MediaWatch: December 1996

Vol. Ten No. 12

Pouncing on Powers

CNN created the show Reliable Sources to critique the news media, but time and again, its panelists gang up on guests who dare draw attention to bias. The latest victim, on December 8: former Washington Post reporter William Powers, fresh from his inaugural media critique for The New Republic. CNN regulars Marty Schram of Scripps Howard, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and moderator Bernard Kalb, formerly of CBS, spent an entire segment arguing how preposterous they found his thesis.

In his December 16 cover story, Powers showed how "the mainline media did not focus intense, sustained attention on the stories that could have been most threatening to the President's chances of re-election." After detailing how Clinton staffers convinced network producers to not air some scandal stories, he explained why the White House "outreach" worked: "Simply put, because Clinton and his people are, to most journalists, culturally sympathetic. What every conservative press critic preaches, and almost every reporter denies, is largely true: the mainstream press is liberal. Most Washington reporters share with the Clinton aides a language, a value system, a set of buttons. Outrage at, say, 'partial birth infanticide' is not one of the buttons of this class. Outrage at 'right-wing abortion activists' is....Liberal bias flows from principles so deeply held they're mostly unconscious. All of which means that, had a Republican President been up for re-election this year, facing the same array of ethical problems Clinton faced, the scandals would have gotten more ink."

On CNN, Kalb asked Powers: "Would it have required President Clinton's defeat for you to be prepared to admit that there was adequate ethical coverage?" Kurtz claimed the press covered the scandals but the public didn't care. Schram said Powers committed "a sin" because "I think you had a pre-judgement." Schram insisted "the press did a heck of a job in breaking all of the information on to Indogate and all the other stuff. That's why we know about it because of the media pounding away."