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Where Have All the Journalists Gone? Bush's Immaculate Reception.

I use the term journalist intentionally--because we know where all the reporters are: parroting the White House party line as they lap enthusiastically at George W. Bush's heels. News investigation has evolved unsatisfactorily into rubber-stamping press releases issued by the subjects of the reports.

Not to beat a dead horse, but one merely needs to look at the media treatment during last year's presidential election to wonder where have all the journalists gone.

The press didn't just drop the ball during the Florida fiasco--it seemed to have punted long before. Perhaps there was a semiconscious effort to prove conservative critics wrong about the press' imaginary "leftward bias." Or maybe the campaign press corps simply liked Bush and detested Al Gore. The September 2000 Brill's Content described Bush's "charm offensive" with reporters; on the campaign plane, for example, Bush would walk down the aisle handing reporters soft drinks. They loved their time with the fun-loving Bush. Gore, on the other hand, didn't circulate easily with reporters and was always raising policy issues and engaging them in debate.

During the campaign, the Republican party consistently referred to Gore as a liar, and the media perpetuated that impression. The most prominent examples --repeated so often they are now as firmly established as the Constitution--include items that should have been put to rest immediately and blamed on Bush dirty tricks.

For example, Gore did not claim to have discovered Love Canal but, rather, to have conducted hearings on the situation. The false reports were refuted by the area's schoolchildren who knew the facts, but no one noticed, certainly not the press. Gore did not claim to have invented the Internet but, rather, to have initiated government support for it while a senator--as vouched for by all of the VIPs of Internet development. He off-handedly said that he and his wife had been models for Erich Segal's Love Story, and Segal confirmed that Gore was in fact a model for his book. But the press virtually ignored the truth.

One of the stranger distortions of reality was trying to make Gore's military record suspect. He was accused of enlisting for political purposes (probably true) and spending his time in a cushy, noncombatant job (semi-true, but as a journalist he spent a lot of time at the front; in fact, 80 percent of all Vietnam service was in noncombatant roles).

In contrast, Bush obtained his Air National Guard slot in Texas, seemingly jumping to the head of the line, and thus avoided Vietnam entirely since he was in a program with obsolete planes not sent to Asia. (And he was enlisted alongside the son of Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, among others. Obviously he wasn't alone in apparently using his connections to avoid Vietnam.) And when Bush was accused by his former commanding officer of having gone AWOL for more than a year, it was buried on page thirty, denied, and never heard of again. Yet apparently Bush didn't report for duty at an Alabama base because he chose instead to work on a political campaign--he seems to have admitted as much by doing "make up" time with another Guard unit a couple of years later, with no time in the guard house. The national media, however, ignored all of this while focusing much attention on the nature and quality of Gore's military service.

And then there were the smirking stories that circulated the media about the fact that Gore had smoked marijuana --something he made no attempt to deny. Conservatives excoriated him, and the press gleefully reported every criticism. But when stories came to light about Bush's DWI and alleged hard drug use (cocaine), the press let him get away with merely remarking that he had used no controlled substances since 1980 or so --that is, not while Dad was in the White House. Well, good for him. (This probably wouldn't even be an issue if it weren't for the media's uneven treatment and Bush's Draconian drug policies and approaches toward drug users while governor and candidate. He has been an implacable opponent of any sort of humane drug policy.) Why the free pass by the press?

Ironically, Bush's resume was lauded by many as superior to Gore's because of Bush's "record" in business. Yet in fact Bush rode several businesses into the ground, losing investors their money. He only got going when he was given a job with the Texas Rangers baseball team, which prospered because of taxpayer support for a new stadium. Family connections allowed him to bail out of losing ventures and get into the Rangers enterprise with little investment and a huge payout. The mainstream media ignored his--to put it mildly--checkered business history and saluted his profits and "experience."

Bush said he favored campaign finance reform, yet he profited grandly from corporate sponsors--particularly those companies at odds with environmental controls. (And what a surprise: now he is overturning environmental protection plans such as the reduction of arsenic allowed in water, the Kyoto protocol regarding global warming, pollution limits on California industries, and the prohibitions against road-building in a third of the national forests). Why isn't the press challenging this more? They certainly challenged Gore extensively--not to mention their assault on Bill Clinton even after he left office. In fact, they were quick to jump on every smarmy story leaked by the right about the Clinton administration's exit--yet virtually failed to report any of the Bush administration's apologies over and retractions of lies and errors--for example, the supposed looting of Air Force One by Clinton staffers which proved to be false.

Indeed, why is the media so soft on Bush? He is depicted in foreign press and opinion as a likable moron. What an image for the "most powerful man in the world." In fact, both domestically and internationally many believe that Vice-President Dick Cheney sits in the power seat at the White House. Yet the U.S. press continues to fawn over Bush, ignoring his willful reversals of fundamental policies and civil liberties.

So where does this sorry state of journalism leave Americans and how can it be allowed to exist? Especially considering the right-wing suggestion that the press has a leftist bias? Are they bending over backwards to make up for alleged past liberal biases, or have they been bought off by free cans of soda?

John R. Cole is a writer, past president of the National Center for Science Education, and a retired anthropologist, archaeologist, and environmental researcher.
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Author:Cole, John R.
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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