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Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2000 /27 Teves, 5760

Evan Gahr

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Looking backwards: An anchorman's version of the 20th Century -- THE TWENTIETH CENTURY brought all sorts of innovations in the media--including some we could do without. For instance: the now-common practice of journalists hiding their biases behind phony claims of objectivity and evenhandedness. Hey, at least the writers who practiced yellow journalism in the nineteenth century didnít try to mask their true motives.

But now, we have men like Peter Jennings.

The longtime anchormanís best-selling new book The Century, an ostensibly definitive history of the last 100 years, suffers from the same kind of pseudo-objectivity as his broadcasts.

Co-written with veteran journalist Todd Brewster, the book, for instance, deems the United States and the Soviet Union as morally equivalent--each "sweating in the cause of its own precious virtue."

Of the two sentences (in a 606-page book) that mention Israel, one sets up a similar moral equivalence between the Israeli state and its hostile neighbors, while the other portrays Israel as a kind of albatross around the necks of Middle America.

When it comes to recounting the Ronald Reagan era, Jennings is even less objective.

He characterizes the Ď80s as afflicted with a deepening chasm separating rich and poor, soaring deficits, an inner-city drug crisis, and insider trading scandals. He suggests it was hard not to feel that the nation was just pretending to be in better times, distracted by the fizz and bubble of its new wealth, tolerating the worst kinds of ethical and moral abuse, pushing aside bad news.

In other words, Reagan pulled the wool over our eyes. Those gullible Americans. Only savvy liberal journalists like Jennings know what really happened.

The Century even has a version spun off for the kiddie market. Quite appropriate considering that Jennings once accused the voters who elected a GOP Congress in 1994 of behaving like little kids throwing a temper tantrum.

The Century for Younger Readers, a coffee table book released in November, offers even more Reagan-bashing, albeit with less sophisticated language, so youngsters can easily understand just how wicked Reagan really was. Under his reign, homelessness, drug abuse and crime increased, but the government encouraged citizens to distance themselves from these social problems. The wonderful social consciousness of the 1960s and Ď70s seemed to have faded, a victim of impatience, cynicism, and the belief that government programs rarely worked.

Notice the faux objectivity: Impatience and cynicism are presented as facts, while the real fact that government programs rarely worked--which is demonstrated by innumerable studies--is presented as merely a belief.

Not surprisingly, other unpleasant facts that donít quite jibe with the liberal view of history are expunged from Jenningsí tome. Consider some of the personal accounts in the book.

The late black radical Kwame Toure gets a full page to depict himself as a wholesome civil rights advocate who simply wanted his fellow black citizens to exercise their right to vote. There is no mention of his virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, or his efforts to expunge whites from the civil rights movement.

And not surprisingly, the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago are called an American uprising. The student radicals in Chicago are likened to the Czech youths who around the same time shouted "USSR go home" at the Soviet soldiers who had invaded their country to quash democratic reforms known as the Prague Spring.

Details, details.

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is a former New York Post press critic. This piece is adapted from one that appeared on The American Enterprise Online. Send your comments by clicking here.


12/16/99:Yellow journalism for the Pink Lady?
12/07/99: How to make the American Psychological Association squirm

© 2000, Evan Gahr