I am a product of the media. I began my career in radio and became a news director before being hired by a large metropolitan daily newspaper in Southeastern Wisconsin. I also worked as weekend anchor and political reporter for a Denver radio station. Later as the press secretary to the Chairman of the Senate GOP Policy Committee in Washington, I dealt with the media daily for four years. So I am not one to complain about the media as some in the conservative community do.
I am reminded of the story told on many occasions by the marvelous late Black preacher, the Rev. E.V. Hill, when we traveled the country together in 1980. Rev. Hill spoke of a preacher whose bad language was a disgrace to his church. When his cussing became louder and consistently part of his conversation, a group of church elders told the deacon, “You have got to do something about the preacher. His disgraceful language is scandalous, especially to the young people.” The deacon agreed and subsequently asked the preacher to join him on a fishing trip. Once the two had cast their rods into the river the deacon raised the issue of the preacher’s cussing. The preacher lowered his head and vowed that he would make the effort to change his ways. At that moment the deacon reeled in the biggest fish he had ever seen but the fish somehow got away. The deacon turned to his companion and said, “Preacher, somethin’ needs to be said.” Well, indeed somethin’ needs to be said about the way the media behaves today. And it isn’t just the liberal media either.
I am a fan of Sean Hannity. He is giving Rush Limbaugh a run for his money, although many stations carry both Limbaugh and Hannity, whose three-hour time slots are back-to-back. While driving the other day, I heard Hannity say that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had caved in on what the liberals call the “nuclear option” but what Frist and his colleagues call the “constitutional option” respecting federal judges. This is an attempt by Frist and his GOP colleagues to change the rules so that the Democrats cannot filibuster the President’s judicial nominees. Hannity was quite disturbed when he said, “What good are Republicans if they are going to back down on an issue like this? We may as well elect Democrats.”
When I got home, I contacted Senator Frist’s office by E-mail and asked what might have caused Frist to compromise on this issue. I learned that Hannity was wrong and that the Majority Leader was moving full speed ahead. I no sooner had read that E-mail when a feature was played on the “all news radio station” I had turned on to hear coverage about selecting the next Pope. Lo and behold, a report from Capitol Hill said Senator Frist had caved in on the “nuclear option.” Neither that reporter nor Hannity had bothered to check with the Majority Leader, I also was told. The media relied on a report from another publication stating that Senator Frist was backing down because he did not have the votes.
That problem is minor compared with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s treatment by the media. One example is a story about a visit DeLay and his aides made to a U.S. territory which paid for the trip. The newspaper which broke the story made it sound as if the trip was a major scandal. Contrary to the news, the House Rules specifically do not prohibit expenditures (or gifts) made by any state or territory to transport and entertain Members of Congress. An ABC News reporter, at 4:30 in the afternoon, called the DeLay office to advise that ABC was running with the story. A DeLay aide explained that there was no possible scandal because DeLay was in compliance with the House Rules. The aide then faxed to ABC News that section of the House Rules applying to this trip. ABC released the story as it was and never mentioned the House rules. This is clearly the case of a reporter writing a story before checking the facts and of not letting the facts alter his preconceived story. The same DeLay aide who told me about this incident also told me that he now spends every workday explaining to reporters why what is being reported as scandal is nothing of the sort. Yet that side of the story is not reported.
Half a dozen reporters from major news outlets are assigned to the DeLay story fulltime. They must find something to write or put on television to justify their jobs. That there are other Members of Congress who have done what DeLay has done does not bother them. In one case, a gaggle of Members, many of them Democrats, went on the same trip with DeLay but you wouldn’t know that unless you read the last paragraph of the jump page of the newspaper which broke the “story.” If you saw the televised version of the same story on the so-called “mainstream networks” you would not have heard about the Democrats at all. These reporters daily call other Members of the Leadership and some select friendly Members to ask if support for DeLay has eroded. As another story breaks they call again.
A feeding frenzy has begun not only against DeLay but against Senator Frist. The media wants to bring down both congressional leaders. Do you want to know why? A colleague who also worked in a leadership office in the U.S. Senate hit the nail on the head last week when he said, “Let’s face it, the media hates Christians.” That is very harsh but I am afraid it is true. I have done nearly a dozen interviews on DeLay and Frist. Most reporters ask about their religious beliefs and they are sneering, insulting and skeptical. DeLay, they say, always was a conservative but that he became interested in values issues only in the last couple of years. (This statement is absolutely untrue but it is making its way through the “mainstream” press corps. DeLay’s religious beliefs called him to adopt children and to continue going after abuses in the foster-care program, which he began doing long before he was elected to the House Leadership.) With Frist it is even worse. The media claims he had no religious beliefs until he became Majority Leader about two years ago. Really? He is a man who has traveled to Africa for years during his vacations to operate on the poorest Africans who cannot afford surgery. He never sought publicity for this effort precisely because he is motivated by Christian faith.
As I suggested to one high ranking Republican official the other day, the attack on these men is an attack on all conservatives. He replied that this is a long standing tactic of the left. When you cannot defeat the other team on substance you go after the quarterback. The movement had better understand if the quarterbacks go down, the team will fail. And that is really what the ballgame is all about. The left wants to take out the quarterbacks because if they are gone the President’s program goes down with them. The White House has said little in defense of either of these men. It is time the White House weighed in. The White House may save itself in the process.