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Jewish World Review April 11, 2001 / 18 Nissan, 5761

Dan K. Thomasson

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Consumer Reports

Rather tarring makes all journalists stink

Below is the column with the April's Fool quotes. -- MORE than 35 years ago, the late Clark Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, was suspected by some of his colleagues of contributing to a campaign speech of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. They punished him by defeating his automatic ascendancy to the prestigious presidency of the National Press Club.

Mollenhoff, a superb journalist, was forever tainted.

A leading syndicated columnist later was accused of helping to brief another presidential candidate and severely damaged his credentials. Over and over again, one sees prominent reporters and media stars move from their profession to politics and back again in what has become known as "revolving-door journalism." And in the last few years, prominent political figures like former Clinton White House aide George Stephanopoulos have reversed the traffic flow, moving into top broadcast jobs, even covering and commenting on those for whom they have worked.

The result of this has been to diminish public respect for the American press, strengthen charges of journalistic unfairness and undermine credibility. While liberals have the same complaints as conservatives when it comes to the press, conservatives especially have become convinced fairly or unfairly that there is an unrelenting liberal bias among print and electronic journalists alike.

Their complaints received a dose of legitimacy recently with the revelation that Dan Rather, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, had addressed a Democratic fund-raising event in his native state of Texas. Rather, whose on-air comments about - and jousts with - Republican administrations in the past already had earned him the enmity of conservatives everywhere, called the incident a "mistake."

That, of course, is an accurate description. But it was a monumental mistake even the rankest of cub reporters should not have made, let alone someone of his experience and multimillion-dollar salary. If the broadcast network executives for whom Rather works had any sense of propriety, they would have acted quickly to penalize him. He is, after all, the successor to one of the most credible journalists in history, Walter Cronkite, and his behavior in this case and others soils his predecessor's reputation and that of every hard-working, honest reporter in America.

Conservatives were quick to charge that the network would have moved expeditiously on a lesser figure, particularly if the fund-raiser had been for Republicans, adding that those who have tried to defend Rather would not have done so if he had been working for the GOP.

For instance, the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group which issues what it calls a "biweekly compilation of the latest outrageous, sometimes humorous quotes in the liberal media," sent out these "notable quotables" attributed to Rather. This quote, the group said, came on April l following a story on a White House ceremony honoring veterans.

Rather: "An editor's note: You may have noticed correspondents on this broadcast refer to 'President Bush.' That should not be interpreted in any way as an endorsement of the Supreme Court decision last December that effectively selected George W. Bush as the winner of last year's election."

The group cites another April l Rather quote:

"Good evening. More signs today that President Bush's campaign to talk down the U.S. economy to try to scare up support for this huge, some say risky, $2.5 billion tax cut, is having an effect: New claims for unemployment are at a three-year high, and surveys show consumer confidence has fallen sharply since Jan. 20.

"Meanwhile, a respected environmental group is sounding the alarm on global warming, warning that new Bush administration policies favoring big oil - a special interest that gave candidate Bush big money during the campaign - those Bush policies are making dangerous and drastic climate change a virtual certainty."

Not only are Rather's words one long pejorative and completely lacking in balance, they contain such inaccuracies as a $2.5 trillion figure instead of $1.6 trillion, the amount of the tax cut Bush actually has proposed. More importantly, however, no self-respecting anchor or news editor would permit this kind of unabashed bias in a position that is responsible for a fair and accurate overall news report.

It is this sort of insensitivity to the balance of what one is reading or writing as "news" that tars us all. Thirty-five years ago, journalists concluded that one of their number should not be assisting someone who was a subject of his reporting. Their swift condemnation for violating a public trust was correct. Unfortunately, that message has been blurred over the years and we are paying dearly for it.

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04/06/01: Bad news about the news business
03/30/01: Lieberman plots his future
03/23/01: When appointing federal judges, records unblemished by brilliance, accomplishment or the evidence of independent thought are rewarded
03/21/01: On campaign finance reform, is something better than nothing?
03/19/01: Will Gore get another shot?
03/13/01: Bashing business not Bush's style
03/13/01: The senior Bush's unseemly job
02/27/01: Is that J. Edgar Hoover turning in his grave?
02/23/01: Goodbye to the SATs --- and good riddance!
02/20/01: How gullible does Clinton think we are?
02/16/01: Milking nonsense for all its worth
02/13/01: The need for a one-armed economist
02/09/01: Move over, Bonnie and Clyde

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