MSNBC offered a steady diet of “bash Clinton all the time” during the nation’s long obsession with his sex life and Whitewater. Was this due to the entertainment value of the stories or because Microsoft was unhappy with Clinton’s Justice Department? Much of the print and electronic media has become partly an entertainment medium, and reporters are becoming celebrities. Moreover, a star system has developed, in which performers do what is necessary to enhance their fame, star status, and income. To enhance their star status, many abandoned normal journalistic standards while feeding off the Clinton sex scandal and hyping the Whitewater hoax, which turned out to be a very minor matter. Many viewers and readers can recite the list of Princess Dianna’s male friends but would be at a loss to offer any information on government tax or environmental policy. The public found George W. Bush a likable fellow, and after 9/11 he was elevated to hero status, with an approval rating around 90%.
The greatest no-no in journalism “is to offend a substantial chunk of the audience by reporting things in a way that goes against their attitudes.” Even in the Reagan era, such a large portion of the public considered Lt. Colonel Oliver North a national hero that nothing was reported about his efforts to protect Latin American drug-dealing generals or that he had been banned from Costa Rica on charges of drug running. Journalists found they could enhance their public appeal by portraying the new president in the best possible light. After 9/11,Washington press’s fawning over Bush reached astronomical levels as he was compared to Winston Churchill and the great men of history. Giving the news a conservative spin not only placed a journalist in sync with the nation’s rightward shift; it opened the doors to fat consulting fees and employment by well-financed think tanks and foundations. The liberal journalist might be able to garner paltry fees from a few “little magazines” or, with great luck, land a slot at the Brookings Institution, which employs experts of all persuasions. As media pundits came to earn vast amounts of money, their class interests certainly did not dictate liberal politics.
While much of the press fawned over George W. Bush, there was a tendency for the press to pile-on in making charges against Clinton, and doing so certainly did not injure anyone’s career. Indeed, this kind of journalism seemed to satisfy those who had regularly wailed about an alleged liberal media. In June 1993 Clinton foolishly delayed his flight out of Los Angeles in order to get a $200 haircut from a famous stylist. Dr. John McLaughlin of “The McLaughlin Group” expanded upon the story by saying the decision tied up “ground and air traffic, putting as many as 37 planes in a holding pattern.” His right-oriented telecast was sponsored by General Electric, whose CEO Jack Welch had been persuaded by Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan to do so. The story commanded front pages across the nation. Six weeks later, the Los Angeles Times published a story proving that no other planes were inconvenienced by the presidential haircut. This story attracted very little attention, and when it was printed it appeared on back pages.
Until the Mark Foley scandal in 2006, the press corps had shown great interest in Democratic sex scandals but had largely overlooked those of Republicans. When George Bush was vice president, a report about an affair briefly surfaced. One outraged denial on his part was enough to put the matter to rest. Similarly, a report of Governor Jeb Bush’s affair with a former Playboy bunny on his cabinet received little coverage from the national media despite the fact that more information kept surfacing. In the summer of 2001, the affair of conservative Democrat Gary Condit with a missing intern occupied the press for months. The press rarely mentioned that he was “the pet congressional Democrat of the new Bush administration” or that he had been considered by Bush for a cabinet post. Condit matter deserved coverage the Congressman had initially denied the affair, thus impeding efforts to find her. The press was soon investigating every sordid detail of the man’s promiscuous private live.
While some electronic media figures like Larry King were covering Condit almost every day for weeks, a woman turned up dead in the Florida office of Republican Congressman Joe Scarboro. She was apparently his mistress and had a major head injury. Scarlboro found it necessary to resign his seat, but then appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball as a guest commentator. He later acquired his own cable commentary show. The case received very little attention. In the latter case, the local authorities dodged telling whether the death was natural. While the press busily covered every detail of Gary Condit, there was scarcely a mention of President George W. Bush’s encounter with an unhappy African American constituent at a Philadelphia block party. Though usually charming, the president replied, “Who Cares what you think?” to a man who said “I hope you only serve four years. I’m very disappointed in your work so far.”
During the 2004, campaign William Greidler commented on the hostility of the press to Howard Dean and its nearly reverential treatment of George W. Bush. He claimed that the mainstream reporters were "surrogate agents for Washington insider sensibilities. Clearly, the journalists believed that conservatives preferred something other than an honest, balanced approach. As the election approached, there was another striking example of the tendency of the press to censor itself when criticism of conservatives was concerned. Kitty Kelley produced The Family a critical study of the Bush dynasty. Though she had written a number of best-selling books, most of the shows that generally interview authors of new books refused to give her time on the air. Matt Lauer of the “Today” show gave her a very hostile interview, in which he repeatedly demanded to know how she was going to vote in November.
The Walt Disney Company is an entertainment enterprise rather than a journalistic operation. Yet, its reluctance to distribute a film criticizing Bush reflects the atmosphere of the times. In May Disney forbad its subsidiary Miramax to distribute “Fahrenheit 911,” a Michael Moore film that criticizes George W. Bush. Ari Emanuel, Moore’s agent, said that Michael Eisner told him that concern about retaining certain tax incentives from the State of Florida motivated the decision. The film explored the Bush family’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the decision to permit bin Ladens to leave the US immediately following 9/11. Moore subsequently found another firm to distribute the documentary, and conservatives promptly started pressuring cinema house chains to refuse to show it. After the election, the media’s sensitivity to the complaints of the Neo Conservative-Religious Right coalition about unfair press coverage be came so great that several networks refused an advertisement from the United Church of Christ which proclaimed itself a “welcoming church,” and showed a same sex couple coming to church for worship.
In the final Bush-Kerry debate, Schieffer of CBS did not ask one question about the environment, which would have played to Kerry’s strengths. Instead, his questions on personal religious faith, gay marriage, and abortion underscored Bush’s attractiveness to large elements in the electorate. In framing a question, he also informed the candidates that Social Security was running out of money.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!