do not believe for a moment that conservatives have won the day in the battle to restore balance within the national press. Far from it. The left still controls the press and continues to wield their power relentlessly in order to shape the political conversation… Many are reacting like cornered rats, lunging for the jugular of conservatism in a shameful attempt to derail the movement that has marginalized their impact on the body politic."
Several months after that lecture George Bush, who had surrendered his conservative credentials in favor of a kinder, gentler something-or-other, was replaced by Bill Clinton, their man from Hope.
Why do I call Bill Clinton "their man?" In 1994, the Gannett Foundation (now known as the Freedom Forum) commissioned a new survey of Washington reporters and editors to determine their political persuasions, and once more the numbers were remarkable. When asked their political affiliation, 50% declared themselves Democrats, only 4% Republican. Asked their ideological persuasions, 61% called themselves liberal, an insignificant 2%, conservative. When asked whom they had voted for in '92, 89% said Clinton, Bush got an anemic 7%.
But in the fall of 1994 came a dramatic political upset the likes of which this country has rarely ever seen. The Republican Party, returning to Ronald Reagan's message, and running on a new unabashedly conservative Contract with America, captured both houses of Congress.
Well do I remember the mood on election night as Republicans celebrated their good fortune deep into the night. Liberalism, they believed, was finished. And they rejoiced, happy days were here again!
I didn't share their view. That night I sat down and wrote a letter to our supporters suggesting that it was my belief the Republican Party was about to be demolished. No, not by Bill Clinton, and not by the new Democratic minority in Congress. It would come at the hands of the news media.
It really wasn't a profound prediction. Liberalism as a political experiment had proven to be an abysmal failure, and the liberal media could no longer defend it intellectually. They were faced with the prospect of either having to concede this failure - which they would never do - or bring out their final weapon, their Doomsday Machine, to stop the resurgent conservative GOP. Character assassination. I warned publicly that the Republican Party was utterly ignorant of the impending threat and therefore wholly unprepared to combat it.
In fact, it was even worse than I feared. From the moment the Contract with America was introduced, it was met with the most savage, nonstop attack I've ever seen, without a hint of an attempt at objectivity by the leftist press.
Day and night, beginning in the fall of '94 and lasting through 1995, the Contract was roundly dismissed as a lie … a plot to put women and children naked on the street … a threat to clean water, clean air, safe transportation … an immoral plan to slash Medicare, cripple welfare, pad the pockets of the "greedy rich." Negative hyperbole was the order of the day. As were personal attacks.
Newt Gingrich was vilified unlike any other politician in recent history, compared to murderous dictators. Republicans - specifically, conservatives, more specifically, the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan and Bob Grant personally, were accused of everything, including the bombing of Oklahoma City.
By the end of 1995, the Contract with America was in shambles. It had become, as the left preferred, the Contract on America. The Republican Party was in full retreat headed for the tall grass of "moderation," and had surrendered on virtually every front. In 1996, a still shell-shocked GOP with a politically comatose presidential candidate in Bob Dole, gave rise to the concern that the damage inflicted on it by the national press was truly grave. By 1998, as the Republican Party continued to duck every political issue in sight and came within a whisker of losing its majority, one wondered if those wounds were mortal.
Let us face the ugly reality: Today the GOP as a viable player in the public conversation has ceased to exist.
Even with a totally emasculated Republican Party, one still scratches his head in wonderment: How is it that this administration, the most intellectually disingenuous, morally dishonest, and politically corrupt administration in history - how in the world does Bill Clinton remain in office today?
You have no doubt heard members of the media elite discuss just how tough the press has been on this administration. That statement is utter bunk. If conservatives have suffered for decades from a bias by commission, Bill Clinton has not only survived, but prospered because of a new media bias, the bias by omission.
The news media, most specifically the Big Three television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, have decided simply no longer to report the news about Bill Clinton - or Al Gore.
To many people in this room, that statement may sound like a stretch. After all, I suppose that virtually everyone here knows what I'm talking about when I cite the Whitewater scandal. Or illegal fundraising practices. Or Chinese espionage. Or Juanita Broaddrick.
But consider for a moment why you know these things. You know them because perhaps you read publications like the New York Post or National Review. Or you read the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Or listen to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts. Or watch the political programs on the networks.
If that's where you get your information, congratulations. You are an informed person.
You're also, like me, an oddball - the exception to the rule.
Over 70% of the American public receives news from the network morning and evening newscasts. If Dan Rather reports it, it's news. If he doesn't, it didn't happen. It's as simple as that. And what Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and company have chosen to do - deliberately chosen to do - is not report the news.
The phenomenon of bias by omission began in 1992 with the Whitewater scandal. Whitewater was first broken by the New York Times as a major news story on March 8th of that year, during the primaries. Surely an explosive story charging widespread fraud by then-Governor Bill Clinton was an issue to be investigated and covered during his presidential campaign, was it not? Out of the literally thousands of stories filed by the networks from March 8th through Election Day, how many do you think dealt with the Whitewater scandal? Answer: five - and three of them dismissed it. ABC's Nightline program is designed to discuss, in a careful in-depth fashion, on the important story of the day. How many days did it take from the time the story broke before Nightline deemed it newsworthy? Answer: 668 days.
What about National Public Radio or PBS with their supposed devotion to covering real news? The first time NPR mentioned Whitewater was on December 21st, 1993, a year and a month after the election; the first story aired by PBS came December 24th, 1993. One and a half years later.
Whitewater was never a news story during the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. It raises the intriguing question: Would Bill Clinton have been elected if it had?
By the fall of 1996 the politics of bias by commission and omission were in full force.
After the '96 elections Newt Gingrich was rocked by charges of fundraising wrongdoing. The national press corps could not have been more accommodating, inundating the airwaves with story after story concerning his supposed illegalities. Indeed, between December 15th and the end of January 1997, just six weeks, Newt's ethical problems inspired no less than 234 separate news reports on the networks' morning and evening news shows, a veritable avalanche of reporting.
Perhaps the media could defend this obsession by insisting the charges were credible, the man was the Speaker of the House, and it was a story that needed to be told.
Okay, let's buy that argument. But if that's true, after Newt was thoroughly humiliated, after he was forced to pay a $300,000 personal fine, after his reputation and career were ruined by it all, and after having to undergo a hugely expensive, not to mention embarrassing, IRS investigation, what happened? On February 3rd of last year, the IRS released its findings. Newt Gingrich was exonerated. On every single charge, he was innocent. It follows, then, that in the interest of fair, balanced, accurate, truthful journalism a major effort should have been made to highlight Newt's vindication, doesn't it? The total number of stories on the morning and evening shows on ABC, NBC, CBS? Get ready. Zero.
After the 1996 elections, another story about fundraising misbehavior began to emerge thanks to Congressional investigators and a few intrepid journalists in the print media. It turns out Bill Clinton and Al Gore were renting out the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest bidder. They were conducting illegal fundraising coffee klatches in the White House. They were making illegal phone calls for money inside the White House. They were accepting illegal foreign contributions from anyone and everyone, including drug smugglers, gunrunners, and for good measure, agents from Communist China. There was the infamous Buddhist temple fundraiser. On and on the evidence of unethical and illegal activity by the Clinton reelection campaign was coming out.
But coming out where? Not on the network news. Those reporters who had filed those 234 stories on Newt's ethics were now virtually nowhere to be found. In the one-month period, April of 1997, when there was the most print press coverage of these fundraising scandals, CBS aired a grand total of three reports, NBC only one.
In July of '97, Senator Fred Thompson held public hearings on this illegal fundraising behavior to explore the degree to which the Clinton campaign had subverted the election of '96 through illegal means. Now, I can't think of many issues more serious than this. But how serious, how "newsworthy" was this for the networks? On the evening news they carried almost twice as many stories on the killing of fashion designer Gianni Versace. On their morning news reports they carried 18 segments on the hearings, 132 on Versace. The evening shows carried 6 times as many stories on Princess Diana's death as they did on the fundraising scandal; the morning shows 13 times as many.
How the media have covered congressional hearings looking at the Clinton scandals is instructive of the way the times they have a' changed. Things sure are different when the Democrats are in the White House. Go back to July of 1987 to the Iran Contra hearings. You remember them, don't you? The Big Three networks saw to that. This was serious, they proclaimed. The public needed to know! And so all of them broke from their regular programming to carry live the hearings into alleged Republican wrongdoing for seven straight days and nights. And they rotated the live coverage for another ten days thereafter.
But when Henry Gonzalez held hearings in the House in '94 to investigate the allegations surrounding the Whitewater scandal, what happened? What happened when Senator D'Amato held his Senate Whitewater hearings in '95? What did the networks do when Fred Thompson held his hearings into charges that were far more serious than Iran-Contra, charges that communist China had attempted to influence the American political process through illegal contributions to Bill Clinton? Not one of the Big Three networks carried a single minute of live coverage on a single one of these Clinton scandals.
What about coverage of the greatest constitutional crisis facing the American government this century? I refer, of course, to the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Back in 1974, the networks thought, correctly, that the Watergate hearings - not a trial; just the hearings, mind you - should be carried live. And so they did. Twenty-five years later, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and forced to stand trial in the Senate. Amazingly, all three networks refused to air continuous live coverage.
To put the total amount of time the three networks devoted to the impeachment trial of the President of the United States in its proper perspective, consider that it was less than the coverage they gave just to the opening statements of the O. J. Simpson murder trial of 1995.
Then there's Chinagate. Here the bias by omission becomes truly shocking. We have tangible, credible, firsthand evidence that not only has communist China stolen America's nuclear secrets, but they did so while covertly funding the Clinton campaign.
That's not rhetoric, that is fact.
But it's a fact lost on the majority of the American people who rely on the networks for their news, because the networks have chosen willfully to spike it.
On April 4th last year, the LA Times filed a front-page bombshell. Johnny Chung had told Justice Department investigators that the chief of Chinese military intelligence had given him $300,000 to donate to the Clinton campaign. More, he testified, he had been threatened with death by the Chinese if he went public. So credible did the Justice Department find this death threat that Johnny Chung was assigned no less than 40 FBI agents for protection.
No one in his right mind claiming a dedication to objective journalism could deny that this was a story of monumental proportions. To make matters easier for the networks to report, the LA Times had done all the work, all the investigation. They simply needed to tell it. And yet not one of the big three networks touched this story that night. It was only until five weeks later, when Chung delivered this testimony before Congress that ABC and NBC filed a single story, with no follow-up whatsoever.
Which is better than CBS Evening News, which has yet to report it.
When elements of the Cox Report detailing the Chinese espionage began to emerge last year, and it became apparent that this administration has allowed the wholesale theft of our nuclear technology, Bill Clinton was asked in two press conferences what it was he knew about this espionage. Both times, surprise, surprise, he lied, claiming he'd been told nothing. How do we know he lied? Because his Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson was forced to admit on Meet the Press that Bill Clinton knew exactly what had happened, had been briefed fully on numerous occasions. Total network news stories on this most serious deceit by this most dishonest man? Not one.
The networks, as you may have noticed, have dropped that scandal completely.
Perhaps the most shocking Clinton scandal is the story that has received the least attention of them all. On March 24th of last year, Dateline NBC finally aired an interview with Juanita Broaddrick, who confirmed rumors that then-Attorney General Bill Clinton had brutally raped her in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1980. Her story was riveting and gut-wrenching. So vicious was this bloody attack that when NBC's Tim Russert reviewed the raw footage of the interview, he literally threw up.
I think back on the network coverage of Anita Hill for a moment. I remember her charge: sexual harassment because Clarence Thomas allegedly used dirty words. I remember the nonstop live coverage for days. I remember how the public conversation in this country ground to a halt as the nation focused its collective attention on what was called the Hill-Thomas hearings but was, in fact, the trial of Clarence Thomas. I remember that Anita Hill offered no corroborating witnesses, and that her story simply held no currency given that she didn't offer a scintilla of evidence while the historical record utterly contradicted her allegation. I also remember how this made no difference whatsoever to the national press corps which subsequently elevated her to the status of sainthood.
So how did these same reporters deal with Juanita Broaddrick, whose charge was infinitely more serious and who provided no less than four credible, corroborating witnesses and whose story was confirmed after exhaustive research by Dateline NBC? CBS aired one report on its evening news totaling less than two minutes, then dropped it. CBS This Morning and CBS Face the Nation never touched it. ABC's World News Tonight and Nightline aired not one second. Good Morning America made a mention of it; that's it. CNN's The World Today carried one story, and that was that. NPR and PBS aired one report apiece. Over. What about NBC Nightly News, remembering that it was NBC's own Dateline show that broke the story? Neither NBC Nightly News nor Tom Brokaw have yet even to mention her name.
How in the name of God was this not newsworthy - especially when twice Clinton was asked about this in a press conference and twice he wouldn't even deny it? Leslie Midgley, the longtime producer for Walter Cronkite, wrote in his autobiography his definition of the term "news." "News in the print media is what the editor says it is," he wrote. "News in television is what the producer says it is."
By their virtual censorship, the networks have said that illegal fundraising activities by this administration to win a presidential campaign is not news. They are saying the theft of American nuclear technology by the communist Chinese is not serious. And the alleged rape of a woman by the President of the United States is not important. In short, the networks are keeping from the public the truth about this administration and this man. And they are doing so deliberately.
Seemingly a month doesn't go by where there isn't a new Clinton/Gore scandal revealed, a new scandal ignored - purposely by the major networks.
On March 2, Linda Hsia, Al Gore's Buddhist fundraiser, was convicted of felony crimes thus proving the criminal nature of Al Gore's fundraising machine. ABC, CBS, NBC? Not one reported it.
Then there was the infamous Charles LaBella memo which found that Attorney General Janet Reno was using an "intellectually dishonest standard" in putting together independent counsels to investigate some Clinton officials but not the President or Vice President. The networks? For half a week, not a thing. Since March, just seconds in total.
And then last week we learned Al Gore is a slum lord, with tenants living in sub-standard squalor. You can only imagine how the media would have treated this story if Quayle were responsible. But Gore? To date, not one single report on the Big Three; 38 seconds on CNN's Inside Politics.
It is said that we are today in the information age. That is true. But what ought to trouble us greatly is that in this information age, we are becoming a society of haves and have nots. The haves are those who have chosen to break from traditional newsgathering habits, to read newspapers, to listen to talk radio, to go on the internet. The sad truth, however, is that they - you - are in the minority. The vast majority still relies on the networks, the networks that have given up all pretense of objectivity in an adamant, unapologetic, unequivocal effort to keep this administration in power, and conservatives out.
There is good news, however. Public sentiment is shifting in dramatic ways against the dominant media culture. The networks have all seen their numbers plummet dramatically, some 25% and growing in recent years. Not surprisingly, the Fox News Channel, the new kid on the block that is doing a spectacular job covering the news, is growing by leaps and bounds. So, too, is talk radio with more and more conservative talk radio hosts gaining ever-larger and larger audiences around the country. Perhaps most significantly there is the explosive new communications vehicle, the internet. No form of communication has grown so rapidly in history. Just six years ago there were 800 websites in operation. Today it's in the millions. Six years ago there were 25,000 people online. Today it's over 100 million. Total internet usage worldwide is doubling every 100 days. It affords us the opportunity, finally, to get around the biased filter of the so-called "news" media networks.
The day surely will come when the Big Three, if they don't correct their shameless ways, will become irrelevant. But until that day arrives, we must recognize just what we're up against: a national news media hell-bent on destroying the conservative movement using any means necessary while advancing the cause of liberalism, regardless of how corrupt its standard bearer might be. Those committed to the principles of liberty and a democratic society must come to terms with the fact that by their actions the national news networks are threatening the very essence of both.