Call It Viewsweek
A thinly disguised sample of The New Republic with pictures.
Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 22, 2000 edition of National Review Online
By Tim Graham
Television news seems like the most searing influence on public opinion — its images and immediacy threatening to dominate our political culture. But citizens looking for serious media bias should not ignore the weekly "news" magazines, which in the current climate read less like a Reader's Digest of the week's events and more like snazzy opinion journals, thinly disguised samples of The New Republic with pictures.
Take the lead article in this week's Newsweek by former Washington Bureau Chief Evan Thomas and former Clinton White House hate object Michael Isikoff. You could call it Viewsweek. It's not a summary of everything that happened on the florid fraud in Florida. It's a stylish op-ed, two parts attitude for every part reporting.
It begins in headline-size type: "The blow was hard — and, some would say, low." Gore aides comparing election officials to Soviet commissars? Paul Begala's red Bush states full of bloody hate crimes? Of course not. "Last Saturday, the Bush campaign trotted out the governor of Montana, the normally mild-mannered Marc Racicot, to make an incendiary charge. 'Last night, we learned how far the vice president's campaign will go win the election,' Racicot said. 'The vice president's lawyers have gone to war in my judgment against the men and women who serve in our armed forces.'" Until the second half of the Racicot quote, it was all in headline-size text. What is this, emphasis for the ballot double-punchers who might have trouble getting started?
Evan and Mike put all the mud in the Bush buckets. "In some ways, the Bush blast was an eerie replay of the governor's primary campaign… Surprised by John McCain in New Hampshire, Bush woke up and waged a bitter, low-road campaign in South Carolina. Last weekend's counterattack on Gore has some of the feel of Bush's ferocious assault on McCain — an all-out attack, usually through surrogates, on the Vietnam War hero's integrity." Bush has a way of "drifting along — and then suddenly, back to the wall, lashing out." Late in the story, when these op-ed writers mention the five-page Gore lawyer's memo instructing how to disenfranchise fighting men and women, they're still obsessing over the "normally so amiable" Racicot, the "hard-edged surrogate."
What about Gore tactics? Evan and Mike suggest their talents are to be admired: "Ever since the election, the Bush forces had seemed outgunned and outsmarted by the Gore campaign." His team was led by "the vice president's flying squad of superlawyers — including Microsoft slayer David Boies and media-friendly constitutionalist Laurence Tribe." They were feisty and populist: "Breakfasting on Krispy Kreme donuts and doing their own typing and Xeroxing, these expert hired guns were trying to extract a Gore victory from the bewildering chaos of Florida's anarchic election system." Notice they don't say Gore lost the first count, and the mandatory recount, and the count of absentee and overseas ballots. They're sympathetic subversives, Krispy Kreme contras.
Then Evan and Mike explain that no one should be in a hurry to resolve this counting thing, since the in-house poll questions helped establish the idea of a long wait. "In the Newsweek poll, only 12 percent characterized the situation in Florida as a 'crisis,' and two thirds said the networks have made the impasse appear like a bigger crisis than it really is."
The "star of the show" was Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Her introduction to Newsweek readers was not exactly polite. "Criticized in the local press for junketing (she spent more than $100,000 on travel her first two years on the job), Harris is known for her ambition and toughness. She was 'passionately interested,' she said in a real ambassadorship — in a new Bush administration." Evan and Mike then dutifully recalled the insults: "Chris Lehane called here a 'hack' and a 'commissar,' Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the battery of Democratic lawyers who descended on Florida, called her a 'crook,' and former Clinton aide Paul Begala said she looked like 'Cruella de Vil coming to steal the puppies.'" These quotes were meant to be enjoyed for their venom, and were never destined for the headline-sized text about "low" blows and "incendiary" charges.
Evan and Mike then stoop to hearsay. One of Harris's advisers is "a powerful lawyer-lobbyist with unusually close ties to Jeb Bush: J. M. 'Mac' Stipanovich, also known as Mac the Knife. After last year's session of the state legislature, Stipanovich, who represents Big Sugar, among other interests, was overheard telling Jeb Bush, 'I got everything. I don't know what the poor people got. But the rich people are happy, and I'm ready to go home.'"
Then for some balance, the Newsweek reporters explain that Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth was also nosing around in a partisan way. They also explained how Palm Beach County Republican counsel Reeve Bright was frustrated by the wimpiness of the Bush campaign in taking on the political activism of county election official Carol Roberts.
But don't despair. In all the battling, "There were a few individuals who seemed to rise above the partisan bickering." Newsweek's nominee for the halo was Palm Beach County judge Jorge Labarga, a Jeb Bush fundraiser who "decided to allow Palm Beach to count the dimpled ballots. Labarga, whose father had fled Castro's Cuba, later said, 'The right to vote to me is as precious as life itself.'" It's so precious that your vote can be pawed, pressed, and interpreted in heavily Democratic counties until Gore wins.
At the end of this sprawling narrative, supplemented by a cast of eight other editorial writers, Evan and Mike return to pushing a peaceful, easy feeling: "Eventually, America will have a new president. He may not have much of a mandate, and some, including foreign friends and foes, may question his legitimacy. But the republic will not fall. In the meantime, Americans were being treated to a heck of a show."
Let's hope these entertained scribes with their fists full of popcorn excuse us from enjoying the spectacle of Gore's "crafty lawyers" as they manipulate the "anarchic" process of overlooking Florida's legal election deadlines. This is not a heck of a show, and Newsweek doesn't qualify as a heck of a "news" magazine.
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