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Still Liberal, Still Biased
How Big Media Helped the Left and Hurt the Right in 2003

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By Tim Graham and Rich Noyes
January 2004
Section 4 of 6


Media Suggest Sixteen Words Undermined Entire Iraq War: The White House acknowledged in July that President Bush had overreached in his State of the Union address when he cited a British report that Iraq had sought enriched uranium in Africa. Those 16 words: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Some of the documents that supported such a conclusion turned out to be forgeries, and administration officials regretted that Bush overreached. But the media also overreached in concluding that this sentence qualified as a “vital argument” for the war.

Democrats See a Liberal Media     “There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made,” the White House said in a statement quoted in the July 8 editions of the New York Times.

     But reporting that same night on the White House’s admission, ABC and NBC themselves overreached in broadly asserting that the concession undermined a “vital argument” for the war against Saddam Hussein. Over the next few days, the media perpetuated a self-fulfilling storyline, that the Bush administration was “being pressed to defend” its case for war, even as the press did most of the pressing.

     “On World News Tonight,” Peter Jennings teased at the top of his July 8 broadcast, “the Bush administration admits that a vital argument for going to war against Iraq was not true.” At the same time, NBC’s Tom Brokaw announced: “Coming clean. The White House admits for the first time the President’s State of the Union claim about Iraq’s nuclear program might in fact be wrong.”

     The day Senator Edward Kennedy questioned whether the war was “based on deliberate deception or outright lies,” Jennings expressed disappointment in what he saw as Democrats holding back their attacks, and rued how the public’s support of Bush limited the damage he might suffer: “Under certain circumstances this admission by the administration might have serious political consequences, but this is a popular President.”

     But as David Martin pointed out on the July 8 CBS Evening News, while the specific example Bush cited may have been faulty, that did not mean that the Iraqis were not cheating: “Both [Colin] Powell and the CIA believed then and believe now there is plenty of other evidence to show Saddam was still pursuing a nuclear weapon.”

     Martin reminded viewers: “An Iraqi scientist has led the CIA to his rose garden where twelve years ago he buried the plans and some of the parts needed to make bomb-grade uranium, convincing evidence Saddam intended to revive his nuclear weapons program.”

     Other reporters refused to let the Bush-bashing moment pass so easily. On July 9, Jennings topped his newscast with the media’s questioning of the President: “On World News Tonight, the Bush administration is obliged again to defend its case for war in Iraq — from Africa to Capitol Hill....Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with the Bush administration’s credibility. Today in Europe and Africa and in the Congress, the administration is being pressed to defend its public justification for going to war in Iraq.”

     On July 10, the CBS Evening News hyped a report that substitute anchor John Roberts suggested proved Bush’s mendacity: “President Bush’s false claim about Iraqi weapons. He made it despite a CIA warning the intelligence was bad.” CBS’s own Web site took the irresponsible accusation even further: “Bush Knew Iraq Info Was False,” declared the headline over a posting on In the actual story, CBS’s David Martin reported something far short of the “Bush knew” claim or that the CIA said “the intelligence was bad.”

     But most journalists weren’t hunting for nuance. On Friday, July 11, NBC’s Brian Williams kept up the drumbeat as he led off the Nightly News by smarmily linking the error with America’s war dead: “It was just one sentence in a long State of the Union speech that the President delivered in January. But it was a major accusation, one part of the President’s case for possible war with Iraq. The facts have turned out differently. The accusation was wrong. And now, with 148,000 Americans on the ground there, with over 200 dead and over a thousand wounded, the questions for this White House are heating up.”

     Over on ABC, Jennings was peddling a poll which reflected how effectively the media had spun the issue: “An ABC News/Washington Post poll which has just been finished, finds that 52 percent of Americans, a majority for the first time, find the level of U.S. casualties in Iraq unacceptable. And 50 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration in arguing for the war intentionally exaggerated the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

President Bush on cover of Time magazine     That weekend, Time put a photo of Bush delivering his State of the Union speech on the cover with the condemnatory headline, ”UNtruth & Consequences.” On Saturday’s World News Tonight, ABC anchor Claire Shipman declared: “The firestorm over false intelligence that President Bush used to help justify war in Iraq is intensifying.” The next day, July 13 CBS’s John Roberts announced: “The White House tried to lay to rest today the swirl of controversy over whether it knowingly put dubious intelligence into this year’s State of the Union address....But as Joie Chen reports, the issue refuses to go away.”

     “The issue refuses to go away”? Or the media refused to let it go?

Media Make “Centrist” Dean the Latest Craze: By mid-summer, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s campaign was on fire in the media. As Dean’s trial balloon swiftly rose, reporters acknowledged his heightened chances by avoiding or rebutting the idea that he was liberal, let alone ultra-liberal.

     As the year began, Howard Dean’s presidential campaign was seen as a left-wing lark, an implausible dark-horse candidacy. In January, the New York Times asked: “Why should anyone take him seriously?” He appeared to be what political reporters call “out of the mainstream.” Dean told abortion advocates that partial-birth abortion was “an issue about nothing. It’s an issue about [pro-life] extremism.” In Vermont, Dean signed a bill in 2000 installing “civil unions” for gay men and lesbians. He proposed repealing the Bush tax cuts to fund more socialized-medicine schemes like Hillary Clinton’s. Most dramatically, he opposed military action against Saddam Hussein, saying on the April day Baghdad was liberated, “I suppose that’s a good thing.”

     But Dean’s Vermont record was regularly promoted as moderate. CBS Early Show co-host Hannah Storm told Dean: “You have opposed the war on Iraq. You oppose the President’s tax-cut package, and yet you are [sic] a centrist governor.” On ABC’s This Week July 6, reporter Michel Martin replied to Paul Gigot‘s insistence that Dean was driving the other contenders left by claiming, “The irony being, of course, that he wasn’t a terribly liberal governor. He was, in fact, a moderate.”

     This same pattern extended to national newspapers and magazines. A July 6 front-page Washington Post profile by Evelyn Nieves was headlined “Short-Fused Populist, Breathing Fire at Bush.” The word “liberal” did not appear until three-fourths the way into the story, and then only in a quote of denial: “‘His being called a liberal is one of the great white lies of the campaign,’ said Tom Salmon, a fellow Democrat and governor of Vermont for two terms during the Nixon-Ford era. ‘He’s a rock-solid fiscal conservative.’” Nieves allowed Dean to deny the tag. “‘I think it’s pathetic that I’m considered the left-wing liberal,’ Dean said.”

     Time magazine suggested Dean’s supporters aren’t ideological, just “a seam of online middle-class resentment...made up of passionate and often disgruntled believers.” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman wouldn’t describe Dean as liberal, but he did pronounce him a sage: “As an early foe of war in Iraq, he made acerbic comments that now look prescient.”

     When Dean hit the big time in early August —with cover stories in Time and Newsweek and a major inside spread in U.S. News & World Report —he was introduced as a centrist. Time’s John Cloud insisted “he is a rock-ribbed budget hawk, a moderate on gays and guns, and a true lefty on only a few issues, primarily the use of U.S. military power.” Cloud also asked: “So is he a liberal, a conservative, or something in between? The answer is, all of the above.” Dean’s plan to create universal socialized medicine is “modest by Democratic standards.” Dean’s civil-unions law was somehow “a moderate compromise.”

     Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter tried an old trope: “The old labels are increasingly useless. Dean, for instance, is hardly an old-fashioned big-spending liberal. As governor from 1991 to 2002, he repeatedly balanced the budget, though Vermont is the only state that doesn’t require him to do so by law.” Alter explained, he “developed a reputation as a centrist.” Alter added that in Vermont, “Dean focused on fiscal responsibility” and unbelievably, considering the “civil unions” bill, suggested “On social issues, he resisted most liberal blandishments.” In a related Web chat, Alter aggressively defended Dean: “On fiscal issues, he’s far to the right of [Ted] Kennedy.”

     U.S. News political writer Roger Simon located those who “find Dean’s style invigorating,” including self-declared Republican Joe Mathews, who says he’ll vote for Dean “because he admires the fiscal conservatism Dean displayed in 11 years as governor. Matthews added: “ Dean is not particularly left wing. And as far as checkbook issues, he is to the right of George Bush, because if it isn’t in the bank, Dean doesn’t spend it.”

     Media outlets did not balance the “rock-solid fiscal conservative” angle with the the report from the Cato Institute’s annual report card on state fiscal performances. Cato gave Governor Dean a “D” for fiscal matters in 2002. They noted: “He supports state-funded universal health care, generous state subsidies for child care, a higher minimum wage, liberal family leave legislation, and taxpayer-financed campaigns....After 12 years of Dean’s so-called ‘fiscal conservatism,’ Vermont remains one of the highest taxing and spending states.”

     Reporters wishfully confused a balanced budget — which could entail massive government spending, balanced by massive taxation — with the word “conservatism,” which should be defined as a preference for small and limited government, or at the very least static spending levels.



Presenting Gay Bishop as a Courageous Pioneer: Religion is hardly a favorite topic for a largely secular media elite, especially news from within the potpourri of Protestant denominations — unless the topic is sexual. In August, U.S. Episcopal Church leaders voted to accept the election of an openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

Saint Gene     True to the secular liberal vision that making homosexuals part of the Christian clergy is merely the latest “civil rights” barrier to be broken by a courageous pioneer, Canon Robinson was the center of televised attention. A head count of guests included ten from the Robinson camp, one opponent, and one official spokesman for the Episcopal Church USA.

     Between them, the networks’ daily and Sunday morning programs gave Canon Robinson six unopposed interviews to promote his gay-left platform. NBC’s Today gave Robinson four interviews (June 10, August 4, August 6, and November 4, the last one featuring his partner Mark Andrew and his delighted daughter Ella). ABC’s programs had two (the August 6 Good Morning America and the October 26 This Week with George Stephanopoulos), and CBS’s The Early Show had one (also August 6).

     Only two segments featured opposing sides. On August 5, NBC’s Today featured two other Episcopal bishops — Robinson supporter M. Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts and Robinson opponent Edward Salmon of South Carolina. On the same day, ABC’s Good Morning America featured Rev. Susan Russell, a Robinson supporter, and Daniel England, a church spokesman, who didn’t oppose Robinson, but neutrally explained church procedures. Both of these interviews came on a morning when Robinson was being investigated briefly for inappropriate touching, charges the church dismissed.

     Not only did Robinson and his partisans get the lion’s share of interviews, CBS and NBC never described Robinson’s partisans as liberals, while reporters regularly tagged his opponents as “conservative.” On the August 6 World News Tonight, substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas framed the two sides as being either “inclusive” or “conservative.” She relayed: “Some conservative Episcopalians say homosexuality is contrary to scripture and therefore totally unacceptable. But supporters of the decision call this a step toward a more open and inclusive church.”

     The same insistence upon labeling only one side of the debate occurred earlier that day on the morning shows:

  • ABC’s Good Morning America. Claire Shipman: “After weeks of lobbying and controversy, the Episcopal Church has elected its first openly gay bishop, and some conservatives are threatening to leave the church rather than accept the Reverend Gene Robinson.

  • CBS’s The Early Show. Cynthia Bowers: “The vote was close and, as anticipated, a group of conservative bishops walked out saying they cannot abide by this decision.” 

  • On NBC’s Today. Ann Curry pounded home the imbalance: “ Shockwaves from the vote are deeply dividing the Church with conservative, conservatives, rather, saying their grief is quote, ‘too deep for words.’ NBC’s Jim Avila reports.”

     Later that morning, Curry did it again: “Conservative members had threatened to leave the Church if Robinson was elected. Well, earlier on Today, Matt asked Bishop-elect Gene Robinson about that rift....But conservative bishops unhappy about last night’s vote are asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene.” She repeated in another news update: “Conservative bishops who oppose the confirmation are now asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene. Robinson was elected after being cleared of last minute allegations of sexual misconduct.”

     On ABC, Tamala Edwards did use the L word in two stories. On the August 3 World News Tonight/Sunday, Edwards reported “Conservatives argue that most Episcopalians, who are part of the world’s 75 million Anglicans, believe the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as a sin....A split could cause the church to lose members and influence around the world. Church liberals are hopeful they will win, and that the church will stay united.” On the next night, as the charges against Robinson surfaced, Edwards concluded: “Now, no matter how this turns out, it appears the dividing lines have grown only deeper between church liberals and conservatives.”

     The most interesting double standard that emerged in the Robinson story comes from his encounters with God’s will. Over the years, reporters have mocked religious-right figures like Pat Robertson for describing how God sent them a message — as in Robertson’s declaration that God told him President Bush will be easily re-elected. But Canon Robinson can say God is guiding him, and liberal media figures don’t blink.

     On CBS’s Early Show, Robinson declared, “I felt this calling from God for a long time, and now I have been honored by being called by the people of New Hampshire to the office of bishop.” He later added: “I do believe that God is doing a new thing in the world, both in the — in the culture and in the church. And I think this is but a momentary blip on an ever-increasing inclusiveness in the society, and an acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full members of society and full members of the church, including its leadership.”

     When God is seen as embracing the progressive view, His presence is somehow never in doubt.

TV Presents Environmentalists as Nonpartisan Truthtellers: When the Bush administration changed an EPA rule to let older power plants undertake some beneficial modernization without having to install complete air scrubbing devices as required by the Clean Air Act, the networks all emphasized the denunciations of liberal environmentalists. On August 27, CBS’s Wyatt Andrews gave the left-wing Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke a forum to attack the President’s policies, and Walke relished the moment.

     “Today is the worst assault on clean air and the biggest enforcement scandal ever to rock EPA,” he declared.

     “Ever?” Andrews helpfully asked.

     “Ever,” Walke continued. “A gaping loophole has been carved out of that program and the public will suffer.”

     Walke showed up on NBC, too, where correspondent Robert Hager broadcast his claim that “this action will result in hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, bronchitis attacks, heart disease, strokes and heart attacks among senior citizens, as well as Americans dying early from air pollution.”

     In fact, the old EPA rule discouraged plants from introducing some less-polluting new equipment because any plant that did so was obligated to completely revamp its entire systems. Therefore, by making modernization easier and less expensive, the Bush action would result in less pollution-related disease, not more.

     But the media took their cue from Bush’s liberal opponents. On August 31, CBS revisited the issue on Sunday Morning. After showing Bush stating his goal of protecting the environment, reporter Jerry Bowen undermined the President: “As he spoke, Mr. Bush had already rejected the Kyoto Treaty for controlling global warming, had weakened levels on arsenic in drinking water before reversing the decision under public pressure. He would try and fail to open ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling to meet America’s energy needs.”

     The networks’ generosity towards left-wing environmental activists echoed another media-hyped flap that occurred in June, when ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN and NBC all treated the changing of a sentence in an upcoming EPA report, which few ever heard of and fewer ever would have read, as a major scandal worthy of full stories on their evening newscasts. The network stories all presented liberal stand on global warming as sacrosanct, and implied that only those who challenged it were playing politics.

     On June 19 the New York Times ran a politically-loaded front page story by Andrew C. Revkin with Katharine Q. Seelye, based on internal documents fed to them by a disgruntled bureaucrat. Their lead sentence: “The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.”

     According to the Times, environmentalists were mad that a sentence in the EPA report which read, “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment,” was replaced with,“the complexity of the earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change and diagnose causes,” a perfectly reasonable summary of why scientists continue to disagree about the causes and severity of any warming.

     Networks committed to balanced environmental coverage would have interviewed one or more of the many respected scientists who dissent from the liberal line on global warming. But that night, all of the networks except the Fox News Channel sided with activists and treated the shift in EPA language as a major scandal. Aside from CNBC’s Forrest Sawyer, none of the networks questioned the assumptions of environmentalists, and all of them excluded scientists who disagree with the liberal global warming line.

     CNN’s Aaron Brown even attempted an historical analogy to show how Bush’s EPA was trying to punish unpopular but correct scientific dissidents. “Once upon a time,” Brown told his NewsNight audience on June 19, “a scientist named Galileo said the Earth was round, and the political leaders of the time said, ‘No, no, Galileo it’s flat,’ and Galileo got life under house arrest for his little theory. Today, the vast majority of scientists will tell you the Earth is getting warmer and most would agree that industry is at least in part to blame. So far nobody’s gone to jail for saying that, which doesn’t mean the idea isn’t squarely at the center of a political dust up — and not an insignificant one at that because, if the charges leveled against the White House are true, an important environmental question is being twisted or ignored for the sake of politics.”

     But Brown’s analogy fell flat on two accounts. First, Galileo’s true heirs in this debate are climatologists such as Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer, who challenge the left-wing orthodoxy that global warming is largely man-made, extremely dangerous, and can only be cured by a massive curtailment of modern industry.

     Second, Galileo was born long after Magellan sailed completely around the globe, demolishing once and for all the idea that the world was flat. Galileo was actually punished by the Catholic Church for saying the Earth revolves around the sun. CNN viewers have yet to hear Brown’s correction.



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