June 15, 2009
Part of America's ongoing political crisis is that Official Washington remains cowed by the angry Right, even as it engages in subtle and not-so-subtle appeals to bigotry and invitations to violence. As the outrages mount, most of the national press corps prefers to look the other way, a pattern that now stretches back many years.
For instance, when the Republicans were stealing Election 2000 in plain sight--dispatching rioters from Washington to disrupt a Miami vote count and finally having five partisan justices on the U.S. Supreme Court stop all vote tabulations--the U.S. news media acted as if it were no big deal.
There was almost a sense of relief about the GOP theft, that perhaps acquiescence to these riotous right-wing white guys would calm things down, that maybe the Establishment gods of the proper order would be pleased by a restoration of Republican (and Bush Family) control of the White House.
So, George W. Bush paid no real price for stealing the election, which he lost both nationally in the popular vote and in the key state of Florida. Bush wasn't even called to account when a lengthy journalistic study of Florida ballots showed Al Gore winning regardless of what standard of chad was used in assessing legally cast votes.
To protect Bush's "legitimacy"--when the count was completed after the 9/11 attacks--the news organizations that had sponsored the recount did all they could to conceal their own discovery of Gore's rightful victory. When they released the results in November 2001, the news outlets focused on hypothetical partial recounts and buried the actual will of the Florida voters deep in the stories.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz went so far as to ridicule as "conspiracy theorists" those who still thought Gore had won and mocked their belief that respecting the will of the voters actually mattered.
"Now the question is: How many people still care about the election deadlock that last fall felt like the story of the century--and now faintly echoes like some distant Civil War battle?" Kurtz wrote.
At Consortiumnews.com, we were one of the few journalistic entities that still cared.
On Nov. 12, 2001, after examining the recount statistics, I wrote a story entitled "Gore's Victory," observing that "Al Gore was the choice of Florida's voters --whether one counts hanging chads or dimpled chads. "By any chad measure, Gore won."
I also suggested that maybe editors hid the obvious lede of Gore's victory out of a misguided sense of post-9/11 patriotism.
Within an hour or so, I received an angry call from the New York Times' media writer Felicity Barringer, who accused me of impugning the journalistic integrity of then Times executive editor Howell Raines. It was as if Barringer had been on the look-out for some deviant analysis that had to be stamped out.
To this day, many Americans remember the phony headlines of those news accounts about Bush's "legitimate victory," not realizing what the findings actually showed.
For a generation now, it has been the behavior of the major U.S. news media--across the existing spectrum which reaches mostly from right-wing to centrist--to treat Republicans with extraordinary deference (by reacting to their otherwise abnormal behavior, like Bush's election theft, as if it were normal) and to slap down Democrats (especially when they show some liberal or progressive tendencies).
This pattern has continued despite Barack Obama's solid election victory and the strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Even as the rhetoric from right-wing and neoconservative voices has crossed the line into bigotry and implicit advocacy of violence, most of the U.S. news media continues to act as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening.