The Obvious Politics of the Gaffe Patrol
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 13, 1995
Sen. Alfonse D'Amato has never won a Congeniality Award from
the national media. His annoying tendency to get re-elected no doubt disturbs
the many New Yorkers who are responsible for delivering our national news. Add
to that his role in retiring media hero Mario Cuomo, and his determination to
investigate the Clinton finances from his chairmanship of the Senate Banking
Committee, and you have a man the media would enjoy bringing down.
So when Senator D'Amato mocked Judge Lance Ito on a radio
show, sporting a Japanese accent the judge does not have, the network news
pounced, reporting this as a scandal of real substance, a two-day story. NBC's
"Today" show held a solemn interview with Rep. Norman Mineta, with
co-host Katie Couric explaining with great seriousness that Mr. Mineta and his
family were interned by their own country in World War II.
Gaffes are a powerful tool in the hands of the national
media. Gaffes can strengthen media caricatures in the public mind, creating
character sketches in 25 words or less: the flighty volubility of Newt
Gingrich, the stop-lying nastiness of Bob Dole, the spelling of Dan Quayle,
and now the clumsy ethnic satire of Al D'Amato.
In late January, the networks struck a similar pose of
outrage when House Majority Leader Dick Armey misspoke by calling gay Rep.
Barney Frank "Barney Fag." The CBS Evening News made the gaffe its
number one story January 27. That same night, ABC's "World News
Tonight" flagged the story in its opening seconds. A couple of minutes
later, anchor Catherine Crier asked: "Was it a slip of the tongue or a
sign of deep prejudice?....Mr. Armey wields enormous power over all kinds of
legislation, including laws that deal with discrimination and civil rights.
What Mr. Armey says matters."
Even simple ideological labeling is considered an impolite
slur -- if the label is placed on a liberal. In a CNN interview after his
speech to the nation April 6, Newt Gingrich called the Democratic leadership
"a small, left-wing clique." That offended reporter Bob Franken, who
asked: "Why would somebody want to sit down with you -- and this gets to
basic Newt Gingrich -- why would someone want to sit down with you who you
call names, you call left-wing, for instance."
The liberal media are sufferiing from an achingly obvious
double standard, and they just can't be <ital>that<ital> blind to
it. On March 21, Rep. John Lewis took to the House floor and compared the
Republicans to the Nazis, paraphrasing an anti-Nazi saying from World War II:
"They're coming for our children, they're coming for the poor, they're
coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled."
No network considered it news that night to report a liberal
Democrat had labeled the GOP as Nazis. When NBC's Jim Miklaszewski aired
Lewis's remarks on the March 22 Today show, he followed with Republican Clay
Shaw calling them "an outrage." Then, Miklaszewski amazingly
suggested the attack was acceptable political discourse by dismissing it:
"Outrage or not, Democratic attempts to paint Republicans as heartless
budget cutters are beginning to hit home." The closest thing to network
criticism of Lewis's remarks came from Miklaszewski and Bob Schieffer calling
the debate -- the debate, not Rep. Lewis -- "nasty." On ABC's Good
Morning America, Bob Zelnick simply termed the debate "emotional."
The Lewis outrage was not a one-time occurrence, but a
recurring theme of the Democrats that's yet to spur any media scrutiny. A few
weeks back, Rep. Charles Rangel compared Republicans to Nazis in a letter to
Rep. Bill Archer -- no network coverage there. In December, Jesse Jackson
declared: "The Christian Coalition was a strong force in Germany. It laid
down a suitable, scientific, theological rationale for the tragedy in Germany.
The Christian Coalition was very much in evidence there." No coverage
followed on ABC, CBS, or CNN; NBC simply mentioned the slander.
Comparing the modern Republican Party to hate-filled
slaughterers of millions simply does not strike the network types as
far-fetched, no matter who says it. Could this really reflect their own views?
In 1992, one prominent American pronounced: "In the
1920s, the Ku Klux Klan urged the nation to adopt family values and to return
to old-time religion. Similarly, Adolf Hitler launched a family-values
regimen....In the modern United States, new proponents of family values
continue this tradition of fear and intolerance."
More bigoted bile from the Rev. Jackson? No, an ABC Radio
commentary by Hugh Downs.
Voice Your Opinion!
Write to Brent Bozell
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe