February 3, 2004
Double Standards R Us
by Maureen Farrell
You've got to hand it to Michael Moore. In what appears to be a sequel to last year's Oscars performance, he managed to do what the mainstream media was either unwilling or unable to do -- draw attention to questions concerning our Commander in Chief's credibility and credentials.
"We live in a time when we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons,'' he said last March, to a tidal wave of boos and bad press. But now that weapons inspector David Kay has said that large stockpiles of WMD most likely did not exist in Iraq (confirming Colin Powell's Feb. 2001 disclosure that Saddam Hussein had "not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction"), major newspapers across the country are finally admitting that Kay's verdict "destroys the remaining credibility of this administration's argument for an immediate, pre-emptive war." [EditorandPublisher.com] Welcome to "fictitious reasons" 101.
Most recently, the medias' knickers have been twisted by Moore's depiction of George W. Bush as a "deserter" -- a charge Peter Jennings said was "not supported by the facts." Several Bush apologists have embraced Jennings' line and pounced accordingly. "Wesley Clark has been swept into the conspiracy swamp," one blogger declared. [Instapundit.com] '[Clark's] inability to distance himself from the vile Michael Moore's comments was, to my mind, definitive of his attempt to be all things to all people," Andrew Sullivan wrote.
Partisan punditry aside, Moore brought long-dormant questions regarding Bush's military record back to the forefront, and in the aftermath, had more than 15 million hits on his Web site. [MichaelMoore.com] Appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher, Moore said, "For Peter Jennings to say it was a 'reckless charge,' it's reckless for Peter Jennings and ABC not to investigate this." Amen and pass the remote.
One of the most disturbing aspects in all of this, of course, is the glaring double standard. How often did we hear about Bill Clinton's "draft dodging" versus claims that Bush was AWOL from the National Guard? And when-oh-when did any major media anchor chide anyone, as Jennings did General Clark, for not disavowing anyone making similar remarks about President Clinton?
Paul Waldman, executive editor of the new Internet magazine, The Gadflyer, recently compared the limited media attention Bush's questionable military record received versus the much-publicized charges of Clinton's draft dodging. "If one compares the coverage given in 1992 to Bill Clinton's efforts to avoid Vietnam with that given to Bush's similar situation, the disparity is rather striking," he wrote. Arguing that "during their respective election years, there were nearly 10 press stories about Clinton's efforts to avoid serving in Vietnam for every one story about Bush's efforts to avoid serving in Vietnam," Waldman explained:
As usual, television dropped the ball, with none of the three major networks reporting on the AWOL charges at all.
In Dude, Where's My Country? Michael Moore also addressed the media's questionable (and often creepy) double standard regarding Bush and Clinton. "In case you don't understand just how bizarre the media's silence is regarding the Bush-bin Laden connections," he wrote, "let me draw an analogy to how the press or Congress may have handled something like this if the same shoe had been on the Clinton foot. If, after the terrorist attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, it was revealed that President Bill Clinton and his family had financial dealings with Timothy McVeigh's family, what do you think your Republican Party and the media would have done with that one? Do you think at least a couple of questions might have been asked, like, "What is THAT all about?" Be honest, you know the answer. They would have asked more than a couple of questions. They would have skinned Clinton alive and thrown what was left of his carcass in Gitmo."
Then, too, in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, when the nation's airspace was restricted, the White House allowed airplanes to pick up 140 Saudi VIPS, including members of the bin Laden family. After receiving minimal attention, the story was largely discounted as myth, but when former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke confirmed this post-9/11 Saudi exodus in Vanity Fair, he lent, as World Net Daily put it, "confirmation to reports of the evacuation which first surfaced in September 2001, but have been dispelled as rumor and urban legend." [WorldNetDaily.com]
Once again, what do you suppose the reaction might be if Clinton had ordered Mr. McVeigh's family to be flown out of Dodge?
Moreover, though by now, even houseplants and barn animals realize that U.N. inspectors eventually returned to Iraq, for some reason, the president asserts that Saddam "did not let us in." As Joe Conason recently noted, "This is the second time he has made this weird statement as if Hans Blix and UNMOVIC had never existed, nor conducted the most intrusive weapons inspections ever done in Iraq. (The first time was last July, when Bush said, in the presence of an astonished Kofi Annan: 'And we gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.')" And yet, once again, the media let Bush slide, while obsessing on Howard Dean's scream. What gives?
Of course, the media's double standard during the 2000 election campaign is also legendary. According to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists, forty-two percent of the media's coverage of Al Gore related to how deeply he was tainted by scandal, another thirty-four percent focused on his alleged fibs, while only 14 percent of news coverage addressed his considerable experience. Meanwhile, forty percent of Bush-related news stories focused on positive portrayals of the Texas governor as a "different kind of Republican." [CNN.com]
While it may not be surprising to learn that Rolling Stone determined that "lazy reporting, pack journalism and GOP spin cost [Al Gore] the election," even former Republican Congressman and MSNBC pundit Joe Scarborough took note. "I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore," he said on Hardball in Jan., 2002. "I think they hit him hard on a lot of things like inventing the Internet and some of those other things, and I think there was a generalization they bought into that, if they had done that to a Republican candidate, I'd be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased." [DailyHowler.com]
That bias continued during the lead up to war, with TV viewers being "more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war." [FAIR.org]. And, of course, in what may have set the standard for double standards, MSNBC depicted Michael Savage's hiring as part of its commitment to providing a "wide range of strong, opinionated voices," even as they were firing "tired, left-wing liberal" Phil Donahue. "He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives," an NBC-commissioned study reportedly said, even though at the time, Donahue hosted MSNBC's highest rated show. [FAIR.org] Anti-war? Anti-Bush? Skeptical of the administration's motives? Our watchdog press would have none of it!
"The minority, the ruling class at present, has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb," Albert Einstein wrote. "This enables it to organize and sway the emotions of the masses, and make its tool of them." But chances are, even Einstein didn't envision a tool like Paula Zahn. Though by the fall of 2002, the foreign press was exposing "America's Great Misleader" [Guardian.co.uk] and uncovering ways the White House was "exaggerating [the] Iraqi threat, " [CommonDreams.org] Zahn and other members of the U.S. media fed us a steady diet of government-issued pabulum. This Sept. 2002 interview with Scott Ritter provides a template, of sorts:
Zahn continued to toe the official line when she interviewed Ritter again a few days later:
At one point, Zahn remarked, "People out there are accusing you of drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid." [CNN.com]
Finally, in the aftermath of Kay's "bottom line report," Wolf Blitzer interviewed Ritter. "Do you feel vindicated?" Blitzer asked on Jan. 30, 2004, before unfurling Bush Inc.'s favorite talking points:
Ritter rejected the spin, however. "The president of the United States either lied or misled the American people and I think everybody in the United States has to look themselves in the mirror and say what are we going to do about it?" he said.
Paul Krugman reinforced this view. "[T]he big story isn't about Mr. Bush; it's about what's happening to America," he wrote. "Other presidents would have liked to bully the C.I.A., stonewall investigations and give huge contracts to their friends without oversight. They knew, however, that they couldn't. What has gone wrong with our country that allows this president to get away with such things?"
I certainly don't get it, do you?
"Few have looked at the facts of the family's rise, but just as important, commentators have neglected the thread -- not the mere occasion -- of special interests, biases, scandals (especially those related to arms dealing), and blatant business cronyism. The evidence that accrues over four generations is extraordinarily damning," Kevin Phillips explained in the preface to American Dynasty. "It doesn't help that the major media have tended to use kid gloves with the [Bush] family," Phillips wrote, adding that, "As a former longtime Republican who came of political age during the Nixon years, I take the point about double standards." [AmericanDynasty.net]
Once again, however, while America's media slept, the foreign press was on the case, as American born and bred journalist Greg Palast delved into Bush's military record and other assorted scandals for the BBC. Thanks to Bush's membership in the "lucky sperm club," it seems, George Bush was spared Vietnam duty, made millions on failures, had his AWOL records scrubbed, and had his presidency "signed, sealed and delivered months before anyone entered a voting booth." [InformationClearingHouse.info]
But though the U.S. press has deemed such charges "reckless," just last week, another strange story reemerged, courtesy of the Associated Press. "CBS News reported, meanwhile, that a passport belonging to one of the hijackers, Satam al-Sugami, was found on the street minutes after the plane he was aboard crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center and before the New York landmark collapsed," the AP reported on Jan. 26, 2004. [11Alive.com] Yes, ladies and gentlemen, black boxes didn't survive, bodies didn't survive, but the magic passport lives on!
"To inform the minds of the people and to follow their will is the chief duty of those placed at their head," Thomas Jefferson said. This may just be wishful thinking, but now that the public is awaking from its WMD chant-induced slumber, perhaps in the future, they'll expect nothing less. Given what we've been through in the past three years, maybe, in time, the double standard will be easier to spot. And hopefully, before long, the truth will be, too.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original