Mugger: Unreasonable Dowd

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You can’t beat a dead horse, as people say, unless, of course, the horse is so alive and robust it’s ready to run in the Kentucky Derby.

There is currently an inviolate principle among this country’s leftists that the mass media, including The New York Times, Washington Post, CBS and CNN, has been so completely co-opted by corporate villains, conservative talk radio hosts and Rupert Murdoch that “average” Americans are deprived of reading or hearing two sides of a political issue. The Nation’s Eric Alterman—to his deceitful, if entrepreneurial, credit—has led the charge with his continual rally cry of “What Liberal Media?” and others have eagerly taken up the cause.

This is a clever ploy to rally support against Republicans in general and the Bush administration in particular, but it happens to be grossly unfair to a daily like the Times that, day after day after day, promotes its noblesse oblige liberal agenda in virtually every section of the paper. I thought about this upon reading yet another apologia for Al Gore in the current Vanity Fair, this one written by Evgenia Peretz, daughter of the “Goreacle’s” mentor Martin Peretz, until recently owner of The New Republic.

One could reasonably ask why the VF editors chose to run a re-hash about Gore’s unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign, especially since the global warming Nostradamus is almost certainly not running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, but that’s probably fruitless given the monthly’s schizophrenic political coverage in the past decade. So, let’s take Peretz’s long valentine to Gore at face value and see why she, too, in attacking reporters and columnists from the Times and Washington Post—“bastions of the ‘liberal media’ that were supposed to love Gore”—is living in a delusional world.

Peretz singles out the Times’s Katharine Seelye and Maureen Dowd, as well as the Post’s Ceci Connolly, for the harshest criticism, claiming that all three gave then-Texas Gov. George Bush a free pass while poking fun at Gore’s penchant for hyperbole and the one debate in 2000 where substance, or lack thereof, was sacrificed for concentration on the Vice President’s condescending sighs whenever his competitor spoke. Sure, this trio did highlight, and perhaps embellish, Gore’s supposed claim that he invented the Internet, discovered Love Canal and was a model for Erich Segal’s maudlin Love Story, yet let’s remember that both of these influential dailies had scores of reporters on the campaign beat and that both issued strong editorial endorsements in favor of Gore.

The author’s condemnation of Dowd, whose column even seven years ago had become a self-parody, for cozying up to Bush because “she seems to be charmed by him,” is profoundly inaccurate. Peretz cites one Dowd column in which she lampooned the Democrat—who, after all, did make the political blunder of allowing Naomi Wolf to choose his wardrobe—by writing,
“Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he’s practically lactating.” That’s a funny line, which was Dowd’s goal after all, but a look back at her op-eds about Bush demonstrates that she was no shill for his candidacy.

A few examples:

November 7, 1999: “[Bush’s] interview smirk—that anti-intellectual bravado—was jarring. Has he grown so accustomed to getting things easily—Yale, the National Guard, lucrative business deals—that he expects family connections to carry him through here?”

July 26, 2000, in “A Babysitter for Junior”: “A ticket with two rich white Texas oilmen [Bush and Dick Cheney] who went to Yale, avoided Vietnam and act more moderate than they are? For the Bushes, that’s a perfect fit.”

August 2, 2000: “George Senior is determined to prove once and for all that Bill Clinton is a tacky hick who defiled the presidency. Bill Clinton is determined to prove once and for all that George Senior is an irrelevant aristocrat who thinks the presidency is a family heirloom.”

A lot can happen in less than a decade, as the friendship between Clinton and the elder President Bush is splattered across opinion pages and Hillary Clinton could be accused of believing the “presidency is a family heirloom.”

But let’s skip to the present. The Times, obviously, has been relentless in its criticism of George W. Bush, and its editorials are usually indistinguishable from those in Alterman’s Nation. Last week, an editorial began, “Iraq is a long way to go for a photo op, but not for President Bush, who is pulling out all the stops to divert public attention from his failed Iraq policies and to keep Congress from demanding that he bring the troops home.”

And on July 18, a Times edit read: “It had to happen. President Bush’s bungling of war in Iraq has been the talk of the summer. On Capitol Hill, some of the more reliable Republicans are writing proposals to change course. A showdown is looming in the Senate. Enter, stage right, the fear of terrorism. … The message, as always: Be very afraid. And don’t question the president.”

A few comments. The Iraq war certainly isn’t popular, but it wasn’t “the talk of the summer.” For better or worse, far more Americans, excepting those who have family members in the military, were more preoccupied by celebrity scandals, booing Barry Bonds and attending to their families and jobs. And as the arrests in Germany last week might remind people, the threat of terrorism, here or abroad, isn’t a fantasy and could occur at any time.

Gail Collins, in her Times op-ed of September 6, lays down the basic assumption that Bush has lost his mind, and then warns readers, “Our absolute first priority for the next election has to be making sure that both parties nominate presidential candidates who are in touch with reality. Does this seem too much to ask, people? I didn’t think so. But you look out there and sometimes you worry.”

Collins then goes on to belittle GOP candidate Mitt Romney, mock-concerned that if “he thinks he has achieved a complete mid-career all-expenses-paid moral do-over, then we are in really big trouble.”

I don’t care for Romney either, but if the Times was truly “not liberal,” you’d think Collins would’ve tossed a grenade at Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, all of whom have made gaffes in this quickly evolving campaign.

Americans are bitterly divided over the presidency of George W. Bush—including many Republicans, who are chapped that he botched the partial privatization of Social Security and caved into the xenophobes who’ve declared war on illegal immigrants—but no one who is “in touch with reality” can argue that the United States is bereft of a “liberal media.” In fact, as the communications industry has transformed so radically since even the 2000 election, a convincing argument can be made that the vital tenet of freedom of speech has never been so vibrant.

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