Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2004/ 17 Elul, 5764


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Panic at the Times: What if Bush Wins? | Judging by the hysteria spilling from The New York Times during the run-up to the Republican convention in the city, you'd think that George W. Bush was thrashing Sen. John Kerry by 10 points in every single snapshot poll, whether national, "battleground," military, pro-abortion voters or German. This is not rational, but then the Times (in almost every section of the paper), is rapidly losing its grip on reality. In fact, the winner of November's election is a mystery today and will likely remain so until after the debates between Bush and Kerry, or if some unanticipated catastrophe should occur.

I'm as jaded about the Times' de facto coordination with the Democratic National Committee as anyone—and liberal pundits are incensed that a Texan Bush supporter gave less than a million bucks to seed the "scurrilous" Swift Boat Veterans?—but the daily's lead editorial on Aug. 29, "Abolish the Electoral College" gave cause for a double-take. This print grenade, lobbed just months before the election, was garbled, condescending, contradictory and, most of all, really nervous. I understand that "every vote counts" is a mantra hummed by both parties, and in Democratic circles simply code for "No More Floridas!" but why did the Times choose this particular time to oppose the most basic rule of presidential politics?

Obviously, the paper's owners and editors are terrified that Bush might be reelected.

The editorial begins disingenuously; contesting that Republicans in New York, because it's a lock for Kerry, have already been "disenfranchised," another code word, and their votes won't count. No kidding. One wonders why the same argument wasn't made in 1996 when it was clear for at least six months that Bill Clinton would crush challenger Bob Dole?

Next, a history lesson for those readers who apparently don't understand America's political structure. "The Electoral College got a brief spate of attention in 2000, when George Bush became president even though he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes. Many people realized then for the first time that we have a system in which the president is not chose by the voters themselves, but by 538 electors. It's a ridiculous setup, which thwarts the will of the majority, distorts presidential campaigning and has the potential to produce a true constitutional crisis."

A "brief spate of attention?" You don't need to possess a steel-trap memory to recall the intense bickering in the fall of 2000—Newsweek's Jonathan Alter made a fool of himself on MSNBC that election night ranting that Gore was cheated and should be declared president, regardless of the Electoral College—and ever since, with liberal and mainstream journalists routinely referring to Bush as an illegitimate president. If the "setup" is "ridiculous," and that's a topic worthy of discussion, although not in the midst of a campaign, why didn't the Times makes its case for ditching the Electoral College in early 2001?

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The following paragraph is an apt example of how the Times has become even more partisan since Bush assumed office. "The Electoral College's supporters argue that it plays an important role in balancing relations among the states, and protecting the interests of small states. A few years ago, this page was moved by these concerns to support the Electoral College. But we were wrong. The small states are already significantly overrepresented in the Senate, which more than looks out for their interests. And there is no interest higher than making every vote count."

One of the side benefits of a Bush victory in November, admittedly minor compared to his superior positions on foreign policy, tax and Social Security and tax reform as opposed to Kerry, is the prospect of watching the Times unravel, day by day, during a second term. It stretches the imagination to wonder how the onetime "paper of record" can trump the toxic level of Michael Moore-like hatred of this particular president—granted, the daily's editors and reporters are constrained to use rhetoric less inflammatory than the millionaire populist from Flint, MI—but if op-ed columnists Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd are apoplectic now, what mental state will they be in a year from today?

In truth, a Bush win might actually help the Times restore its spent credibility, forcing the decision-makers to once and for all shed its shameful claim of objectivity and, like Britain's Guardian, simply hype itself as "America's Leading Liberal Newspaper." (Alternatively, the company's shareholders, more concerned with business than shrill sloganeering, could revolt and lead a coup against publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in favor of a more moderate leader.)

Such a proclamation would make it easier for editors to reconcile the Bush (and Republican, save for John McCain) animus that even its arts writers regularly demonstrate. For example, on Aug. 27, tv critic Alessandra Stanley previewed two upcoming biographies of the President, let her freak flag fly right from the beginning. Commenting that footage of both George H.W. Bush (from World War II) and Kerry (uh, Vietnam) are well known, Stanley says it's "amazing" that there's little archival pictures or film of the young GWB.

She writes: "[W]hat is most striking [about the CNN and MSNBC documentaries] is the paucity of visual images. George W. Bush describes himself as a born-again Christian; judging by pictures along, however, it is hard to be absolutely sure he was alive before his 40th birthday in 1986. It is Mr. Bush's good fortune that no embarrassing home videos of youthful debaucheries surfaced when he ran for president in 2000 [maybe because they don't exist, hon?], but the shortage of even irreproachable photographs demonstrates something besides luck: the blank pages of the president's early years underscore just how limited a life he led before he ran for public office."

This is, of course, a lot of rubbish. It's true that Bush didn't, as a teenager, calculate his every public move with an eye toward the White House, but photos of the future president as a teenager and young adult are abundant, as Stanley could've learned simply by looking a past issues of Time and Newsweek.

Political reporter Todd Purdum, on Aug. 30, offered an example of biased "analysis," that, in a more perfect world, would be studied in journalism schools across the country. His front-page article began: "In a few dozen blocks of the same slender island [cliché alert], two worlds collided yesterday: the Republican convention's calculated [emphasis mine] claims to patriotism and the presidency met elaborately planned and heavily Democratic street protests that turned those same arguments back at President Bush—in ways that might help, or hurt, both sides. The demonstrations were New York City's biggest in decades, and the most emphatic at any national convention since Democrats and demonstrators tuned against each other in fury over Vietnam in 1968."

Although Purdum admits that the rally was "peaceful," he still claimed that the "demonstrators doused a good bit of Mr. Bush's intended message with television images of dissent."

Two points here. By next week, the mass protest will be forgotten—anti-Bush sock hops are as common today as summer picnics—as the media turns its attention to criticizing the convention's speakers. Also, Chicago's violence in '68 dogged Hubert Humphrey for the entire general election campaign and so fractured the party that Eugene McCarthy offered only a tepid endorsement of the candidate at the last minute.

Also on Aug. 30, a Times editorial, "President Bush and New York City," attempts to re-write history. Never mind that the paper heartily endorsed Al Gore in 2000; today it views Bush's convention in Philadelphia four years ago as encouraging. "Mr. Bush's promising image back then of bipartisan compromise and conservative compassion has been swept aside by an incumbency that has become a daily struggle, with his costly, pre-emptive war and the porous state of homeland security." I'm not alone in thinking another terrorist attack could come at any time, but the country's "porous" security has prevented since Sept. 11 another disaster.

On the same day, in The Washington Post, columnist Sebastian Mallaby, not a fan of Bush, is at least more historically accurate. "[I]f you read George W. Bush's convention speech of four years ago," Mallaby writes, "it's amazing how honestly it heralds the hair-raising radicalism that followed… It isn't true, as some now suppose, that Bush's radicalism is merely the product of 9/11—that extraordinary times drove an otherwise temperate man to extraordinary measures. Bush behaved extraordinarily in ordinary times too. As he promised in his convention speech four years ago, 'We will write not footnotes but chapters in the American story.'"

I disagree that Bush has been a "radical" president, but Mallaby, and in general, The Washington Post, is far more honest than The New York Times.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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