“Democrats Fear Backlash at Polls for Antiwar Remarks” was the Washington Post’s headline (12/7/05) over a report asserting that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of a six-month withdrawal plan is “a position that polls show most Americans do not support.” While poll questions on Iraq withdrawal have not focused on Pelosi’s particular timetable, the Post’s own polling (10/30-11/2/05) found that 44 percent of the public believes the U.S. should “withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties.” The Gallup Poll (11/11-13/05) reported that 52 percent of the public would withdraw either immediately or in the next 12 months. And the Harris Poll (11/8-13/05) found 63 percent support for “bringing most of our troops home in the next year.” The Post’s concern for politicians getting ahead of public opinion is inconsistent; when it reports on Sen. John McCain’s proposal to send more troops to Iraq, for example, it virtually never notes that only a tiny number of Americans support this idea—8 percent, according to a recent Time magazine poll (11/29-12/1/05).
The Half-Full Glass
“I’m telling you, folks, there’s a part of me that likes this. . . . I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.”
— Rush Limbaugh (11/29/05, cited in Media Matters, 11/30/05) after four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams on a peace mission to Iraq were kidnapped and threatened with death
Spy vs. Spy
When PBS’s NewsHour (12/5/05) debated the issue of rendition—the CIA’s practice of kidnapping people and transferring them without trial to other countries, often to places where torture is commonplace—the discussion was limited to John Brennan, a former director of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center, and Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA operations officer now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Unsurprisingly, there was little actual debate; when anchor Margaret Warner opened the segment by asking, “Is Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice correct to call rendition a vital tool in combating terrorism?” the response ranged from Brennan’s “I think it’s an absolutely vital tool” to Gerecht’s “Well, I think we would have to trust those in the government who say that it is.”
Shortly after Richard Pryor’s death, NPR reporter Juan Williams noted on a Fox News Sunday panel (12/11/05) that the comedian had once attended a Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Reagan White House. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, another panelist, took this fact and ran with it: “It’s appropriate that Richard Pryor was a Reaganite. Maybe a neoconservative liberal who was mugged by reality and decided that Ronald Reagan was a great president.” Whoa—who said Pryor was a Reaganite? In fact, Williams did a report for NPR’s Morning Edition the next day (12/12/05) that dug up a quote from 1983, when CBS Evening News asked him if he thought his comedy act was obscene. Pryor responded: “You know what’s obscene to me? The president of the United States stands on television and tells people that we are helping to fight communism in South America by killing the people. I would never do that.”
As part of his ongoing rant about the supposed “War on Christmas,” Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 12/9/05) provided this anecdote: “In Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas, the school told students they couldn’t wear red and green because they were Christmas colors. That’s flat-out fascism. If I were a student in Plano, I’d be a walking Christmas tree after that order.” In fact, the Plano school district had never dictated the color of anyone’s clothing; it had asked parents to buy white napkins and paper plates for a “Winter Party,” which some parents took as a slap at Christmas, but the real issue in Plano was whether children could distribute explicitly proselytizing Christmas favors. When a judge indicated that that would probably be a First Amendment-protected exercise of religion, the school board complied (Dallas Morning News, 12/17/05). O’Reilly did make a rare admission of error on his December 20 show—though he didn’t apologize for calling school officials fascists.
Exception to the Rule
Discussing how the media could do a better job in the year ahead (Meet the Press, 1/1/06), Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham offered some peculiar advice to journalists: “I think you just work like hell to get it right and to understand the biographical and human forces on the other guy, on the institutions you’re covering. Know that the other institutions are as fallible as yours and with a measure of charity and dignity and respect you write and cover other institutions as you would want to be covered.” With all due regard to the Golden Rule, it’s a poor rule of thumb for journalism. After all, most people don’t want their most embarrassing secrets exposed to the world, yet it’s precisely the job of the media to expose the secrets of the powerful. Meacham had earlier said, “I think in the media we should be breaking the news and not being the news so much.” He might reflect on the fact that stories like the Judith Miller saga have put media into the news largely because of an excess of “charity” toward powerful sources.