Features

Flapjacks and the flu: Case study in political journalism

National

Issue: "Warner: First things first," Feb. 12, 2000

It seemed like a perfect photo-op: presidential hopefuls flipping pancakes and delivering stump speeches before some 1,000 senior citizens in Manchester, N.H. After a perfect flip and catch by George W. Bush, Gary Bauer took the stage. He tossed his pancake high into the air, took several wobbly steps in an effort to stay under the twirling flapjack-and fell right off the back of the low platform, crashing through the blue curtain that served as a backdrop. He jumped up quickly, with nothing hurt but his image. The fall was replayed endlessly on the evening newscasts. Commentators called it a metaphor for a campaign that was doomed. Indeed, within 72 hours he had called a news conference to make the sad announcement that everyone knew he had to make.

His poor showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire had to do partly with his own missteps. A week before the pancake incident, he made himself a political punchline by taking Alan Keyes to task for jumping into a mosh pit at the University of Iowa-accompanied by the music of Rage Against the Machine. Mr. Keyes first responded that he had no control over the music at the event. But when Mr. Bauer continued to chide him, he simply voiced the frustration of many Republicans who resented Mr. Bauer's lecturing: "Get a life, Gary," he said on CNN.

Still there's no doubt that the liberal media have opposed Mr. Bauer from the start. Press passes to the pancake event were worn like a badge of honor after Mr. Bauer's tumble. "Yeah, I was there," went the typical line. "You should've seen him fall; it was great."

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More conservative papers like the Wall Street Journal opposed his principled stand against relations with China. Smart Money, the monthly personal finance magazine published by the Journal, charged him with hypocrisy for owning $15,000 in Network Solutions stock, simply because the company registered the domain names of various Internet porn sites. But until very recently, Network Solutions registered all domain names on the Internet. The magazine might as well have criticized Gov. Bush for owning IBM stock, since some pornographers use IBM computers to create their web pages.

But no example of liberal bias can rival that of Salon, the internet-based publication. Syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage wrote of trying to infect Mr. Bauer with the flu in order to prevent him from campaigning in New Hampshire. In a visit to the Bauer headquarters in Iowa, Mr. Savage coughed all he could, licked doorknobs, even stuck a pen in his mouth before handing it to the candidate. His reason? He disliked Mr. Bauer's stance against homosexual marriage.

That's the kind of justification that allows many liberal journalists to bend the rules of good reporting when covering a candidate with whom they disagree. Mr. Bauer may be the first victim of that bias in this election year, but he certainly won't be the last.

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