In the late days of the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush began using the slogan "Annoy the Media. Elect President Bush." Media stars responded as if media criticism were the last refuge of a loser.
Ten years later, when former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle hit the TV circuit the morning after his party lost control, it was the Democrats who were blaming the media. Perhaps that's because the media were blaming the Democrats. On ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Charlie Gibson laid a litany on Mr. Daschle: "You've got a president with big deficits. You've got an economy in the doldrums. You've got major corporate scandals. You've got a president talking about taking the country to war, and still you couldn't beat him."
When CNN anchor Paula Zahn started this line of questioning, Sen. Daschle lashed out: "Well, we felt we did have the economic plan. We just weren't successful in getting you to cover it." Sen. Daschle must have been forgetting this summer, when declining stock values followed a media frenzy over corporate accounting scandals. When President Bush gave an economic-cheerleading speech in Birmingham on July 15, the cable networks split the screen to show a plummeting Dow Jones index. It might be a good idea for conscientious reporters to jog their memories by checking Sen. Daschle's own website. From July forward, there's no press release that focuses on the national economy. The Democratic National Committee's website also avoided economic jawboning in the last weeks of the campaign.
With the arrival of a new regime, news media stars began warning about the dangers of excessive conservatism-even as they found the Democrats' losses could be blamed on insufficient liberalism. When Ms. Zahn interviewed new Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, she asked him how the president would handle "the amount of pressure put on him by conservatives and the religious right." Would they endanger the president by insisting that it's "payoff time"? Conservative media critics expect that GOP control of the executive and legislative branches is going to make the media, feeling embattled as the last standing majority power of Democrats, insist on payback time.