The big media wizards are in a tizzy over David Brinkley’s election-night comment that President Clinton “has not a creative bone in his body. Therefore, he’s a bore and always will be a bore.” Some rushed to Brinkley’s defense, noting it was a long night and he must have been tired. Others, like CNN’s Larry King, said “it sounded to me like it was Limbaugh, or Liddy, or Ollie North … like wacky talk radio. It didn’t sound like Brinkley.”
The real surprise is not what Brinkley said but that so many of his colleagues would express shock and disappointment.
Brinkley appeared to have been pressured into offering an apology to the president as the White House toyed with the possibility of canceling a scheduled interview with the departing “This Week” host.
But do apologies ever come from the networks for what they regularly say about Republicans in general and conservatives in particular?
To be called a bore is not a slander. But the way network correspondents and “analysts” regularly label and trash those with whom they disagree is slanderous.
Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) notes that while the networks erroneously awarded an election victory to his Democratic opponent, correspondents opined that Smith’s “defeat” meant New Hampshire had become “more moderate” and that the state was rejecting conservative views. When network projections proved wrong, did any of them change their assessments about the political leanings of many New Hampshire residents? No.
This is mild compared to the daily fare served up by the big four networks and chronicled by the Media Research Center. Following the 1994 election in which Republicans won a majority in both houses of Congress, ABC’s Sam Donaldson said to Newt Gingrich, “A lot of people are afraid of you. They think you’re a bomb-thrower. Worse, you’re an intolerant bigot. Speak to them.”
CBS’ Eric Engberg called Gingrich “bombastic and ruthless,” and NPR’s Sunni Khalid accused Gingrich of “lynching people.” Former Washington Post assistant managing editor William Greider wrote in Rolling Stone: “The U.S. House of Representatives is now to be led by a world-class demagogue, a talented reactionary in the vengeful tradition of Gov. George Wallace and Sen. Joseph McCarthy.”
These are only the recent examples. Similar assaults were directed at Ronald Reagan. Donaldson said to David Letterman in 1987 prior to a scheduled Reagan press conference: “So I think (he) is going to pass two or three tests. The first is, will he get there, stand in front of the podium and not drool?”
The editorial page editor of The New York Times, Howell Raines, wrote that “Reagan couldn’t tie his shoes if his life depended on it.”
To AIDS sufferer Elizabeth Glaser, NBC’s Maria Shriver posed this loaded question: “You place responsibility for the death of your daughter squarely at the feet of the Reagan administration. Do you believe they’re responsible for that?”
It’s impossible to count how many times the words “mean,” “harsh” and “nasty” were ascribed to Republicans in the last few years. But there are no apologies for such drivel, because this is supposed to be “reporting” and “analysis.”
When the network biggies gather to analyze why their election-coverage ratings plunged from 1992, they might wish to consider their slanted coverage.
My analysis is that all of them come from the same ideological perspective, David Brinkley being an obvious and welcome exception. Coverage has become so predictable that people don’t need to watch. They can get the basic facts of who won and who lost from C-Span or other sources. The big networks are, well, boring.