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Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2004 / 2 Adar, 5764

Dennis Byrne

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When the public overrules the kingmakers | Probably the most astute remark of this political season came from Gwen Ifill, senior correspondent for PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." Commenting on Howard Dean's fall from front-runner to also-ran in the Democratic presidential primaries, Ifill said: "He was going great guns right until the voters got involved."

True, true. But why was he going great guns before a single vote was taken? How did he get anointed? If not the voters, who made him the front-runner in the first place?

You know the answer — "the media." "The Note," an irreverent online ramble by the ABC News political unit, may have best explained why. In a Feb. 10 posting, it said the Washington and political press corps operate with a heavy load of biases, including "a near-universal shared sense that liberal political positions on social issues like gun control, homosexuality, abortion, and religion are the default, while more conservative positions are `conservative positions.'

"They include a belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation's problems; that more taxes on corporations and the wealthy are good ways to cut the deficit and raise money for social spending and don't have a negative effect on economic growth; and that emotional examples of suffering (provided by unions or consumer groups) are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories.

"The press, by and large, does not accept President Bush's justifications for the Iraq war — in any of its WMD [weapons of mass destruction], imminent threat, or evildoer formulations. It does not understand how educated, sensible people could possibly be wary of multilateral institutions or friendly, sophisticated European allies. It does not accept the proposition that the Bush tax cuts helped the economy by stimulating summer spending. It remains fixated on the unemployment rate." And this: "The worldview of the dominant media can be seen in every frame of video and every print word choice that is currently being produced about the presidential race."

That's a heck of an admission from a part of the "dominant" media. So, Dean, an unabashed left-winger, was a media darling, reflecting their "worldview." His withdrawal prompted an outpouring of media regrets about how he put "some backbone into the Democratic Party," and gave Democrats their "voice" and "soul." Not the kind of misty analysis you get when, say, Pat Buchanan hangs up his presidential aspirations.

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As if to prove the ABC political team right, NBC's Tom Brokaw last week opened his nightly newscast with an overwrought piece on the flap over the unrealistically optimistic jobs forecast from President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. While some might have thought that the Wisconsin primary story was the day's leading event, NBC let fly with a long story on the predictive inaccuracies of an academic exercise by a bunch of economists. Lacing its report with pejoratives, NBC portrayed the story as a setback for the administration (which was "rapidly backpedaling") and horribly damaging ("raising troubling questions"). On cue, NBC went to a shot of a Bush critic from a liberal think tank, the "non-partisan" Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, whose Web site posting on the story looked suspiciously like the NBC report. Missing was the balance of an opinion from a conservative think tank, which might have lent at least some dressing of objectivity to the report. But NBC doesn't want to dilute its "alarming" or "disturbing" (adjectives it regularly trots out to introduce its stories) story by pointing out, for example, that American jobs are at an all-time high and unemployment is steadily declining.

In their efforts to nail Bush for anything, many in the media are missing a historic story. In his new book, "Surprise, Security and the American Experience," Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis said only three Americans have created a grand strategy that has had a lasting and historic impact. He says they are presidents John Quincy Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George W. Bush.

Gaddis asserts that Bush underwent "one of the most surprising transformations of an underrated national leader since Prince Hal became Henry V" by adopting core principles of pre-emptive war, unilateralism and American hegemony. To that, I would add that domestically Bush also is pushing forward global economic citizenship and free trade on the daring premise that it is good for the U.S. economy and American workers. In response and with little challenge from the media, Democrats offer no alternative grand strategy, except to crawl into a spider hole of "multinationalism" (today's politically correct variant of isolationism), reactive (as opposed to pro-active) security policies and higher walls of "protective" tariffs. This may be the most important election in a half century, but the "dominant" media, blinded by their myopic biases, may be missing the bigger picture.

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JWR contributor Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and public affairs consultant. Comment by clicking here.

04/01/03: Getting zero credit on fighting a war

© 2004, Dennis Byrne