Journalistic Hysteria, Year 19

Each year for the past 19, I’ve served as a judge for the Media Research Center’s awards for the year’s worst journalistic outbursts. The winners will be announced later this month, and on my ballot MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift are two of the leading candidates.

Olbermann said on Sept. 11, at the site of the World Trade Center, "Who has left this hole in the ground? We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have. May this country forgive you." On Oct. 18 he announced that the Bush administration is "more dangerous to our liberty than is the enemy it claims to protect us from."

Clift, declaring on April 7 that "There’s nothing this administration won’t do under the guise of battling terrorism," called for Americans to "stop Bush’s imperial expansion of power." But Clift on July 15 said Russia’s Vladimir Putin has "a commanding popularity among his own people, because he is perceived to be an effective dictator. What we have in this country is a dictator who’s ineffective."

Imperialism and dictators: Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein wrote on Jan. 24, "I don’t support our troops. When you volunteer for the U.S. military you’re willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism." CNN’s Jack Cafferty on May 11 said that Senate Judiciary Committee head Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who had criticized the Bush administration, "might be all that’s standing between us and a full-blown dictatorship in this country."

Children are starving in North Korea because of a real dictator, but ABC’s Diane Sawyer, reporting from a school there on Oct. 19, said, "It is a world away from the unruly individualism of any American school. Ask them about their country, and they can’t say enough." The clip showed a North Korean girl saying, in English, "We are the happiest children in the world."

Later, Sawyer said to the class: "You know ‘The Sound of Music’?" Children’s voices chorused, "Yes." Sawyer then sang with the class: "Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden son." Anchor Charles Gibson intoned, "A fascinating glimpse of North Korea."

On the lighter side, former "Today" show host Bryant Gumbel on Feb. 7 attacked the Winter Olympics: "Don’t like ‘em and won’t watch ‘em. In fact, I figure when Thomas Paine said, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’ he must have been talking about the start of another Winter Olympics. Because they’re so trying." NBC movie critic Gene Shalit reviewed on March 29 the cartoon movie "Ice Age: The Meltdown": "Think global warming isn’t real? Ask Manny the Mammoth, Diego the Tiger or Sid the Sloth."

The good news late in the year was that a messiah cometh. Time’s Joe Klein wrote on Oct. 23 that Barack Obama "seemed the political equivalent of a rainbow — a sudden preternatural event inspiring awe and ecstasy. He transcends the racial divide so effortlessly that it seems reasonable to expect that he can bridge all the other divisions — and answer all the impossible questions — plaguing American public life." ABC’s Terry Moran said on Nov. 6 about Barack Obama, "You can see it in the crowds. The thrill, the hope. Is he the one?"

Are such reports rare? Sadly, no, but the good news is that a few journalists from liberal environs show guts by reporting the bias. Former Washington Post reporter Tom Edsall on Sept. 21 said the proportion of Democrats to Republicans in "mainstream media" is "probably in the range of 15 to 25:1 Democrat. There is a real difficulty on the part of the mainstream media being sympathetic, or empathetic, to the kind of thinking that goes into conservative approaches to issues. I think the religious right has been treated as sort of an alien world."

Even ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin on Oct. 30 acknowledged that the dominance of the left in journalism "tilts the coverage quite frequently, in many issues, in a liberal direction. It’s an endemic problem."

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