PBS Puts Its Power (And Your Dollars) Behind Clinton
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 10, 1996
Call it a microcosm of the media's coverage of Campaign '96.
That great investigative series, PBS's "Frontline," kicked off
another biased season with "The Choice '96," a two-hour examination
of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. Instead of investigative journalism came two
hours of artsy psychobiography, with mostly liberal journalists as talking
heads, with predictable results.
Dole, almost always shown in black-and-white photographs,
was the dark figure from the harsh plains of Kansas whose mentor was...Richard
Nixon. And that was kind compared to other findings. Dole patriotic? Author
David Harris attacked Dole for not learning from his war experience that the
Vietnam War was wrong. Dole principled? When Dole was threatened with failure
in his 1974 Senate campaign, "he glimpsed his own personal darkness: he
discovered he would do almost anything to win." Dole dared to make an
issue of abortion, and the abortions his obstetrician opponent, Dr. Bill Roy,
Clinton, by contrast, was the seductive charmer from the
gentle terrain of Arkansas, who was like a Baptist minister. Clinton
patriotic? Robert Reich explained how Clinton and he agonized over the draft
because they were "obviously patriotic." Clinton principled?
Clinton's failures came because he was too eager to mobilize government to
In the Reagan and Bush years, "Frontline" served
as lead attack dog devoted to scandal coverage, no matter how unfounded the
charge. It asserted the Reagan administration funneled drugs into American
cities to fund the contras; that Reagan's CIA attempted to kill contra leader
Eden Pastora; and (twice) that the 1980 Reagan campaign conspired to delay the
release of the Iranian hostages for political gain. Bipartisan congressional
investigations unraveled these conspiracy theories with no apologies from PBS.
So what did "The Choice" say about the alphabet
soup of present-day Clinton scandals? Less than 60 seconds were devoted to
Whitewater (incredibly, used to explain how "this very important
reform" -- socialized medicine -- failed). No other Clinton scandal
appeared. It's doubly perverse that under Bill Clinton, not only did PBS do no
investigation of the White House for four years, but it funded -- without any
rebuttal -- Hedrick Smith's "The People and the Power Game," which
promoted the ridiculous notion that Bill Clinton has been abused by an uncivil
Smith declared: "By focusing on scandal and conflict
over substance, and by our increasingly negative tone, the media has distorted
the nation's agenda and lost touch with the public we claim to serve."
(But if scandal isn't substance, how does PBS defend its own reporting during
the Reagan-Bush years?) Among Smith's complaints: coverage of the $200 haircut
(it didn't cost $200, it didn't delay traffic!) and New York Times reporter
Maureen Dowd writing from Oxford ("President Clinton returned today for a
sentimental journey to the university where he didn't inhale, didn't get
drafted, and didn't get a degree.")
Smith began with Gennifer Flowers, shaming Dan Rather and
Peter Jennings. Both made appearances not to defend themselves, but to deplore
running the story. Smith said ABC aired its first story on the scandal's
second day, a Friday, while Rather claimed CBS did it because competitors
"went with it strong." But ABC and CBS both waited until Monday,
after the Clintons consented to address the story on "60 Minutes"
The networks aired only six full stories. Big, big deal.
Then, Smith complained about ABC's Brit Hume: "The
traditional skepticism of the White House press corps has slid into cynicism,
where a President's thoughtful deliberation is seen as indecision and
compromise as backsliding." Example? When Clinton nominated Ruth Ginsburg
for the Supreme Court after toying with Stephen Breyer, Hume apologetically
asked Clinton: "We may have created an impression, perhaps unfair, of a
certain zigzag in the decision-making process here. I wonder if you could walk
us through it and perhaps disabuse of any notions we might have along these
lines. Thank you." Outrageous!
Mr. Smith also complained about the 1995 State of the Union
coverage: "CBS and others in the Washington media were criticized for
relying on inside-the-Beltway punditry in their coverage of Clinton's State of
the Union address...But polls showed the public loved it."
Smith was probably referring to the instant poll which
showed 85 percent "approve of the President's proposals," 74 percent
"now have a clear idea what President Clinton stands for" and 56
percent said Clinton "better understands the major problems facing the
country today" than the Republicans. That poll was reported that night by
none other than the supposedly anti-Clinton CBS; Dan Rather went so far as to repeat
all the numbers before signing off.
First, PBS took our tax dollars to goad the commercial media
into scandal coverage during the Reagan years; now, PBS takes our tax dollars
to scold the commercial media for being too critical of President Clinton.
Some choice, "The Choice."
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