Lining up behind the Democrats.
Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 4, 2000 edition of National Review Online
By Tim Graham
Newspapers, including the New York Post, spread the news a few days ago: ABC's 20/20 had made a deal with the diva Barbra Streisand for an interview three nights before Election Day to press her case for the public to vote for Al Gore. Why would ABC News promote their plans to make another stale celebrity endorsement part of their "news" magazine show? In every election cycle, the denizens and dilettantes of Hollywood line up behind the Democrats.
Water-cooler conversation wondered how much Barbra's endorsement could help Gore. Many felt this diva's opinion would only poison the well for him. But the potential impact of the interview was not the real point. The actual offer of a prime-time platform without rebuttal was the point. After all, did all the media bashing of Ronald Reagan in 1984 or Newt Gingrich in 1994 hurt these conservative leaders? Or help?
But if the issue is balance and fairness in the national press, the impact doesn't matter. The content does. But all this talk was for the pre-game show. What actually happened when Barbara Walters steered their girl talk of fashion lines and middle-aged marriages to politics? The whole interview must have been quite a letdown for gonzo Gore backers. Streisand seemed much more passionate about Bill Clinton than Al Gore, whom she said she barely knows.
Walters asked: Have you advised the president on legislation? Streisand said "of course." Have you ever criticized him? Yes. For what? "I can't tell you." After a bout of discomfort (and editing), Streisand called the Lewinsky scandal "overrated." If Clinton were your husband, could you have stood by him? Without pause, Streisand asserted, "Most definitely. He's a wonderful president."
As for Gore, Walters showed Streisand speaking at her recent $5 million Democratic fundraiser, saying the election was about three issues: "The Supreme Court, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court. Our whole way of life is at stake." Actually, our whole way of sex is at stake, since her first concern was the curtailment of what Walters called "a woman's right to choose on the matter of abortion." When asked why anyone should listen to her opinion, Streisand protested: "I'm an American citizen, then I'm an actor" and on through her many talents. As if just any American citizen is asked to assess the candidates on 20/20.
Streisand suggested, as many Hollywood politicos do, to have an extraordinary sensitivity to the underdogs of society: "I guess I've always been for the underdog, the minority, the person who is less fortunate." Walters said Streisand found her politics in watching The Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway. Now there's a less than promising way of looking at contemporary conservative Republicans, the Nazi hordes prying open the basements of Belgium looking for Jews to execute. This underdog talk didn't quite match Walters' explanation that Streisand loves to play the stock market, and recently doubled a million-dollar portfolio for friend and fashion designer Donna
Walters was there for a puffy, palsy interview, laced with questions like "As a child, did you believe in fairy tales?" This wasn't a hard-hitting nightmare like Mike Wallace's 60 Minutes maiming in 1991. "You were totally self-absorbed back thirty years ago...Twenty or thirty years of psychoanalysis. What is it that she's trying to find out that takes 20 to 30 years? Twenty years you've been in psychotherapy off and on....You know what your mother told me about her relationship with you. She says you haven't got time to be close with anyone. To anyone. That's your own mom."
All in all, the whole deflated spectacle looks very strange in contrast to Streisand's own opinions on the political bias of the media. Her Streisand Foundation has been a financial backer of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the radical-left New York collective of Noam Chomsky devotees. But FAIR in this election seems to care more about Ralph Nader's potential matching funds than electing President Gore, so Streisand has a new enthusiasm: The Daily Howler, the website of Bob Somerby, the comedian and newly minted media critic direct from Al Gore's wedding party. How can the same diva who can order ABC News to transmit her endorsement of Al Gore think the media is out to elect George W. Bush?
Listed among the "press releases" at barbrastreisand.com, is list of articles Streisand urges fans to read. There are only two. But the second one comes from UCLA professor Phil Agre, who laments the vast right-wing conspiracy to ruin Gore's chances, laced with Daily Howler links like raisins in your Raisin Bran. Agre wrote that "the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press have all assigned reporters who write, day in and day out, the same sorts of exaggerated smears" as the "far right" media. "The fix is clearly in, and these establishment media operations are clearly down with it. They see which way the wind is blowing, and they don't want to get left behind."
Agre goes much further than career conservative critics in lamenting the media's place in our democracy. He hints at a junta of reporters and Republican party reptiles: "A kind of coup is in effect, continuing the pattern of the Whitewater hoax and impeachment. If the far right succeeds in its campaign, then the incoming government will be staffed by people who are trained in the new science of character assassination. It's all they know.
And having destroyed Al Gore, they will come after the rest of us." Is this another evocation of the assailants of Anne Frank?
All in all, it was another disappointing night for Gore groupies who keep searching for that silver bullet to pierce the compassionate armor of George W. Bush. But it certainly wasn't proof that the national media are "clearly down with" the Bush-Cheney bandwagon.
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