Jewish World ReviewAugust 1, 2000 / 29Tamuz, 5760
If you believe the hype, Cheney, a Washington fixture since the Ford administration, is slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun. When Bush selected Cheney as his running mate this week, the press harped on the former Defense Secretary's "extremely conservative" record, with Bryant Gumbel citing Cheney's "hard right politics."
Cheney, who as a Wyoming Congressman voted against mandatory busing and federally-subsidized abortion, is undoubtedly conservative. But given the media's remarkable inability (or refusal) to properly label liberals as liberals, their fixation on Cheney's "hard right" credentials reflects an unfortunate double standard. It's a safe bet that even if Gore taps a McGovernite for vice president, the press won't call him "liberal" Usually, George McGovern himself isn’t called liberal, merely "counter-conventional."
In the media lexicon, only conservatives are ideological. Everyone else is just working for the greater good—i.e., protecting women and children from Right-wing meanies. Skewed labels allow reporters (intentionally or not) to color the debate. The rabidly feminist National Organization for Women is almost never called "liberal". But their ideological counterparts, such as Concerned Women for America, usually get tagged "conservative."
Of course, the subtle message is that NOW speaks for women; CWA only for "conservatives." In fact, both groups swear they speak for women. With just one simple label, the media chooses sides while still maintaining an objective façade.
The curious world view in which only conservatives are political hints an earlier era when liberalism—as critic Lionel Trilling argued—was America’s dominant ideology. Conservatives, at least in the liberal imagination, were either bigots or buffoons.
In the current presidential campaign the media's ideological blinders are most obvious in their coverage of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. A self-described progressive, Nader has lobbied for big government since the 1960s. But each year you can literally count on your hand the number of stories in major papers which refer to him as a liberal.
When Judy Muller recently profiled Nader for ABC news, she cast Nader him as a non-ideological pragmatist. "Nader says it's important to talk about issues he believes are ignored by the two major parties: jobs going overseas, campaign finance reform, the environment."
But by what means, however, does he aim to tackle these "issues?" More government or less? It's a safe bet that news stories on the upcoming GOP convention in Philadelphia will obsess about how the once great party of Lincoln now rests in the clutches of the "religious right."
At the Democratic convention in Los Angeles next month, expect yet another fire and brimstone speech from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Remember how he compared Dan Quayle to King Herod at the 1992 Democratic convention (held just weeks after the GOP's notorious festival of hate in Houston)?
What is up for this year? Dick Cheney as Pharoh? Jackson has lashed into Cheney the day after Bush made his selection. Jackson told his flock to take heed of Cheney's true colors: "Jesus warned us to be aware of wolves in sheep clothing…Dick Cheney [as congressmen] voted against Head Start, he voted against equal rights for women, he voted against sanctions against South Africa," And so on. The good minister's "progressive" politics are in many respects the party's dominant ethos. But don't expect to hear much from the press regarding how the Democrats were captured by the "religious left." And don't expect any reporter to actually lump Jackson with the "religious left." According to the media, the only politically active clerics are conservative.
Don't expect that to change. Unless, of course, the press becomes the new focal point for one of
consumer advocate Ralph Nader's favorite crusades: truth in
07/12/00: Geraldo's Food for Thought