Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.


May 5, 1995 Friday, Final Chaser


LENGTH: 803 words


BYLINE: TONY SNOW, Creators Syndicate


Once upon a time, reporters cultivated an appearance of unmannered ferocity and took up cudgels against anybody who dared to sissify public discourse. But then, the Republicans showed up.

The November elections stripped the Washington press corps of its best sources and friends - leaving many scribes confused and bereft. As a result, a fair amount of reporting about the new Congress reads like Sir Henry Morton Stanley lecturing the natives about their manners.

According to a study just released by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, post-election coverage of Republicans and conservative issues has been overwhelmingly negative.

Scions of the media elite turned up their noses at welfare reform, for instance. The major television networks gave it positive reviews only 27 percent of the time, as did The New York Times. The Washington Post turned its thumbs up in only 23 percent of its stories.

The same trends hold for other key elements of the GOP agenda. Term limits, the balanced budget amendment, tax cuts, spending cuts and deregulation got panned universally - although The New York Times smiled upon the line-item veto and The Washington Post approved of legal reform.

The data also show that House Speaker Newt Gingrich could make a case that the press has subjected him to what college professors call "hate speech." He received favorable treatment in only 9 percent of The New York Times reportage, 31 percent of the television coverage and 34 percent of The Washington Post evaluations. Bob Dole fared about the same.

It was thus inevitable that some scrivener would ask the speaker whether conservative rhetoric inspired the slaughter of innocents in Oklahoma City. Newsday's Sol Friedman asked the question, which Gingrich called "grotesque and offensive."

Friedman snapped back, "I'm not so sure they feel that way. They've been singled out as 'bureaucrats' as if they didn't have private lives."

Democrats have tried to use the Oklahoma tragedy as a vehicle for repealing the November elections and portraying conservatives as corn-fed Nazis, and friendly journalists have done their part to promote this vigilante version of political correctness.

Carl Rowan detected in the blast the handiwork of America's ragin' Caucasians. The editors of The New York Times likened leaders of the new Congress to the segregation-era versions of George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Ross Barnett. (In other words, Republicans are racists.) Al Hunt, E.J. Dionne and David Broder all rejected Bill Clinton's linkage between talk radio and Timothy McVeigh, yet hastily added the word "but" to insinuate that the peppery Republicans, in fact, have cut loose a plague of violence.

This view doesn't reflect deliberate bias as much as cluelessness. Washington-based reporters distrust Gingrich because they regard small-government activism as a form of nastiness rather than an attempt to recover virtue. What the president and the mainstream press consider "radical," most folks consider normal. Eight of every nine respondents to a Gallup poll last week saw no Republican culpability for the events in Oklahoma City, for instance, while 40 percent expressed a very strong fear of big government.

Journalists don't look at the world that way. They generally like big government because it likes them. Warren Brookes described the relationship several years ago. "The more the government intervenes in our lives and our economy," he explained, "the more crises, controversies and mayhem there are to report and analyze." It's a snap to cover such stories because all the sources work in one place.

The bombing coverage also exposes a widely held belief that humans get tossed about by history's tides and thus don't have complete responsibility for their destinies. Few reporters have drawn the obvious conclusion that the people who concocted the bombing are evil and crazy. Instead, papers have gone searching for grand villains - Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, malevolent survivalists and angry white males.

Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs notes that the press seems to reserve its sternest judgment for right-wingers. "If you go from Gingrich to militias to Oklahoma City, then you have to go from Al Gore to Earth First to the Unabomber, who describes himself as a radical environmentalist."

The recent demand for bland public discourse reflects some pundits' natural impulse to protect old friends and send off new ideas. But this, too, shall pass: Reporters care more about stories than ideology. Before long, the mainstream press will cozy up to the new establishment, write more conservative pieces - and give liberals reason to agree that a heated debate isn't necessarily a call to civil war.