Think the News Media Is Anti-Bush?

BY DIANE E. DEES
08.22.2002 | POLITICS

There is a prevailing belief by some conservatives that the American news media is unfair to President Bush and is on a campaign to discredit him. This must come as a great surprise to the All-Bush-Puff-All-the-Time American television network news organizations. From the moment Bush announced he was running for President, they have handed him the biggest, blankest, fastest ticket to ride in modern history.

Consider first the President's ignorance of geography, history, world politics, and social issues. During the presidential campaign, when Andy Hiller of Boston's WHDH TV asked him a few questions that any Congressperson, let alone a presidential candidate, should have been able to answer, he was at a complete loss to answer any of them. The names of the leaders of India, Chechnya and Taiwan, for example, were unknown to him, as was the name of the general who had just taken over Pakistan. Quick to come to Bush's defense was Karen Hughes, who revealed that the candidates' foreign policy advisors didn't know any of the names, either.

The logical next step would have been an investigation of Bush's training to be the leader of the free world, but instead, reporters and anchors--for the most part--fell all over themselves to look more "polite" than their colleague in Massachusetts. The matter was soon dropped.

It has never really been taken up again, despite the fact that Bush has confused Kosovo with Slovenia, called Greeks "Grecians," and--on a visit to Brazil, 44% of whose population is at least part black--asked, "Do you have any black people here?" He has also shown a lack of awareness that the people of Puerto Rico are Americans citizens, and during his campaign, he was unable to identify the Taliban.

Now consider Bush's lack of training to do any kind of meaningful work. A study of his business background, both in oil and professional baseball, yields a string of failures, in which money was lost, and projects were either scuttled, or rescued at the taxpayers' expense--sometimes both. Arbusto Energy, a failure until it was bailed out by wealthy friends of the family, went on to become Bush Exploration, which never made a profit, but which eventually morphed into Harken Oil. The entire history of George W. Bush, businessman, is one of careless decision-making, secret deals, loose ethics, and disregard for the public welfare.

However, during the Presidential campaign, only Joe Conason (in Harper's) and The Dallas Morning News did any significant reporting of Bush's problems with Harken Oil and the Texas Rangers. These articles revealed in detail both the SEC investigation of Bush for possible insider trading, and the subsequent machinations of the Rangers' board of directors, which resulted in financial loss for everyone but W, who walked away with somewhere between $12 and $15 million. These issues were completely ignored by the mainstream news media, which--in post-Watergate America--is nothing less than shocking.

One would certainly think that the news media covered every possible aspect of the Florida election in 2000, but again, there are gaps. For example, the list of people who were purged from the voter rolls--most of whom were African American or poor--came from an Atlanta company that had been hired by the State of Florida (through Katherine Harris) just before the election. This last-minute act is, in itself, worthy of investigation, but what makes it much more interesting is the fact that this Republican-owned company, ChoicePoint, acquired the purge list from sources in Texas. The details of the laundered list were available from a few media outlets, but they were completely ignored by the networks.

What is even more surprising is that the media altogether ignored the Bush family phenomenon: that W squeaked by in a state governed by his brother. Yes, it's a nasty thing to think about, but nonetheless, it is reasonable to think that there would at least be a discussion of this rather dramatic coincidence. One is left with the impression that Katherine Harris--a leadership disaster on her own--may have been an easy scapegoat for the Bushes. Of course, we will never know because the fourth estate did the rumba around the issue.

The first week that Bush was in office, he announced that his administration would withhold the $34 million Congress had pledged to UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund). The UNFPA's estimate was that 77,000 infants and children would die because of the withdrawal of these funds, but the news media got this story out of the way so rapidly that if you went to your kitchen for a glass of water, you missed the stories--all of them.

Another one that slipped by was the President's announcement that he would scrap former automobile fuel economy standards in favor of what he called a "long-term solution" that would take effect in ten years. The math isn't hard to do: in ten years, he won't be the President, and the energy industry will no longer be his problem. But this story, if it was mentioned at all, was mentioned in passing.

Bush's change of heart about carbon dioxide emissions did get attention; it's hard to ignore major news concerning the Kyoto Treaty. Other Bush administration issues that have received a lot of media attention include: the introduction of faith-based organizations as part of the social welfare system; the tax cut; and the detention of individuals classified as prisoners of war after September 11.

There was also a lot of discourse about Bush's nomination of John Ashcroft to be Attorney General, but even that discussion was inadequate in that it was centered almost entirely on Ashcroft's alleged racism, with little attention paid to his history of opposition to the women's movement and to gay rights. And although the subject of Harken Oil has come up since the Enron/WorldCom scandals were revealed, there has been noticeably little analysis and investigation of it. As for stem cell research, the media did most of its talking after the fact.

Just this week, Deborah Orin, Washington bureau chief for the New York Post, was the guest on C-Span's morning show. A man called in to the show to talk about the possibility that the White House was using September 11 to advance a right-wing agenda. Orin's response was that the caller had made an outrageous statement, implying that some of the rest of us are engaging in delusions because we see the teensiest coincidence between the terrorism scare and the abandonment of such issues as the environment, civil rights and a balanced budget.

When you consider the number of months we had to endure hearing reporters, news anchors and analysts talk about a blue dress, it is remarkable that media staffers can't come up with the time or the resources to analyze--or at least investigate--the enormous gaps in the Bush background, the Bush credibility and the Bush policy machine. If this is a liberal media, please--don't show me a conservative one. I'm not ready for that.

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