Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2000 / 3 Tishrei 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AN ESTIMATED 64 million viewers will watch the first presidential debatetomorrow. Many who don't will get word of what transpired from the media. That's bad news for Gov. George W. Bush.
In this campaign, the media have behaved predictably -- applying double standards, stereotyping and using a partisan yardstick to decide what's news and what's not.
If there's an underlying message in coverage of the Bush campaign, it's this: W. is a dope, a fairly pleasant but not-terribly-bright frat boy who'd be working in a convenience store if not for his famous father.
The media invariably assume that the most prominent Republican of the day is either mean or moronic, on the theory that if they believe x and a politician believes y, the latter must be mentally or morally deficient.
Thus, Richard Nixon, ex-Sen. Bob Dole and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all were swine, while Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (sneered at as an actor reading from cue cards), Dan Quayle and now Gov. Bush were assigned to the brotherhood of boobs.
It started with reporters subjecting Bush to pop quizzes during the primaries. Every candidate gets issues briefings, but W.'s were portrayed as Policy for Idiots.
On the other hand, Gore's ivy league credentials and reputation as a serious thinker are widely admired by my colleagues. Actually, "Earth in the Balance" reads like the Unabomber in one his more fanciful moments. Gore's gaffes, as when he translated "E pluribus unum" as "from one many" (it means the opposite), are studiously ignored.
A media-applied Teflon coating covers Gore's running mate, as well. In August, Sen. Joe Lieberman compared Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Moses. "You might say the Red Sea finally parted, and more Americans than ever before walked through behind" Clinton and Gore. (Please, no jokes about Moses and interns.) This offensive hyperbole made The Washington Post, but not network television.
But you know who's really brilliant in the media's minds, Sen. Ted Kennedy -- a man who is barely coherent when not reading from a text and never traded on his family name (much).
The New York Times' Adam Clymer, Bush's "major league" you-know-what, swoons over Kennedy, describing him as "not just the leading senator of his time but also one of the greats in the history of this singular institution." Daniel Webster pales by comparison.
The media has also done an exceptional job of managing the news to bury Democratic scandals. It wasn't until last month's Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio debate that a reporter, NBC's Tim Russert, finally got around to asking the first lady if she wasn't embarrassed about initially characterizing those pushing for a Monica investigation as members of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, is rebuked for votes he cast 20 years ago. Hillary is given a pass on statements she made as many months ago.
The Media Research Center provides a classic example of the way the networks play favorites in election coverage.
Sept. 15, The New York Times carried a page-one story on the Justice Department probing yet another Gore fund-raising scandal, this one involving money from trial lawyers alleged to have been solicited in return for the administration killing tort reform. The same day, Fox reported on Hillary using sleepovers at the White House and Camp David as rewards for contributors to her Senate campaign.
Neither story was covered on ABC, CBS or NBC then or since. Justice later denied the probe. But during the Reagan-Bush years, any hint of an investigation was reported immediately.
Instead of these stories, on the evening of Sept. 15, among other coverage, the networks reported on Cheney's campaign skills, discrimination against Australian Aborigines and the trauma suffered by Macedonian honeybees during last year's NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Compare this to the media frenzy over the dubious charge that Republicans had inserted the word "rat" in an anti-Gore ad, to project a subliminal message.
However the candidates fare in tomorrow's debate, in this presidential election the media cast
their ballots months ago. It's Gore by a
JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.