Media Culpa


‘Twas the week before Christmas, and from the White House to the Meadowlands, the press opened its stocking to find the usual lump of coal—Santa/Jesus’ payback for ignoring the good news about Iraq and the Jets’ offense.

Explaining why polls show an increasing number of Americans turning against his war, President Bush told a December 20 press conference that it was because TVs beamed back images of terror and carnage from Baghdad. “What they don’t see,” he said, “are the small businesses starting, 15 of the 18 provinces are relatively stable, where progress is being made; life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein. And so there is—there are very hopeful signs.”

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Jet quarterback Chad Pennington was berating his own press corps for abusing the “opportunity to be around some of the greatest athletes in the world.” The steamed signal-caller told reporters, “It’s not your right. It’s a privilege. And it is your job.”

Since the holiday season is the time o’ Top 10 lists and Dickensian rendezvous with ghosts of sins past and present, the critiques from Chad and the prez were well suited to end a year’s worth of press bashing. While everyone from Alan Keyes to Martha Stewart and O.J. Simpson to Japanese crown prince Naruhito took their shots at the working press this year, a few charges stand out—some fair and some far-fetched.

DOWNING DEAN: Many Deaniacs blamed the sudden collapse of ex-gov Howard’s presidential run on the media’s hyping the candidate’s “scream.” But Dean had already lost the Iowa primary when the scream hit the screen. If the media played a role, it was through a more subtle device: raising the “electability” issue. As the first primaries approached and Dean looked set to trounce John Kerry, there was a steady increase in the use of the word, with the clear message that Dean lacked electability, while Kerry had it.

IGNORING GENOCIDE: The media haven’t turned a blind eye to Darfur, where thousands have died: As of late last week, the big three evening newscasts mentioned the area 58 times this year. Of course, Scott Peterson received 84 mentions, and Martha Stewart 232. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post talked about Darfur a combined 689 times, and about Martha some 1,133 times.

HYPING ABU GHRAIB: When photographs emerged of U.S. troops physically and sexually abusing Iraqi inmates, California Republican congressman Duncan Hunter complained that “the news media has given more publicity to seven people than to the invasion of Normandy.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the amount of coverage was harmful. Then, probes found that in addition to the seven, two dozen intelligence officers were implicated and Defense Department brass also bore responsibility.

HATING BUSH: “It doesn’t matter how [Bush] is demonized. It doesn’t matter what the media does to ridicule him or misinterpret him or defeat him,” Rudy Giuliani told the Republican National Convention crowd at MSG in August. “They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan.”

Having long accused the media of liberal bias, conservative watchdogs detected what they said were hundreds of slights to Bush during the campaign. The grand prize, of course, went to the CBS News story that questioned Dubya’s National Guard service—based on memos that were soon deemed forgeries.

Surveys showed that reporters favored Kerry by a substantial margin. But those same reporters banged out hundreds of articles adopting Karl Rove’s dream description of Kerry as a “flip-flopper,” and the damaging assertions that Kerry was too “stiff,” too “wood-en” and having trouble “connecting with voters.”

SUNNY IRAQ: Only a few days after Baghdad fell and the U.S. occupation began, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in April 2003 was already faulting the media for being party poopers. “The papers that constantly, you know, blare big headlines of, ‘Henny Penny: The Sky Is Falling,’ ‘It’s Just Terrible,’ ‘Isn’t It Awful’—one thing and another—at some point, people stop reading those things and make their own judgments,” Rumsfeld chuckled. Even when the sky did begin falling this year in Najaf and Falluja, Rumsfeld, Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, and Ayad Allawi kept insisting, “Lighten up, fellas.” “Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying,” Allawi said when he visited the White House in September. “Although this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact.” Since then, at least 277 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.

STOP THE PRESS: “For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.” So said Georgia senator Zell Miller, the Democrat who played keynote speaker at the GOP convention. The crowd at MSG loved it. Unfortunately for journalists killed while doing their jobs this year, what Miller said is not entirely true. Some journos sacrifice as much as soldiers.

This year, 55 of them did, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists ( Manik Saha, Humayun Kabir, Kamal Hossain, José Carlos Araújo, Juan Emilio Andújar Matos, Deyda Hydara, Ricardo Ortega, Asiya Jeelani, Veeraboina Yadagiri, Duraid Isa Mohammed, Safir Nader, Abdel Sattar Abdel Karim, Ayoub Mohamed, Haymin Mohamed Salih, Gharib Mohamed Salih, Semko Karim Mohyideen, Nadia Nasrat, Ali Abdel Aziz, Ali al-Khatib, Burhan Mohamed Mazhour, Asaad Kadhim, Waldemar Milewicz, Mounir Bouamrane, Rashid Hamid Wali, Shinsuke Hashida, Kotaro Ogawa, Mahmoud Hamid Abbas, Enzo Baldoni, Mazen al-Tumeizi, Karam Hussein, Dina Mohammed Hassan, Dhia Najim, Mohamed Abu Halima, Antoine Massé, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, Francisco Arratia Saldierna, Dekendra Raj Thapa, María José Bravo, Carlos José Guadamuz, Sajid Tanoli, Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, Ruel Endrinal, Eliseo Binoya, Rogelio Mariano, Arnel Manalo, Romeo Binungcal, Eldy Sablas, Gene Boyd Lumawag, Herson Hinolan, Adlan Khasanov, Paul Klebnikov, Simon Cumbers, Dusko Jovanovic, Aiyathurai Nadesan, and Bala Nadarajah Iyer.