WORLD has been trying to raise its profile in Washington, D.C. With our Feb. 19 issue we succeeded, although some of the publicity was not entirely desirable.
WORLD signed a contract in January to have issues distributed by messenger each Monday morning for 40 straight weeks to the offices of the capital's media and political bigshots. Our Super Bowl cover story was the first to be sent around, but the Washington press corps did not pay attention because the Washington Redskins were not in the game. Our "McCain craze" cover was the second, and it raised a ruckus.
New York Times veteran columnist William Safire, a McCain fan, read our story. He apparently had never seen WORLD before and was evidently unaware of our tendency to bring up subjects-in this case, the McCain downside-that the liberal press ignores.
Mr. Safire examined our masthead and saw two names that further infuriated him: Bob Jones IV and Marvin Olasky. He correctly identified Bob as the son of Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University. My name also bothered columnist Safire because he saw me as (to quote his colorful words) "the revered intellectual guru of Bush and an author of 'compassionate conservatism.'" For Mr. Safire, everything clicked into place.
He wrote a column suggesting that the sudden (to him) appearance of WORLD showed that a vast right-wing Bush/WORLD/Bob Jones conspiracy was making mischief. Since The New York Times is influential and the Safire column is syndicated, his paranoia gained a broad audience and WORLD suddenly had new enemies (and also new fans).
Ironically, just the week before Mr. Safire had written a column about Hillary Clinton's conspiracy fears and noted, "Vast-conspiracy theorists need not be encumbered by facts." Here are five facts that did not encumber Mr. Safire:
- Fact 1: Bob Jones IV is a super-smart 33-year-old with a master's degree in history from Notre Dame and a mind of his own. For example, in the April 25, 1998, WORLD Bob stressed the importance of racial reconciliation.
- Fact 2: On Oct. 2, 1999, I informed WORLD readers that, since I had been advising a candidate, I was recusing myself from supervising or editing presidential campaign coverage. (My involvement with Gov. Bush has been occasional since 1993 and purely volunteer, with an emphasis on public policy ways to help Bible-based anti-poverty groups.) Here's an example of how our policy works out in practice: I read our McCain cover story for the first time after it already was published.
- Fact 3: As opposed to being a Bush organ, WORLD had favorable profiles last year of Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, and other candidates. (Like many of our readers, I particularly relish Mr. Keyes.) We did not profile Gov. Bush because, ironically, Bob Jones IV requested but did not receive interview time with him, and I did not want to use any influence I might have to intervene.
- Fact 4: WORLD has criticized Gov. Bush several times and pushed him particularly on abortion, as readers who use our website's search engine can see.
- Fact 5: Mr. Safire wrote, concerning the issue of WORLD he received, that "this was the one issue that would be sent gratis" to key Washington players. He had already been informed that this was not true, and that we have the documents to show that our plan is long-term, but he did not let facts get in the way of his story. The Safire conspiracy theory has no basis.
Are his complaints about our hard-hitting coverage valid? The Bible tells us to look at the whole person and not just go by words. Last year I came out with a book, The American Leadership Tradition, that showed the importance of personal lives and beliefs to successful presidencies.
And listen to this poignant cry offered by journalist Chris Matthews two years ago on his CNBC show, Hardball: "We, 49 percent of us at least, bought this box of cereal called Bill Clinton. Inside some of us expected to find, perhaps, one of those little plastic toys slipped in between the box and the wax paper. Instead, we opened the box one winter day this year to find not a harmless novelty item, but a spider, an eight-legged hairy bug crawling in what we expected to be a hearty January breakfast. We now have to live with it, including those of us who were so hungry for leadership in this aging century that we heard and discounted back when we had the choice . . . that tell-tale scratching in the box."
John McCain is no Bill Clinton. But journalists should be the eyes and ears of voters. If they fall in love with a candidate and adopt a policy of see, hear, and speak no evil, we recognize tell-tale scratching only when it is too late.