Dec 1 2006


For Issues, Go Elsewhere

“In this Internet age, there’s no shortage of places to go if you want to read position papers or hear what candidates are holding forth about the economy, education, the environment, anything like that. But our job, especially in the last four or five days, is to take everything that’s coming in and crystallize it through a filter of what is popping, what seems to be the most of—I guess, what you’d call man biting dog, what’s out of the ordinary.”

CBS reporter Jim Axelrod (CNN’s Reliable Sources, 11/5/06)

Some Hell Still Unresearched

A glowing Baltimore Sun profile (10/30/06) of MSNBC host Tim Russert lauded his “simple method” of interviewing: “research the hell out of his guests and let them hang themselves.” That sounds good, but it’s hard to apply that description to one of the interviews Sun reporter Stephen Kiehl focused on, a show featuring Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele (10/29/06). After playing a TV spot for his election opponent Benjamin Cardin in which Michael J. Fox states that “Michael Steele will put limits on the most promising stem cell research”—meaning embryonic stem cell research—Steele claimed the commercial lied about him by saying he opposes all stem cell research, when he actually supports research on stem cells not taken from embryos. That Russert allowed Steele to get away with this distortion suggests that Russert isn’t really as prepared as the Baltimore Sun writer says he is.

Nothing Is True

“I don’t like the reporters that try to police them, tell you what’s true and what’s not. Most political ads are arguably true and arguably false. If you start trying to get into issues of truth and falsity, you end up doing what the candidates do, which is arguing. My view is, let ’em play. The truth is, negative ads work.”

Fox News Channel managing editor Brit Hume (Broadcasting & Cable, 11/6/06) on campaign commercials

Don’t Know Much About History

The day before the midterm elections, media mogul Rupert Murdoch told reporters (Agence France-Presse, 11/6/06) that in Iraq, “The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute.” Murdoch may have gotten U.S. citizenship in order to buy more TV stations here, but he certainly hasn’t learned much U.S. history: The number of American soldiers killed in action in Iraq exceeds the numbers killed in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War or the Spanish-American War, not to mention numerous protracted wars fought against Native Americans. The total U.S. military death toll in Iraq is greater than the combined toll for all U.S. military actions since Vietnam—including Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the 1991 Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan. But at least we know that Fox News anchor Brit Hume, who called Iraq War casualties “negligible” in 2005 (10/13/05), was just following the company line.

Feeling the Cheney Love

On October 17, the New York Times published an almost literal love letter to Vice President Dick Cheney; the headline, “Cheney Feels the Love as He Hits the Heartland,” accurately summed up the tone of the piece. The article celebrated Cheney’s visit to what the paper called “Cheney Country”—which it defined as “hotel ballrooms, military bases and private homes deep in the reddest of red states like Kansas (where President Bush and Mr. Cheney won by 25 percentage points in 2004). As a rule, people still love Mr. Bush in Cheney Country, at least relative to some locales.” That last phrase makes it impossible for the claim to be wrong; but if the paper is actually purporting to be writing about the White House’s popularity as a meaningful political phenomenon, it really should have mentioned that Bush is now fairly unpopular in Kansas—in a poll released October 16, 57 percent of Kansans disapproved of his job performance ( Granted, 57 percent disapproval is pretty popular “relative to some locales”—like, say, Rhode Island, where Bush met with 75 percent disapproval. But the Times might have served its readers better by examining why Bush is having trouble in “the reddest of red states,” rather than focusing, as this article did, on a six-year-old with a crush on Dick Cheney’s dogs.

‘To Give Us Early Alarm’

“[James] Madison described the ‘right of freely examining public characters and measures’ as ‘the only effectual guardian of every other right.’ Without public discussion in the press, political action would become a blind and ineffectual charade. . . . [Alexander] Hamilton . . . argued that the press had a role in the political system. ‘We have been careful that when one party comes in, it shall not be able to breakdown and bear away the other. . . . To watch the progress of such endeavors is the office of a free press. To give us early alarm and put us on our guard against the encroachments of power.’”

—Richard Brookhiser, What Would the Founders Do?