Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Media: Selectively Biased

The NY Times reports John Kerry "enlisted more Clinton advisers to help shape his strategy and message for the remainder of the campaign. . . Among the better-known former Clinton aides who are expected to play an increasingly prominent role are James Carville, Paul Begala and Stanley Greenberg." The catch? "Mr. Begala . . . said he would remain a CNN commentator."

Pretty sweet gig--counselor to the candidate by day; neutral newsman at night. Clearly a win-win for cable and campaign alike--flawless recollection and wide dissemination of sound-bites dashed off during commercials; withering critiques of campaign initiatives invented elsewhere; always-accurate insider gossip. Kinda like those late night TV ads: "That's right--the new Begala's a floor wax AND a desert topping!" Or even a reality show: "The Two Begalas." Tune in to see if Begala can "upgrade" Begala from the press bus. Or whether campaign finance laws let him buy his own lunch. The spellbinding finale solves an ancient paradox: can a journalist quote himself anonymously? (Joe Klein doesn't count)

Sorry to be a kill-joy, but Begala's new part-time job raises obvious questions:
  1. WTF? How can Begala counsel Kerry's campaign and cover it for CNN? Quite a conflict of interest.

  2. How come almost no one's complained? Hedgehog Report and Worldmagblog flag the issue, and Ramesh Ponnuru supplies appropriate irony at The Corner. But, where's the outrage?

  3. Why do Dems dodge denunciation for conduct that induces indignation for Republicans? Didn't 38 Congressmen just denounce cable channels with "a deliberate bias in favor of, and often serves as an extension of, [a political party's] policies and ideology." Ah, but the Congressmen were whining about Fox News. If the press played fair, they'd call the same 38 Reps for a follow-up/reaction quote about Begala and CNN.

    (Please, hold the cards and letters about George Will's debate prep for Reagan in 1980. That was similarly sleazy, and Will was widely excoriated by the press. Where's the tsunami today?)

    More recently, Bush's outside lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, resigned following a media firestorm because he also counseled the Swiftboat group. (Note: I've occasionally worked with Ben.) The Dems said sharing outside counsel was evidence of impermissible "coordination" between the campaign and independent advocacy groups. But Ben did nothing wrong, because--among other reasons--legal ethics prohibit lawyers sharing confidences between clients, much less coordinating. To its credit, the Washington Post agreed. Nevertheless, by this point in the Ginsberg news-cycle, Ben was long gone.

  4. Does anyone still believe there's a "professional" press? CNN and Begala are outrageous and immoral. But journalistic "ethics" see, to protect the media, not the public. Some watchdogs. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Mass media reduced the costs of collecting and distributing information. Yet, somewhere on the path from Trivium to town crier to tabloid, media selectivity and skew started upping the price of truth. Which might inhibit our ability to scrutinize government officials.

Or some of them anyway. Big media is liberal media, as both New York Times and Newsweek's Managing Editor recently conceded. Indeed, according to the Times, it's no contest:
When asked who would be a better president, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3 to 1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12 to 1. Those results jibe with previous surveys over the past two decades showing that journalists tend to be Democrats, especially the ones based in Washington. Some surveys have found that more than 80 percent of the Beltway press corps votes Democratic.
So the multi-headed Mr. Begala's probably safe. At least "according to a recent poll of journalists. . ."

Still press bias might have a silver lining should Kerry win. True, our President will be an emperor without any clothes. But the clothes should be easy to find--they'll be scattered across the liberal media's bedroom floor.

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