Once this presidential campaign has ended, Tom Brokaw will take his two-plus decades in the anchorman chair and his Greatest Generation millions and retire—leaving Peter and Dan to soldier on desperately as if competing to see which one will become the Strom Thurmond Iron Man of the anchor desk. We must honor Brokaw for this, for having the humility to leave before the game of firing up the liberal-bias projector passes him by. But he’s apparently going out like Walter Cronkite, declaring how his heart pounds for the less fortunate, spitting on his General Electric overlords and beating his breast over how Big Money dashes the dreams of idealistic heroes—like the ones who cash their padded GE paychecks at the Citibank down the street. In an interview with Jane Hall in the most recent Columbia Journalism Review, Brokaw suggests there is no such thing as liberal media bias . . . and then asserts that liberal bias is an “obligation” of journalism. Journalists should “represent the views of those who are underrepresented in the social context, or the political context, and to make sure that they’re not overlooked, and that their wrongs get the bright light of journalistic sunshine.” Just before that lecture, Brokaw was asked about the voluminous content analysis of the Media Research Center (which I head), and whether that daily drumbeat of exposed liberal editorializing sullies the image of network news objectivity. “It’s a little wearying,” he said. “Most of the cases are pretty flimsily made . . . . What I get tired of is Brent Bozell trying to make these fine legal points everywhere every day. A lot of it just doesn’t hold up.” Ouch. Them’s fightin’ words, or something. So I walked out to the street and called him on it. I challenged Mr. Brokaw to agree with me to assemble a neutral panel to review our evidence of liberal media bias and let them determine whether this mountain is a molehill. I pledged that if the panel agreed with him, the MRC would contribute $1 million to the charity of his choice. But if it agreed with us, he’d have to give the MRC a $1 million gift. Brokaw is liberal, but he’s also wise: He didn’t accept the challenge. But it begs the question: Why even bother to deny the bias? In the last few months, Brokaw has really pushed the pedal to the metal on his theory that Big Money is the enemy of democracy. On Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” January 6, he sympathized with Howard Dean and declared George W. Bush is a transparent capitalist tool. He said Dean “cannot equate with the fundraising power of a president of the United States who is a Republican, especially representing the corporate interests. He can go out there, push the button and get a lot of money.” Bush is for the “corporate interests,” while Dean stands for the “underrepresented.” But if that’s so, where was Mr. Brokaw when Bill Clinton was breaking all the fundraising records, not to mention fundraising laws? Brokaw’s tilt was crystal clear when he unleashed a jeremiad against conservatives in a National Press Club speech last November 19. He declared that “in the social upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s, there was a kind of tyranny of the left, as there now is in too many quarters of commentary a tyranny of the right.” A tyranny? Brokaw decried conservative outlets for liberal-media rebuttals as merely cesspools for “commercial nihilism.” Radio stations are “instantly jingoistic and savagely critical of any questions raised about the decisions leading up to, for example, the war in Iraq.” Conservative criticism isn’t free speech, but the enemy of free speech: “They suffocate vigorous discourse, the oxygen of a system such as ours, by identifying those who refuse to conform and encouraging a kind of e-mail or telephonic jihad, which is happily carried out by well-funded organizations operating under the guise of promoting fair press coverage.” Once again, let’s try to puzzle out Brokaw’s message. Free speech is good. Trying to promote fair press coverage and alert the populace to liberal bias is a “telephonic jihad,” a tender little suggestion making conservatives sound a little like al Qaeda. Try to agree with the notion that Tom Brokaw hosts America’s finest example of stimulating “vigorous discourse,” and NBC News is a level playing field for conservative expression—and do it with a straight face. If Brokaw really believes that, I’m still waiting by the phone for his call.
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