By Tom Brazaitis
So this is what conservatives do for fun.
That's what I was thinking as I took a seat
in the balcony overlooking a ballroom in the Ronald Reagan Building on
Pennsylvania Ave. On the floor below, 800 men and women dined on grilled
Angus beef and Atlantic salmon over mushroom risotto and took pride in
belonging to what Hillary Clinton once called "the vast right-wing
They had gathered for the Media
Research Center's annual Dishonors Awards, "roasting the most
outrageously biased liberal reporters of 2001."
No one noted the irony that the building
named for their idol, Ronald Reagan, the self-anointed slayer of big
government, is, at close to $1 billion, the most expensive government
building and, at 3.1 million square feet, second in size only to the
And no one mentioned another noteworthy
curiosity: that the list of 39 sponsoring organizations and individuals
included not only the Enron Corp., but the Enron Good Government Fund,
the Enron Retirement Fund, the Enron IRA Account and the Enron Profit
Sharing Account. I wondered whether their checks had cleared.
After more than two hours of wining and
dining, the assembly settled back for what the public relations
executive who promoted the event predicted would be "a night of
hooting, howling and hollering" at the liberal media.
After that buildup, I was ready for the
21st-century version of the Roman Colosseum, only to be disappointed by
the relative docility of the audience. At one point, David Limbaugh
(Rush's brother), who was one of the award presenters, practically
begged, "Let's be as insensitive as we can."
There were some boos and hisses as the
nominees for such awards as "flakiest comment of the year" and
"hopelessly foolish wartime reporting" were presented in video
clips on a giant screen. But the laughter, for the most part, seemed
forced, except when it came to mocking CBS news anchor Dan Rather.
Rather won two of the six "Dishonors
Awards" and captured the grand prize, "Most Outrageous Quote
of the Year 2001," by audience acclamation. The winning entry was
Rather's comment in an interview on the Fox Cable Channel that
"Bill Clinton is, at core, an honest person....I know that you
consider it sort of astonishing anybody would say so, but I think you
can be an honest person and lie about any number of things."
None of the so-called award-winners was
present, of course. Accepting for Rather was Katherine Harris, the
Florida secretary of state who was a key player in the presidential
vote-counting fiasco in that state.
On an evening of humor that was about as
subtle as a wrecking ball, Harris' self-deprecating joking was
refreshing. She said of Rather, "In his opinion, he is an honest
broker of information. Right, and I forgot to put on my makeup during
By contrast, the Wall Street Journal's John
Fund, whose editorials, signed columns and frequent television
appearances denounced President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky
scandal, didn't so much as blush while presenting the "Bring Back
Bubba Award (for the Best Journalistic Lewinsky)."
That very morning, the Washington Post had
published an account of "the 40-something Fund's strange and stormy
romance with 20-something Morgan Pillsbury," who underwent an
abortion after becoming pregnant by Fund. To make the story even
seamier, Fund had had an intimate affair 20 years earlier with Morgan's
mother, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, the paper reported.
Without a reference to his own moral morass,
Fund ridiculed the national media's "love affair" with Clinton
that "continues, if only platonically."
In closing, L. Brent Bozell III, founder and
president of the Media Research Council, lamented that "the liberal
media find no humor, none whatsoever, in what we do." He cited
published reviews of last year's awards ceremony describing the event as
"tasteless," "trading on silly stereotypes," and
"an event in which spitefulness and ad hominem personal
attacks" pass for humor.
Undaunted, Bozell said President George W.
Bush had asked people to go on with their lives as usual after the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, so "it's pretty damn patriotic what
we're doing tonight." The liberal media, Bozell said, "deserve
every slap upside the head that they get."
The evening ended, as if apologetically,
with a documentary praising the media's coverage of Sept. 11, featuring
in positive roles Rather, Jennings, Rivera, Diane Sawyer and others who
had just been ridiculed.
Conservatives sure know how to have fun.
Brazaitis is a senior editor in The Plain Dealer's Washington bureau.