Liberal Bias: The Media Deny It, But What About...

Are the members of Big Media still liberally biased? According them, no, they never have been. But the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Their treatment of the Bush press conference and the Gorelick memo betray their cries of impartiality.

Let’s take a quick peek at these two recent events.

Press vs. Bush

On Tuesday, April 13, many members of the media elite had their knives sharpened for the president’s prime time press conference.

They wanted to get him to admit he made a mistake before September 11 or in the Iraq war.

They wished President Bush would announce that the information the administration had about terrorists in the country made it blatantly obvious that an attack was coming, but they just never got around to preventing it.

They hoped he would apologize for the terrorist attacks, as though he actually flew the planes into the buildings.

They prayed that he would slip and characterize the current Iraq scene as Vietnamish.

The following is a list of more than half of what President Bush was asked (reporters’ names and employers courtesy the Media Research Center):

  • Terence Hunt, AP: “Mr. President, April is turning into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half Americans now support it. What does that say to you and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?”
  • Terry Moran, ABC News: “Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq, that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction, and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, we know where they are. How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong and how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series of false premises?”
  • Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times: “Mr. President, to move to the 9/11 Commission, you yourself have acknowledged in the, that Osama bin Laden was not a central focus of the administration in the months before September 11th. ‘I was not on point,’ you told the journalist Bob Woodward. ‘I didn’t feel that sense of urgency.’ Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th?”
  • David Gregory, NBC News: “Mr. President . . . [o]ne of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it’s WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9/11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism? And do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made related to any of those topics I brought up?”
  • Ed Chen, Los Angeles Times: “I’d like to ask you about the August 6th PDB. You mentioned it at Fort Hood on Sunday. You said, you pointed out that it did not warn of a hijacking of airplanes to crash into buildings, but that it warned of hijackings to, obviously, take hostages and to secure the release of extremists being held by the U.S. Did that trigger some specific actions on your part and the administration, since it dealt with potentially hundreds of lives and a blackmail attempt on the United States government?”
  • John Roberts, CBS News: “Two weeks ago, a former counter-terrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you be prepared to give them one?”
  • John Dickerson, Time: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?”
  • Don Gonyea, NPR: “. . .with public support for your policies in Iraq falling off the way they have, quite significantly over the past couple of months, I guess I’d like to know if you feel in any way that you’ve failed as a communicator on this topic? . . .[Y]ou deliver a lot of speeches, and a lot of them contain similar phrases, and they vary very little from one to the next. And they often include a pretty upbeat assessment of how things are going, with the exception of tonight’s pretty somber assessment, this evening. . . . I guess I just wonder if you feel that you have failed in any way. You don’t have many of these press conferences where you engage in this kind of exchange. Have you failed in any way to really make the case to the American public?”

Press vs. Reality About Liberals

And when Attorney General John Ashcroft dropped the bombshell memo authored by 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, what kind of hard-hitting reporting did we get from two of the most well-known and venerable, “unbiased” newspapers on the planet — the Washington Post and the New York Times? Did we see them go after Gorelick? Here’s what I found from the Wednesday and Thursday editions of these two papers:

From “Ashcroft’s Efforts on Terrorism Criticized,” Washington Post, April 14, 2004:

    Ashcroft sought to blame the Clinton administration for many of the shortcomings in counterterrorism strategies before the attacks, taking the unusual step of publicly citing the work of a Democratic member of the commission, Jamie S. Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Ashcroft announced the declassification and release of a 1995 memo she wrote that outlined legal rules on sharing intelligence information, characterizing the guidelines as “the single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem.”

    “We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies,” Ashcroft said.

    Ashcroft’s pointed remarks capped a day of finger-pointing by current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials, who defended their own roles in assessing and fighting the al Qaeda threat while generally criticizing the missteps of others. . . .

    Ashcroft said that he had the guidelines declassified and that “full disclosure” required him to indicate they had been drafted by Gorelick. Gorelick did not address the criticism in her questioning and declined to comment afterward.

From “Passing the Blame in the Glare of the Spotlight,” Washington Post, April 14, 2004:

    The brighter the spotlight, the higher the stakes.

    “The single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents,” Ashcroft testified.

    His next step showed just how high the stakes have become over what began as a fact-finding commission, a lessons-learned sort of exercise. Ashcroft took the fight to the commission itself, fingering 9/11 commissioner Jamie S. Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, as an architect of the fateful “wall” — and documented his charge with an internal memo that he helpfully declassified for public consumption.

    If his condemnation of Gorelick was “painful,” Ashcroft added, he did it only “to heal our wounds” as a nation by learning “the lessons from history.”

    Ashcroft made no secret of his resentment at being grilled over possible pre-Sept. 11 lapses, especially given the criticism he has taken from many Democrats over his aggressive stance since the attacks. Perhaps the government lacked a “sense of urgency” about terrorism before the awful day because of “concern about the outcry and criticism which follows such tough tactics, ” he said.

    This gloves-off appearance ended an often muffled day of hearings, but differences in tone did not mean differences in tactics. . . .

From “F.B.I. is Assailed for Its Handling of Terror Risks,” New York Times, April 14, 2004:

    In opening comments to the commission, Mr. Ashcroft, appearing drawn and somewhat weak after gallbladder surgery last month, took a veiled swipe at the Clinton administration and said the nation had been caught off guard because “for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies.” Mr. Ashcroft insisted that it was the Justice Department under Ms. Reno that built up a wall between intelligence and criminal investigations and underfinanced crucial areas of the operations of the department, which oversees the F.B.I.

    He surprised the commission by introducing a 1995 memo — declassified by the Justice Department two days earlier — that was written by one of the commission’s Democratic members, Jamie S. Gorelick, when she was the deputy to Ms. Reno.

    The memo, Mr. Ashcroft said, put in place the wall that had a “debilitating impact” on the ability of counterterrorism investigators to share information with their counterparts in criminal investigations. “Full disclosure compels me to inform you that its author is a member of this commission,” he said, looking warily toward Ms. Gorelick. Commission officials said they had never seen the memo before.

    Ms. Gorelick declined to comment on the issue after the hearing. “I don’t really want to be a witness here,” she said.

From “For Members of Panel, Past Work Becomes an Issue in the Present Hearings,” New York Times, April 14, 2004:

    Testifying on Tuesday afternoon before the commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft said “the single greatest structural cause for Sept. 11 was the wall” in the Justice Department that prevented criminal investigators from communicating freely with intelligence agents.

    “Somebody built this wall,” Mr. Ashcroft declared. It was established, he said, by a memorandum written in 1995 that he had just declassified.

    “Full disclosure,” he went on, “compels me to inform you that its author is a member of the commission.”

    As most people in the hearing room knew, he was referring to Jamie S. Gorelick, a Democratic member, who has been especially aggressive in questioning Bush administration witnesses. Ms. Gorelick did not respond to Mr. Ashcroft.

    From 1994 to 1997, Ms. Gorelick, now a lawyer in private practice, was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno in the Clinton administration.

    This is the most direct conflict between the members’ responsibilities on the commission and their past positions that has arisen in the public hearings. But all 10 members were once public officials, and all bring some baggage to the proceedings. . . .

    But Ms. Gorelick’s baggage seems somewhat heavier than the others’. Last week, questioning Ms. Rice, Ms. Gorelick asserted: “We have big systemic problems. The F.B.I. doesn’t work the way it should, and it doesn’t communicate with the intelligence community.”

    On Tuesday, Ms. Gorelick did not flinch at Mr. Ashcroft’s opening statement. She simply looked up from her notes and stared at him. . . .

    In the same vein, when she questioned Mr. Ashcroft, she did not mention his testimony about her memorandum. And at the end of the day, she declined to comment to reporters about Mr. Ashcroft’s statement.

From “Rule Created Legal ‘Wall’ To Sharing Information,” New York Times, April 14, 2004:

    In his Tuesday testimony, Mr. Ashcroft pointedly blamed one of the commission members, Jamie S. Gorelick, for enacting the wall. Ms. Gorelick was the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration who signed regulations in 1995 enforcing the wall.

    “In 1995, the Justice Department embraced flawed legal reasoning, imposing a series of restrictions on the FBI that went beyond what the law required,” Mr. Ashcroft said, adding that the wall specifically impeded investigations into two of the terrorists who hijacked aircraft on Sept. 11. . . .

    “Somebody built this wall,” he said, citing Ms. Gorelick’s 1995 secret memorandum.

    “Although you understand the debilitating impacts of the wall, I cannot imagine that the commission knew about this memorandum. So I have had it declassified for you and the public to review. Full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission,” a reference to Ms. Gorelick.

    The appeals court that demolished the wall said, however, that it had been erected earlier and was only codified by Ms. Gorelick.

    The court also said that it was “quite puzzling that the Justice Department, at some point during the 1980’s, began to read the statute as” requiring a separation of the two fields of counterintelligence and criminal search warrants.

    In her questioning of Mr. Ashcroft, Ms. Gorelick did not refer to the issue of her 1995 memorandum. But Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, challenged Mr. Ashcroft, noting that the deputy attorney general under Mr. Ashcroft renewed the 1995 guidelines. Mr. Gorton said the Bush Justice Department ratified those guidelines, saying in its own secret memorandum on Aug. 6, 2001, that “the 1995 procedures remain in effect today.”

From “House Member Seeks Gorelick’s Resignation,” Washington Post, April 15, 2004:

    The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday called on former deputy attorney general Jamie S. Gorelick to resign from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, arguing that she has “an inherent conflict of interest” because she wrote a memo nine years ago setting out the procedures for FBI information sharing in counterintelligence cases. . . .

    But other officials and documents suggest that the wall was in the process of being built before the memo. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in a 2002 ruling, noted that the Justice Department had begun erecting the legal wall “during the 1980s,” as an interpretation of the 1978 statute governing clandestine wiretaps.

    The Sept. 11 commission has also determined that sometime after Gorelick’s memo was written, then-Attorney General Janet Reno updated the older guidelines with the intention of forcing better information sharing among criminal investigators. . . .

    Several of Gorelick’s colleagues on the commission rushed to her defense, characterizing her as qualified and nonpartisan, and complaining privately that she was ambushed by Ashcroft.

From “Reporters Notebook: All for One and One for All,” New York Times, April 15, 2004:

    With five Democrats and five Republicans, the commission has been accused of partisanship. But when Jamie S. Gorelick, a Democrat, questioned George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence, on Wednesday, she made what can only be described as a sisterly reference to a Republican commissioner, John F. Lehman.

    “You had a very interesting exchange with brother Lehman,” Ms. Gorelick told Mr. Tenet.

    Mr. Lehman, the Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, proved his brotherliness later in the day, when Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, accused Ms. Gorelick of a conflict of interest and called on her to resign.

    Mr. Sensenbrenner cited a 1995 memo, written by Ms. Gorelick when she was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, that restricted information-sharing between intelligence officials and criminal investigators. “Scrutiny of this policy lies at the heart of the commission’s work,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said, adding that the panel would be “fatally damaged” by Ms. Gorelick’s participation. Ms. Gorelick, who has recused herself on matters regarding the memo, declined comment, but Mr. Lehman dismissed the lawmaker’s assertion in two words. “That’s baloney,” he said.