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Imagine This Alternative Media
Another “what if.”

Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 16, 2000 edition of National Review Online

By Tim Graham

In times of great political flux like these, it's a fun parlor game to notice how our major political players seem to change their principles to try and win their partisan points. Media figures have noticed George W. Bush, the firm believer in reserving powers to the states, going to federal court to stop manual recounts. Others have noticed Al Gore, last week's believer in letting the Florida counties decide for themselves how to proceed, believing counties which stop manual recounts are wrong and must be stopped. 

The average observer of American politics is dismayed by the Play-doh positioning of the nation's leaders at times of great conflict, but we expect Republicans and Democrats to jockey for advantage. What we shouldn't expect is our media elite, which proclaim their enlightened and objective position as the vaunted watchdogs of our democracy, to morph like a carton full of Silly Putty eggs to the funny papers of the Democratic party line. 

We've grown achingly familiar with the media's behavior in the last week of the Election from Hell. They sound a lot like the Gore campaign: Let's not rush to judgment, and anyone who seeks to bring closure to this uncertainty is a partisan Republican hack intent on frustrating the people's will. But what if we lived in an alternate universe, where Al Gore leads by 300 votes, and George W. Bush is demanding hand recounts in three predominantly Republican counties? The female Secretary of State, a Gore supporter, demands observance of the law and cuts the recounts off. Don't think for a moment that the current media consensus would remain unchanged. 

The media wouldn't have the patience to tolerate a week of uncertainty about Gore's win. Before the end of the mandatory recount, the anchormen would begin pretending Bush's challenges to the rules weren't worth reporting. "We begin tonight with Al Gore's strong declaration today that the transition is underway," Peter Jennings would report. "Like President Clinton before him, Mr. Gore promised a cabinet as diverse as America. Gore announced his strong support from female and minority voters will be acknowledged and rewarded." Entire stories would sketch the obvious new avenues of power, and what policies would be pursued and promoted by the Gore administration. 

"Bush's last-minute, dog-ate-my-ballot-box complaints are being dismissed by many experts as all hat and no cattle," Manhattan cowboy Dan Rather would proclaim. "More of our pull-no-punches, play-no-favorites coverage after this." 

Impeachment metaphors would surface, but in a different light. "With the same terrorizing timbre as the House managers, the Bush campaign is trying to overthrow the duly counted and recounted results of an election that is settled for everyone but the unsettled," Jonathan Alter would write in Newsweek. "The so-called compassionate conservatives ought to have the compassion to spare us the spectacle of their refusal to acknowledge electoral reality." 

Could you disparage a female election arbiter a corrupt partisan hack? Think again. "Let's not pretend this is merely a Republican tendency, this dislike of strong women," Ted Koppel would announce at the opening of an entire Nightline devoted to the defense of the battered bureaucrat. "Tonight, the Democrats ask, why must the Bush camp question the authority of this duly elected nonpartisan official? Is this any way to treat a lady? Why can't Gov. Bush take it like a man?" To mull over the Bush campaign's faults, Koppel would consult objective political analyst George Stephanopoulos for the latest James Carville line out of George's cellular phone. 

Over on CNN, Time's Margaret Carlson would muse over the deficit of noblesse oblige: "His father may have come to Washington saying we didn't come here to bicker, but his son plans to base his entire evanescent administration on endless bickering over the last pregnant chad." 

In summing up the week after the election, Time writer Nancy Gibbs begins her usual flowery first draft of liberal history: "This may become the most famous election of America's next century, and with every day he pouts and protests, George W. Bush is underlining his epitaph as the sorest of all sore losers, a deluded and desperate example of the clueless leading the clueless, with smirks traded in for smears. School children will shake their heads at how the man who promised to restore honesty and integrity to the White House ended his crumbling campaign searching for a controlling legal authority to cancel his confounding defeat." 

In between off-camera fits of profane insults about Bush's idiocy, CBS star Bryant Gumbel would fall back on professional football metaphors. "Jack Kemp, couldn't we just end this by saying, we've reviewed the instant replay, and you've lost your time out?" 

Whatever the outcome of presidential elections every four years, the national media often attempt to inflate their own respectability by shaking their heads at the unfortunate vicissitudes of partisan gridlock, as if they had no tendency or temptation to affect the outcome. This, to paraphrase Cowboy Dan, is as phony as a three-dollar bill.

National Review Online | Back to Op-Ed Archives



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