In Memoriam: The Dumbest Quotes of 1996

In Memoriam: The Dumbest Quotes of 1996
by L. Brent Bozell III
December 19, 1996

On September 5, the Chicago Tribune issued this remarkable "correction": "In her Wednesday Commentary page column, Linda Bowles stated that President Clinton and his former campaign adviser Dick Morris both were 'guilty of callous unfaithfulness to their wives and children.' Neither man has admitted to being or been proven to have been unfaithful. The Tribune regrets the error."

Now, if that strikes you as just about the dumbest quote you've heard all year, than you would be agreeing with the panel of 57 judges who bid adieu to 1996 by selecting the Media Research Center's ninth annual Best Notable Quotables, noting the year's worst reporting. Who could forget network convention coverage from San Diego, where reporters struggled mightily to recreate the controversies they'd manufactured four years before in Houston? Tom Brokaw won our "Chris Dodd Talking Points Award" for asking rape victim Jan Licence after her emotional address to the GOP delegates: "Do you think this is a party that is dominated by men and this convention is dominated by men...Do you think before tonight they thought very much what happens in America with rape?"

An ongoing mantra in the media is that tax cuts are not just irresponsible - they're downright dangerous for you. Thus the "Al Gore Risky Tax Cut Scheme Award" went to CBS attack dog Eric Engberg, who drew the critique of colleague of Bernard Goldberg by proclaiming: "The flat tax is one giant untested theory. One economist suggested that before we risk putting it in, we ought to try it out some place, like maybe Albania."

Some reporters just can't get enough of, or say enough about, our First Lady. The "I Am Woman Award {for Hillary Rodham Worshipping)" this year was awarded to John Leonard, the CBS "Sunday Morning" culture critic, for this objective assessment: "Nancy [Reagan] pushed Ronnie into an arms treaty with the Russians because she wanted him to win a Nobel Prize. So maybe astrology was healthier than whatever the rest of the nuke-Managua globo-cops were smoking in the Reagan White House...Our pathological fear of Hillary and any other uppity woman, whatever her politics, is a form of foot-binding as well as a species of hate radio."

Ah, talk radio, the network whipping boy. Bill Moyers won the "Fear of the Competition Award" on a "Today" show discussing the one-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing: "If anything, talk radio in that part of the world is more anti-government today than ever. The airwaves are saturated with hostility. It's just an unremitting vilification of government." Moyers said relatives of the bombing victims "take it like salt in the wound. They drive around, they turn on the radio, they hear some vicious attack on government, and they think, 'You know, if you strike the government, you kill my daughter.'"

Guilt by association is a favorite weapon media liberals use to attack conservatives. The "Timothy McVeigh Award (for Blaming Conservatives for Violence)" was won by Time fulminator Jack E. White: "All the conservative Republicans, from Newt Gingrich to Pete Wilson, who have sought political advantage by exploiting white resentment should come stand in the charred ruins of the New Liberty Baptist Church in Tyler [Alabama]...and wonder if their coded phrases encouraged the arsonists. Over the past 18 months, while Republicans fulminated about welfare and affirmative action, more than 20 churches in Alabama and six other Southern and border states have been torched...There is already enough evidence to indict the cynical conservatives who build their political careers, George Wallace-style, on a foundation of race-baiting. They may not start fires, but they fan the flames."

But none of these quotes prove a liberal bias, no sirree. Just listen to Los Angeles Times correspondent Jack Nelson, who won the "If the Bias Fits, We Won't Admit Award." He claimed that, "When you're talking about pure journalists, I mean reporters, when you're talking about reporters, not columnists, I don't think there's any liberal bias. I don't think there really ever has been."

Sometimes bias isn't the problem, of course. It's sloppiness or downright ignorance that produces such distorted copy. The "Which Way Is It Award" illustrates the point. On the April 23 edition of ABC's "Good Morning America," correspondent Tyler Mathisen declared "About 3.7 million Americans...are paid the minimum wage or less." But that very night, on ABC's "World News Tonight," Peter Jennings had a different number: "For ten million Americans [the minimum wage is] a very personal issue." The following morning, back on "GMA," Bob Zelnick provided a third possibility: "Only about 330,000 work for the minimum." That would b e news to ABC's Carole Simpson, who four days later proclaimed: "An estimated 9.7 million Americans made the minimum wage or close to it."

It's like shooting fish in a barrel sometimes.