DOES THE THRASHING OF LIBERAL REPORTERS IN 2003 signify the death throes of the old media order? Look at this howler from Charles Pierce in the Boston Globe on Jan. 5: "If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age." (Kopechne, of course, drowned in Kennedy's submerged car off Chappaquiddick Island in 1969; Kennedy did not report the accident for several hours.)
Or what about the latest fugues from Walter Cronkite, long retired from CBS but now writing syndicated gems like this one from Sept. 22: "Attorney General John Ashcroft has earned himself a remarkable distinction as the Torquemada of American law." Torquemada tortured those seen as heretics, and Mr. Cronkite at least acknowledged that Mr. Ashcroft was not "burning people at the stake (at least I don't know of any such cases)."
And what about historical illiteracy, as great as ever among reporters, even one like Helen Thomas who's been around for decades? On Jan. 19 she twice labeled George W. Bush "the worst president in all of American history." (As worldmagblog.com notes, most Democrats think Mr. Bush is awful, but could he be worse than James Buchanan? Warren G. Harding? Lyndon Johnson? Richard Nixon?)
Competing for the "don't know much about history" blue ribbon was James Traub, who stated in The New York Times on Oct. 26, "Today's Republican Party is arguably the most extreme-the furthest from the center-of any governing majority in the nation's history." (Conservative reasons to criticize today's big-spending GOP congress abound, and Mr. Traub has his liberal reasons, but "the furthest from the center"? What about Radical Republicans following the Civil War, or some 20th-century Democratic congresses?)
The year's worst reporting probably came from Iraq. Many journalists opposed the war and offered reports like this one by Peter Jennings on Jan. 21: "This week we were surprised to see several hundred artists and writers walking through the streets of Baghdad to say thank you to Saddam Hussein ... whatever they think about Saddam Hussein in the privacy of their homes, on this occasion they were praising his defense of the homeland in the face of American threats."
In recent months many journalists have tried to justify their earlier positions. MSNBC producer Noah Oppenheim deserves a gold medal for traveling to Iraq and describing "the failure of American journalism" in The Weekly Standard earlier this month: "America has brought to Iraq the notorious Red State-Blue State divide. Most journalists are Blue State people in outlook, and most of those administering the occupation are Red." Since "most journalists did not support this war to begin with," they "feel vindicated whenever the effort stumbles."
But here's the good news: Editors at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune during 2003 acknowledged their newspapers' pro-abortion bias. Don Wycliffe, public editor at the Tribune, recently quoted complaints by pro-life readers about his newspaper's headlines ("Anti-choice groups celebrate victories ... Anti-choice victories alarm pro-choice groups") and commented, "The perspective of those who define the issues involved in terms of 'choice' was taken as normative.... The result was two headlines that couldn't have been more slanted if they had come directly from the public-relations office of NARAL Pro-Choice America."
Mr. Wycliffe is a "public editor"-a flak-catcher without necessarily a lot of clout. But a May memo from top Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll packed a punch: Complaining about an article that snidely referred to provision of abortion information as "so-called counseling," Mr. Carroll wrote that such bias gave credence to accusations that "the Times is a liberal, 'politically correct' newspaper ... occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story" on abortion.
Mr. Carroll continued, "The reason I'm sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times."
Hmm. The Times is still pushing a liberal agenda, but less overtly. That's progress in 2003, but at least now we have alternative news sources, including WORLD and www.worldmagblog.com. Thanks for your readership.