MANY in the “mainstream” news media have decided that their principal job is to elect Democrats. If some facts must be ignored, and others distorted, so be it.
The Los Angeles Times discarded what shreds remained of its reputation for journalistic integrity in its efforts to keep Gov. Gray Davis from being recalled. The electioneering efforts of the paper consisted principally, but by no means exclusively, of its front-page story, the Thursday before the election, in which six women - four of them anonymously - accused Republican frontrunner Arnold Schwarzenegger of having groped them.
The story was criticized less for its content than for its timing, and for the clear double standard the Times employed. California's largest newspaper had downplayed much more serious - and better factually grounded - allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton, and had ignored altogether credible charges of (nonsexual) abuse of female staff members by Mr. Davis.
The groping story wasn't the lowest blow delivered by the news media in the waning days of the campaign. The dubious distinction belongs to ABC News and the New York Times, which reported an unsupported allegation by a single source that, some 30 years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger had had some kind things to say about Adolf Hitler. The story was quickly rebutted and its source retracted it, but only after the bogus claim was given widespread publicity.
The “late hits” on Mr. Schwarzenegger failed. But what we saw in the recall election is merely a preview of what President Bush can expect next year.
Mr. Bush has a harder row to hoe than Mr. Schwarzenegger did. Efforts by the news media to influence the election in California failed chiefly because Californians live in California. They know what they are thinking, and pretty much what their neighbors are thinking. When the L.A. Times printed a bizarre alternative version of reality, Californians recognized the distortions, and discounted them. But few Americans know firsthand what is going on in Iraq. And it is media-influenced perceptions of what is going on in Iraq that largely will determine the President's fate.
The news media are reporting blatant falsehoods about Iraq as if they were true.
“Chief weapons searcher David Kay reported he had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a finding that brought fresh congressional complaints about the Bush Administration's prewar assertions of an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein,” wrote the AP's John Lumpkin Oct. 4.
But Mr. Bush never said Saddam posed an “imminent” threat. In his address to the United Nations in September, 2002, and in this year's State of the Union address, he said precisely the opposite. Because weapons of mass destruction are so dangerous, the U.S. cannot afford to wait to act until a threat becomes imminent.
In a story about the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times refers to the “insupportable claim (in Mr. Bush's State of the Union address) that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger.” But what Mr. Bush said was that the British had learned that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa, of which Niger is only a small part. And because Mr. Kay has found evidence Saddam did try to buy uranium elsewhere in Africa, the claim is hardly “insupportable.”
Other journalists write that Mr. Bush claimed that Saddam played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, when Mr. Bush and his senior aides have always said precisely the opposite, that there is no evidence of such a linkage.
What Mr. Bush has said is that there were ties between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda and other international terror groups, an assertion that Mr. Kay and others have proved to be indisputably true.
A falsehood is only a lie if the teller of the falsehood knows it to be false at the time he or she tells it. Ms. Lumpkin, Mr. Bumiller, et. al may merely be incompetent, incapable of so simple a task as looking up the State of the Union address to see what it was that Mr. Bush actually said. But as the falsehoods mount, so does the likelihood that the falsehoods are deliberate.