Jewish World Review Jan. 9, 2002 / 25 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- DID my ears deceive me? I thought I heard House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) say on one of those Sunday talk shows that the economic stimulus package was obstructed in the U.S. Senate by "liberal extremists."
That, of course, was true. Left-wing extremists oppose anything they think will allow the rich to run off with the country. So, because the wealthy (along with the unwealthy) would benefit from the legislation, it had to be stopped. Which is fine, because we no more need the economic stimulus bill than we do Christmas decorations in July.
Still, this legislation will be back and so, possibly, will the extremist label. What makes its use remarkable is its application to the left wing, something we haven't heard from top political leaders, and certainly not the mainstream media, in years. All we hear about are right-wing extremists. It's as if--as Bernard Goldberg says in his excellent new book, "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" -- the political world is divided into two camps: moderates and conservative extremists. Included among the "moderates," we are supposed to believe, are such far-out liberals as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Henry Waxman.
Amazingly, Hastert's comments about extreme lefties weren't bleeped. Next time, they'll probably put in a five-second tape delay so they can prevent him from airing such slander again. Of course, the media see Hastert's comment as a part of planned nastiness by conservative extremists. The liberal New York Times duly reported: "GOP pushes to make Daschle appear a national villain." Oh, the Times conceded, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) is as partisan as anyone, but it is disguised behind his "mild manner." As if Republicans were picking on a nebbish. Said a "moderate" Democrat of Daschle, "He's nice, he's likeable, he's genuine." Just how nice? Well, the article pointed out, he's no former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who went out of his way "to be provocative. Even polarizing." As if Daschle never made any Americans gnash their teeth. As if Democrats never tried to make a Republican a villain.
Because this kind of slanted reporting bothers so many people, I recommend Goldberg's book. I also recommend "It Ain't Necessarily So: How Media Make And Unmake the Scientific Picture of Reality," by David Murray, Joel Schwartz and S. Robert Lichter. The books are wonderful reading, giving people outside this business insights on how the media make Americans distrust what they read and hear.
Goldberg correctly argues that the media are not engaged in a massive liberal plot to slant the news. They simply are so left wing that they don't even realize how their biases turn up in their journalism. Goldberg concludes that they may be the only ones in the country who don't realize how badly they slant the news. "It Ain't Necessarily So" also finds a media bias toward scaring the wits out of us with exaggerated incompetent and unbalanced science reporting.
So what is to be done? Americans don't need much direction in that department as newspaper readership and network news audiences continue to decline. Americans get it.
I'm not calling on Hastert or liberals to lay off the labels. I would encourage Hastert's assertiveness, because it lends some badly needed balance to the news, and because he's right. Washington is amok with left-wing extremists. But here's my main point: Washington and America are even more full of people who occupy that expansive landscape between "extremism" and "moderation." The media can regain public trust by exploring that landscape--a landscape where you find informed people with definite opinions that require no apologies. The media probably will avoid that frontier because moderation is today's political mantra. And thanks to the media's liberal bias, if you aren't a moderate, you are a right-wing extremist. Personally, I think moderation is really code for the mass of people who are indifferent, uninformed or undecided. A democracy doesn't run well on vanilla pudding; it needs the spice of those who hold beliefs, even those who hold them firmly, on both the right and the left. So, when it comes to political debate, let 'er