"THE MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER'S 'BEST,'" an op-ed by Patrick
McGuigan published in the January 5, 2006 Tulsa Today. Originally posted
More than a year after one of the most shocking news media scandals in
history, producer Mary Mapes continues to defend as “absolutely” true the
“news” report that brought a premature end to CBS News Anchor Dan Rather's
long career. At the height of the 2004 presidential campaign, the CBS
Evening News claimed to have documentary evidence of special treatment,
dereliction of duty and other wrongdoing by President George W. Bush during
his time, as a young pilot, in the Air National Guard.
In a November 9, 2005 exchange with reporter Brian Ross on ABC's “Good
Morning America,” Mapes said she still believed the report was true. She
even said she remains convinced the documents on which CBS based its
broadcasts – papers proven by Internet 'bloggers' and media analysts to be
fradulent – were reliable. Ross was incredulous that Mapes still defended
the broadcast, which Rather and CBS executives eventually recanted. He
pressed his point in this exchange:
Ross: That seems remarkable to me that you would sit here now and say you
still find that story to be up to your standards.
Mapes: I'm perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if
there's proof I haven't seen.
Ross: But isn't it the other way around? Don't you have to prove they're
Mapes: Well, I think that's what critics of the story would say. I know more
now than I did then and I think, I think they have not been proved to be
Ross: Have they proved to be authentic, though? Isn't that what journalists
Mapes: No, I don't think that's the standard.
Mapes' pathetic defense of the most discredited mainsteam TV news story in
recent history “won” designation as 2005 Quote of the Year in the Media
Research Center's 18th annual compilation.
One can agree or disagree about particular examples of media bias. But I
believe there is little room for argument about certain things after
studying, as one of 52 judges for the center, literally hundreds of examples
of “mainstream” national news media bias.
The arrogance, pretentiousness, irresponsbility, meanness and misplaced
sense of superiority of key players in American journalism remain undimmed,
even after several years of wrenching scandals involving The New York Times,
major broadcast news organizations and icons of the liberal establishment.
Utterly merciless in their judgments of everyone to the right of Arizona
Sen. John McCain, the national media's leading lights are so focused on
splinters in the eyes of favorite targets that they cannot see the beams in
The Media Research Center regularly chronicles the worst reporting and
commentary in the “mainstream” national press corps. For nearly two decades,
the Center's annual compilation of the good, the bad and the ugly in the
national news media has gained widespread coverage in that same media, with
infrequent and largely ineffective rebuttals.
A few national players in journalism (Sam Donaldson particularly stands out)
have participated in MRC forums to defend reporting practices, but most of
the big-name media stars try to avoid giving MRC the credit it deserves.
My own choice for 2005 “Quote of the Year” was a gem from Brian Williams,
anchor for NBC Nightly News. On September 8, he issued this litle diatribe
concerning America's reponse to Hurricane Katrina. The comments came on
Comedy Central's “The Daily Show,” his ending cut short by uproarious
laughter and applause from the studio audience:
“You know, I've been to some pretty lousy places in my life. And Iraq
over the past 12 months and Banda Aceh, open graves and bodies. These were
Americans, and everyone watching the coverage all week, that kind of reached
its peak last weekend, kept saying the same refrain: 'How is this happening
in the United States?' And the other refrain was, had this been Nantucket,
had this been Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Los Angels, how many
choppers would have -- ”
Admittedly, some personal bias was in play as I evaluated Williams comments.
Two members of my family and several close friends, members of various units
of the Oklahoma National Guard, were in New Orleans almost immediately after
Hurricane Katrina's devastation. They didn't have time to appear on Comedy
Central, or even to watch it. For weeks, they and thousands of other
military personnel and civilians worked tirelessly to rescue people trapped
on rooftops and in unsafe homes. They patrolled streets where criminals and
looters were terrorizing residents who had refused to evacuate, taking the
place of a local police force that had evaporated in the face of unpredented
crisis. They began the repair of levees that could not withstand the storm,
at least in part because federal money intended for repair and strengthening
had, years before, been diverted by local officials to favored political
The citizen-soldiers went where their president and governor told them to go
– and they would have gone there even if it had been Nantucket, Boston,
Cleveland, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles. They did more to help the people
of New Orleans in a few weeks than Williams and all his like-minded cronies
will do in several lifetimes.
The competition for MRC's Quote of the Year flows from a broad array of
categories with titles both serious and humorous, including these Awards:
Slam Uncle Sam, “God Save This Court” From Extremists, Damn Those
Conservatives, Captain Dan the Forgery Man, “Baghdad Bob” Was Correct,
“Crazy Chris” (Chris Matthews), Media Millionaires for Smaller Paychecks,
Good Morning Morons, the Politics of Meaninglessness, and Media Hero
(Hillary Clinton was the winner). Gaining special recognition were awards
named to “honor” rapper Kayne West and Barbra Streisand (a perennial
Two personal favorite categories: “What Liberal Media? Award” and “Oh, That
Liberal Media Award.”
As winner in the first category I chose an assertion by Time Magazine's
Margaret Carlson that reporters for The New York Times play their stories
“straight down the middle.” But my judging colleagues chose for the top
award a jewel from retiring PBS icon Bill Moyers, who claimed much of the
U.S. Press is now a propaganda arm of the Republican party. (Actually,
Moyers had a point in hitting the mainstream press for being more concerned
with “the bottom line” than independent reporting – a subject that might be
worthy of future exploration.)
In the “Ah-Ha!” category of “Oh, That Liberal Media,” my personal choice was
made for positive reasons, honoring this flash of honesty from John Harwood,
political editor for The Wall Street Journal: “I believe it is true that a
significant chunk of the press believes that Democrats are incompetent but
good-hearted, and Republicans are very efficient but evil.” A plurality of
the judges, however, awarded “first place” to an exchange between Evan
Thomas, an assistant editor at Newsweek, and Nina Totenberg, legal
correspondent for National Public Radio. In the dialogue from “Inside
Washington,” Thomas admitted seeing “a little liberal” bias at Newsweek.
Totenberg disagreed and also claimed NPR is not biased in favor of the
The Media Research Center (MRC) is the brainchild of conservative columnist
L. Brent Bozell III. Day in and day out, Bozell's staff tracks every
national television broadcast and the nation's largest daily newspapers.
While the center is best known for this annual critical assessment of media
bias, it also issues periodic compilations of outstanding examples of
journalistic integrity and compassion – including the work of many who often
“win” the bias awards.
The Media Research Center is an important and healthy corrective to an
ingrained bigoty that now permeates the highest levels of American
journalism. Rather than give up on the possibility of fair and balanced news
reporting and rational commentary, Bozell and the center's staff work
carefully and continuously to hold the national press corps accountable.
After the attacks on America in September 2001, Bozell singled out several
of Dan Rather's reports for particular praise. MRC is methodical and
meticulous, scouring literally thousands of pieces of information to
identify the best, and worst, the U.S. Media has to offer.
Judges for the MRC “Notable Quotables” are conservative and libertarian
journalists, most of them working in sometimes hostile circumstances in
newsrooms and on editorial boards, in academic posts and other posts. Some
are we-known commentators.
Prominent judges include Midge Dector, radio commentator Larry Elder, Mobile
Register writer Quin Hillyer, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, the
sainted Cal Thomas, former National Review publisher William Rusher, Kathryn
Jean Lope of National Review Online, author Priscilla Buckley, radio talk
host Wes Minter, Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid, Human Events editor
Thomas S. Winter and many others. I've served as a judge for most of MRC's
To study the full body of this year's “greatest hits” and decide for
yourself, the MRC's 8-page compilation of 2005's controversial, dubious and
outrageous news coverage and commentary is available online at
www.mrc.org. You'll also find video and
audio clips of all the quotes at the site. The Media Research Center's work
is highly recommended, and sincerely commended.
About the Author: Former Capitol Editor for Tulsa Today, McGuigan is
Oklahoma's Deputy Commissioner of Labor. His essays on politics, arts, law
and culture appear regularly in The MidCity Advocate (Oklahoma City), Tulsa
Today and other fine publications.