Smacking Down the Liberal Media

National Post Comment September 2004 


That tinkling sound you heard this week was the Tiffany network's glass eye shattering, the shards falling into infinity. The faked documents on George W. Bush's National Guard stint is the story of this election cycle. The ratings of the CBS Evening News have plunged 42% in some markets, 24% in arch-liberal New York City. One station dropped the program until Dan Rather is fired. Put it another way: This was a bad week at Black Rock.

It was a bad week just about everywhere else in the American liberal media, too. On Tuesday, Doubleday wheeled out the smirking Kitty Kelley, with 750,000 copies of The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty to near universal embarrassment. It was quite justified: Kelley, the slash biographer of Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, trots out her tired old tricks. The book, all 705 pages of it, is a seamy bit of reportage, sure to leave any reader with the slightly sickened stomach of a sugar binge. Her last book, on the British Royal Family, was not published in Britain. Easy to see why, since she named the Queen's long-time lover and accused Prince Phillip of having an affair with the Duchess of Kent, fathering illegitimate children and whoring around the world on the taxpayer's dime -- and that's just what I remember. All reportage buttressed by mostly anonymous folk, who knew someone who knew someone who absolutely swore this was true.

The world has moved on in the 10 years since Kelley's last stateside publication. We've had the Osbournes, the Sopranos, real corporate scandals and actual war. As a result, her "revelations" about the Bushes seem rather tame.

Did Dubya relapse and use coke at some point? It's more scary if he didn't than if he did. Was there a bad divorce? Which family hasn't been there? Who hasn't had someone struggle with addiction in their close family circle? Are jealousy, envy, temper-tantrums and greed not universal afflictions? Is it not human to try to help your son or brother in business?

Kelley insists that Laura Bush was the go-to gal at university for dime bags of marijuana, and cites as her sole source someone who knew people in her close circle. And she illustrates Laura's supposed long-time depression by accusing her of smoking and reading paperbacks on the porch in Kennebunkport rather than joining in boisterous family fun.

Is this supposed to be biography? Does this deserve 143 reviews in the world's serious press, in the two days after the embargo was lifted? Matt Lauer saw fit to plunk Kelley down on the Today show set for three days in a row to sell her pile of cow manure. What the heck is going on?

Newsmax, the peppy, glossy conservative monthly, outlined in its June issue a US$2-billion liberal media campaign to get rid of George Bush. A fascinating bit of paranoia, worthy of a little investigation. The editor, Christopher Ruddy, explained that the Kerry campaign, by buying a few minutes of ad time on Howard Stern's radio station every day, would spend US$43-million. But Stern, having noisily dedicated himself to defeating Bush, spends at least five minutes a day extolling Kerry and excoriating Bush. The magazine cites the flood of anti-Bush documentaries and films, like Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Day After Tomorrow, based on fictional readings of real world events.

Newsmax predicted the tsunami of anti-Bush books from the blue- blooded publishing houses, and lo and behold, there they all are, vigorously promoted by the bookstores. Early this past week, a message on the union Web site of the Borders book chain advised employees on how to hide the Kerry-unfriendly Swift boat Vets book, Unfit to Command -- a message quickly whisked off when discovered by conservatives. The union cried hoax.

Then there's Emily Will, the forensic document examiner hired by CBS to vet the so-called letters. By phone, on every station, all this week, Will explained that she had flatly told the producers the night before 60 Minutes II aired the offending piece that there were serious questions about the authenticity of the letters -- and that, if they aired the piece, there would be hundreds of forensic document examiners questioning them the next day. Which, naturally, is precisely what happened.

Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign message of the week was delivered in a video, Fortunate Son, implying that President Bush lied about his National Guard duty, spookily timed to be released alongside Dan Rather's report on Bush's cushy guard service. It fell flat.

This is mesmerizing -- a competitive media filled with diverse voices, hard at work. The story about the offending documents was broken by guys in their pajamas, in their living rooms, at 4 a.m. on their blog sites, subsequently picked up by talk radio, given credibility by Fox News, until the Washington Post decided it simply had to report on it. Liberal bias in the media, proven to run rampant in survey after survey for 30 years, is held in the spotlight and shown for what it is. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun watching television.