Press Year in Review

Does the thrashing about of liberal reporters in 2003 signify the death throes of the old media order or a second wind? Look at this howler from Charles Pierce in the Boston Globe on Jan. 5: “If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.” (Kopechne, of course, drowned in Kennedy’s submerged car off Chappaquiddick Island in 1969; Kennedy did not report the accident for several hours.) Or what about the latest fugues from Walter Cronkite, long retired from CBS but still putting out a syndicated column? Look at this Sept. 22 gem: “Attorney General John Ashcroft has earned himself a remarkable distinction as the Torquemada of American law.” Torquemada tortured those seen as heretics, and Cronkite acknowledged that Ashcroft was not “burning people at the stake (at least I don’t know of any such cases). But one does get the sense these days that the old Spaniard’s spirit is comfortably at home in Ashcroft’s Department of Justice.” And what about historical illiteracy, as great as ever among reporters, even one like Helen Thomas, who’s been around for decades? On Jan. 19, she twice labeled George W. Bush “the worst president in all of American history.” (As notes, most Democrats think Bush is awful, but could he be worse than James Buchanan? Warren G. Harding? Richard Nixon?) Competing for the “don’t know much about history” blue ribbon was James Traub, who stated in The New York Times on Oct. 26, “Today’s Republican Party is arguably the most extreme — the furthest from the center — of any governing majority in the nation’s history.” (Conservative reasons to criticize today’s big-spending GOP Congress abound, and Traub has his liberal reasons, but “the furthest from the center”? What about Radical Republicans following the Civil War, or some 20th century Democratic congresses?) The year’s worst reporting probably came from Iraq. Many journalists opposed the war and offered reports like this one by Peter Jennings on Jan. 21: “This week, we were surprised to see several hundred artists and writers walking through the streets of Baghdad to say thank you to Saddam Hussein. … Whatever they think about Saddam Hussein in the privacy of their homes, on this occasion they were praising his defense of the homeland in the face of American threats.” In recent months, many journalists have tried to justify their earlier position by emphasizing difficulties in Iraq rather than progress. MSNBC producer Noah Oppenheim deserves a gold medal for traveling to Iraq to “find out if things had really gone as horribly wrong as the evening newscasts and major print dailies reported,” and then describing “the failure of American journalism” in the latest Weekly Standard: “America has brought to Iraq the notorious Red State-Blue State divide. Most journalists are Blue State people in outlook, and most of those administering the occupation are Red. (Since) most journalists did not support this war to begin with, (they) feel vindicated whenever the effort stumbles.” But here’s the good news: Editors at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune during 2003 acknowledged their newspapers’ pro-abortion bias. Don Wycliffe, public editor at the Tribune, quoted complaints by pro-life readers about Tribune headlines (“Anti-choice groups celebrate victories … Anti-choice victories alarm pro-choice groups”) and commented, “The perspective of those who define the issues involved in terms of ‘choice’ was taken as normative. … The result was two headlines that couldn’t have been more slanted if they had come directly from the public relations office of NARAL Pro-Choice America.” Meanwhile, the big media lie for 2004 — Howard Dean is a moderate — already has emerged. The Media Research Center, which supplied the quotations above, notes that on Tuesday night CBS announced that Dean “had a moderate record during his 10 years in the Vermont statehouse.” Look for more of that, as we find out whether the Dean drive represents the death throes of the old McGovern order or a second wind.