Jewish World Review July 13, 2006/ 17 Tamuz 5766

Larry Elder

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Media bias on full display in coverage of military tribunal case | The main scream media strikes again!

"High Court Rejects Bush's Claim That He Alone Sets Detainee Rules," read the headline in one of the nation's most important and influential newspapers. The sub-headline called the Supreme Court's 5-3 decision a "sweeping rebuke" of the administration's policy. Another major newspaper headline read: "Justices, 5-3, Broadly Reject Bush Plan to Try Detainees."

These headlines refer to the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled 5-3 against the administration's use of military tribunals. The court did not compel the release of the prisoners, or even the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court said that Bush could achieve his objectives by simply seeking authority from Congress. Given congresspersons' fear of accusation of being "soft on al Qaeda," expect Congress to grant the president much, if not all, of the authority he seeks in processing terrorist enemies picked up on the battlefield.

So, let's examine the main scream media's coverage of the decision.

Take the first newspaper — "High Court Rejects Bush's Claim That He Alone Sets Detainee Rules." Not only did the sub-headline call the decision a "sweeping rebuke," the body of the article said, "The ruling is the most sweeping legal defeat for the administration . . . " Sweeping rebuke? Sweeping legal defeat?

First, understand that this 5-3 decision is actually a 5-4 one. One justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, recused himself because, as an appellate judge, Roberts previously ruled on the case on the administration's side. And two justices, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are 86 and 73 years old, respectively. If Bush appoints one, and possibly two, "conservative" justices, cases like this could end up 5-4 in Bush's favor. So this was quite a close call.

The reason to point out that this military tribunal case was actually a 5-4 decision is because other 5-4 decisions get reported in a very different way. For example, when the court upheld the University of Michigan law school's use of race in admissions in a 5-4 decision, the first newspaper called the ruling "deeply divided." The article said of the losing plaintiffs, "they fell short by one vote in the Supreme Court."

The same paper wrote about a criminal procedure decision that ended in a 5-4 vote. The article talked about a "narrow Supreme Court majority." And the now infamous eminent domain Kelo case also came down to a 5-4 ruling. How did the same newspaper cover this? It mentioned the dissent in the first paragraph.

Now for the second paper, "Justices, 5-3, Broadly Reject Bush Plan to Try Detainees."

Underneath the headline, the newspaper placed pictures of Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer in a box, with the title, "The Majority." Next to it, the paper placed pictures of Scalia, Thomas and Alito, under the banner, "Dissent." Next to that, in a box by himself, the newspaper printed Chief Justice Roberts' picture, with the heading, "No Vote." Under "No Vote," the paper simply said that Roberts ruled on the case as an appeals court justice. It did not tell the reader that Roberts ruled on the case in Bush's favor. The reporter called the decision a "sweeping and categorical defeat for the administration . . . "

The very same reporter, back in December 2000, writing for the same newspaper, covering the same topic — the Supreme Court — wrote about Bush v. Gore, and its 5-4 ruling. (By the way, the main scream media continually calls Bush v. Gore a "5-4" decision. On the equal protection question — whether different counties can count ballots different ways — seven justices, not five, sided with Bush. Two justices, however, felt the Florida election authorities should have additional time to correct this.) This case, of course, placed George W. Bush in office, a ruling that continues to infuriate liberals. How did this newspaper cover this case? Well, its headline said it all: "By (SET ITAL) Single Vote (END ITAL), Justices End Recount, Blocking Gore After 5-Week Struggle." [emphasis added.] So the 5-3 (actually 5-4) military tribunal case represented a "sweeping and categorical defeat" for Bush. But the 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision turned on a "single vote"?

In the Bush v. Gore case, the reporter discussed the dissents as early as the fourth paragraph. In the current military tribunal case, however, the same reporter did not mention any dissent until the 19th paragraph.

Get it? The Supreme Court, in the military tribunal case, hammered, castigated, chastised, gave the ol' forefinger to the president. But in the Bush v. Gore case, why, the president eked out a victory by a "single vote."

This might explain the main scream media's general unpopularity. True, polls show Bush's approval rating numbers stand at 40 percent. But when pollsters ask people whether the media reports all sides of the story, only 29 percent say yes. Even 47 percent of Democrats, according to a poll taken a few years ago, say "most journalists are more liberal than they are."

Pass the Advil.

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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