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Jewish World Review Sept. 21, 2004 / 6 Tiahrei 5765

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Love thy newspaper | Last week, a capable radio talk-show host had me on to comment about CBS News anchor Dan Rather's credibility meltdown. I had noted that CBS and "60 Minutes" acted more like participants in the presidential campaign — and incompetent ones at that — than reporters of events. At the end of a brief interview, the host thanked me for being on top of this story.

Sorry, but all I did was write a column that piggybacked off the hard work of reporters at The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News, and after watching Fox News and CNN dissect the story. While bloggers uncovered technical holes in the "60 Minutes" story, the reason Rather fell so quickly was that mainstream media nailed this story.

With CBS now admitting it screwed up big time, watch conservatives use this sorry episode as an excuse to boycott mainstream media and ignore news they don't like. As those on the far left do in their way, these partisans also will seize the exception and call it the rule.

So I am bracing myself for the next avalanche of e-mail from readers who pat themselves on the back because they don't subscribe to newspapers and prefer to get their news from the Internet or talk radio or Fox News only. They stick with the little news shops that sell only what they want to hear in the firm belief that they should not be exposed to news they don't like.

I am awestruck. Do people actually think I am happy they are boycotting vetted news, which is the industry that pays my salary? Do they understand that bragging about not reading a newspaper is analogous to bragging that you speak only one language?

Let me stipulate. The news business attracts liberals. I work in a building where those of us who will vote for President Bush probably could fit in the paper's two elevators. New York Times writer John Tierney informally polled political journalists last month and found that journalists outside the Beltway preferred Sen. John Kerry to Bush 3 to 1, but 12 to 1 inside the Beltway. The informal poll was in keeping, Tierney wrote, with surveys that find "more than 80 percent of the Beltway press corps votes Democratic."

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Every day, this work force nonetheless goes out in the world, talks to sources, reads documents, attends meetings and talks to people going about their daily business just to get the whole story. They learn layers of a story, find facts that surprise them, and then write about what they learn.

Sure, some reporters — a minority in my experience — put their agenda before their craft, just as some editors are oblivious to the bias that is the spine of many a political story. Still, most reporters work hard to play it down the middle.

CBS tarnished the name of those good newsies when it ran a story based on bogus documents. And Rather's denials and excuses made the profession look worse.

CBS apparently is about to investigate where it went wrong. No mystery there: There was no editor at "60 Minutes" with the sense to understand that this obsession to get Bush for not serving every month the Democrats believe Bush should have served in the National Guard could only end up confirming what conservatives know about left-leaning media bias. Not to mention that the scoop documents were too good to be true.

It doesn't help that top editors value diversity in hiring based on skin color or sexual identity, but are content to preside over a staff that is 80 percent-plus liberal, while the country is pretty much evenly divided. So it is no wonder that the ratings for Fox News soar. Fox provides relief from stories that are balanced in their presentation but left-leaning in concept. Meanwhile, execs at Fox's ailing competitors scratch their heads as conservative viewers, after years of complaining, take their remotes and go elsewhere.

Lucky me. I get the e-mails from voters who don't read newspapers but defiantly rely on Fox only or Web sites (which I use all the time, too, as a supplement to mainstream news) to tell them just things they want to hear. I hear the same chorus from lefties who proclaim that they find the truth on the sites that tell them only what they want to hear.

Folks in newspapers are doing it, too. Some columnists even refer readers to un-vetted blogs as good places to learn "facts." Go to the Web sites, and you, too, can learn about "Bush lies." And more "Bush lies." With an expose on journalists who won't tell you "Bush lies." One "Bush lies" site even touts a letter by David Brock (who called Anita Hill "a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty" and then later said he lied about her) — so you know how that site is.

Left or right, readers of such sites actually are proud that they read this propaganda, secure in the knowledge that what they are reading must be true, because it includes no information that would make them question their deeply cherished prejudices. It's like being proud you enjoyed a bad "60 Minutes" segment.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate