October 28, 1996 in Nation/World

Media Split Over Merits Of Dole’s Charges Of Bias Many Journalists Take Attacks In Stride, But Others Say He Has A Point

Howard Kurtz Washington Post
 

As Bob Dole steps up his attacks on the media’s “liberal bias,” assailing television and The New York Times and urging voters not to “let them make up your mind for you,” the objects of his derision are taking it in stride.

“It’s so obvious that he’s a very angry and frustrated man,” said Hal Bruno, ABC’s political director. “The media did not invent the many mistakes that have been made by the Dole campaign, which has been a struggling campaign from the very beginning.”

But some journalists say the Republican presidential nominee has a point. They note a recent survey of 139 Washington journalists by the Freedom Forum and Roper Center that found that 89 percent had voted for Bill Clinton, and they insist that coverage of Whitewater and other White House scandals would be more vigorous with a Republican administration.

When the Whitewater independent counsel received permission Friday to investigate whether former White House counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum had lied to Congress about the FBI-files episode, these journalists note, it was not reported by the three network evening newscasts and received only five paragraphs in the Times.

Michael Barone, a U.S. News & World Report magazine columnist, denounces what he calls the “mono-partisanship” of the press. “Without necessarily any conscious partisan intention,” he wrote recently in the Weekly Standard, the media “have a far less hearty appetite for stories of scandal in this administration, for which 89 percent of them voted, than they did in administrations that a similar percentage of them voted against. … Media bias may be making it marginally harder for Republicans to beat Bill Clinton.”

But many other journalists point to the heavy coverage of questionable foreign donations to the Democratic National Committee, a story broken by the Los Angeles Times and on which even House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., says the press has done a good job.

“I find it ironic that Dole is criticizing the media for not covering all the stories that we broke,” said Tim Russert, NBC’s Washington bureau chief. “Whether it’s (donations by) the Indonesian gardener or the Buddhist monks, he should be crediting the L.A. Times, Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. I think his anger is misplaced.”

Some campaign aides privately expressed misgivings about Dole’s attacks. But Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin said the candidate is legitimately concerned about “the lack of focus given to many of the scandals that have plagued the Clinton administration. There seems to him to be a blind eye or at least a blank stare toward many of these happenings.”

Martin also accused journalists of “underestimating the crowd sizes and the enthusiasm” for Dole’s campaign.

When Dole declares that “we are not going to let the media steal this election,” he is taking aim at the media tendency to play up daily polls and cast Clinton’s double-digit lead as insurmountable.

Along with the perception of a dull campaign, this has led to fewer front-page stories and a 40 percent drop in network coverage compared with that of 1992.

“The relentless coverage of the horse race does become frustrating and has a paralyzing impact on the psychology of the losing campaign,” said Tom Rosenstiel, a former Los Angeles Times media critic who heads the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “It blots out efforts to convey the substance of his message.”

Rosenstiel said that “the liberal bias comes out, not in secret support for Democratic candidates, but in inadequate coverage of conservative ideas. That’s where Dole may have a legitimate point. The press has been very quick to dismiss the 15 percent tax cut and new attitudes toward immigration.”

Dole’s complaint is hardly unique; both President George Bush and Ross Perot criticized the media four years ago.


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