Media Yawns at a Stunning Comeback

Media Yawns at a Stunning Comeback
by L. Brent Bozell III
November 7, 1996

Football fans have a hard time forgetting what happened when the Buffalo Bills met the Houston Oilers in the playoffs. Down by more than 30 points in the third quarter, the Bills engineered a thrilling comeback on their way to another Super Bowl.

No sports reporter could watch that game and then announce: "Well, not much happened. Just a return to the AFC status quo." But in their kinder moments, that's how the networks presented the Republican comeback in the Congress on Election Night.

For good reason, the prospects for Republicans retaining the Senate, and even more so the House, were touted as shaky at best by reporters throughout 1996. The labor unions alone spent up to $300 million in a savage, year-long, thoroughly dishonest carpet-bombing campaign to destroy freshman House Republicans. Other left-wing special interests, from Hollywood to wacky environmentalists, spent millions more. Power-sniffing PACs shifted their dollars to the Democrats to hedge their bets. The usual pundits were rooting it on, like The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt, showing how little they understand about the real world: "I think the Gingrich robots are going to pay a price. I mean Helen Chenoweth, the militia momma, is toast. She's gone. Absolutely."

If Election Night was an egg-on-your-face embarrassment for the unions and bureaucrat-hugging environmentalists, it was also an embarrassment for the media. It wasn't just the liberal special interest groups promoting the "Mediscare" campaign; the media were equally active. There were more than 1,000 mentions of nonexistent "Medicare cuts" in the news magazines and USA Today alone. The same outlets used almost 150 "extremist" labels for the Republicans since 1993. Dramatically biased network coverage of the government shutdowns never singled out President Clinton for blame. The real headline: "LIES LOST."

Even on election night, the networks stuck to liberal attack lines. CNN tagged almost every Republican to the right of Nancy Kassebaum as "very conservative" - Woody Jenkins, Sam Brownback, Al Salvi. The myth that the Republicans shut down the government was not only repeated as fact, it was used to explain the results. On CNN, Bernard Shaw claimed: "The Republican Party actually helped William Jefferson Clinton in that comeback, especially when they voted to shut down Congress. The American people said the Republicans went too far. We did not send you to Washington to shut down the federal government."

ABC's Sam Donaldson also touted the shutdown's role in helping Clinton: "I think the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, helped engineer a shutdown of the Congress twice. That scared the country and that worked against Senator Dole. It wasn't Dole's fault." But wait a minute, Sam. If the shutdown was so damaging, how come Dole lost, but six out of every seven freshman Republicans won?

Just as Wednesday follows Tuesday, once the GOP majority was established, the media spin game began. The network stars began trying to shame Republicans out of further investigations of Clinton. NBC's Tom Brokaw came first: "There is also a theory [read: Brokaw's opinion] however, that if the Republicans begin to engage once again in a lot of investigations, that it will not do well for them four years from now. Because the country in all the exit polling that we're seeing so far is saying 'Hey, let's get on with the business of solving the real problems we have out there.'"

"Today" show host Matt Lauer acted like Bryant Gumbel's heir apparent with RNC chairman Haley Barbour: "Exit polls show us that the economy was still the number one issue on people's mind last night. And although character and trust play a role, people choose candidates based on their handling of the issues. With that in mind, what do you say to people now [read: the press] who look to Republicans and say, 'Hey, move forward on key legislation. Don't get bogged down in investigations into the Clinton White House'?"

In an equally predictable move, media bigwigs turned on public approval of California Prop. 209 banning racial preferences. NBC lightweight Maria Shriver asked Jesse Jackson this toughie: "Affirmative action was a hotbed issue in this country, still a big race on that subject going on about that in California. Did you feel at times like we've turned back the clock on some of these issues?"

The next morning, CBS "This Morning" host Jane Robelot argued with Prop. 209 spokesman Ward Connerly: "That's sort of living in an ideal world. I mean, it's nice to say it on paper. If you look around at corporate offices in America and in CEO's offices, you're gonna see very few minorities and few women. Are we really ready to backtrack on civil rights now, or on affirmative action?"

You don't have to turn back the clock on liberal bias in election coverage. We've never had much progress.