Magazine article Insight on the News

Pundits Switch Sides

Magazine article Insight on the News

Pundits Switch Sides

Article excerpt

Loss of easy-target Bill Clinton poses new challenges for the media. While the liberal press switches into attack mode against George W., conservatives must seek new angles.

Most conservative opiners agree that writing about President Clinton was becoming tedious and tiresome. But they admit the conservative press will have a more difficult job now that President George W. Bush is in the White House.

For one thing, conservatives no longer have an easy target to criticize. "A 9-year-old could write columns poking fun at Clinton," says Charles Krauthammer, a conservative syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. "Look at his last-minute pardons and his behavior on Inauguration Day. He's like a clown."

His loss has become the left's gain, as liberal opponents prepare to mount a frontal assault against Bush's political agenda. "It's a clarifying moment in the liberal community," says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, a leftist opinion magazine.

The liberal press may have an obvious target in directing criticism toward Bush, but that doesn't make their task easy, says Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic, a Washington-based liberal-opinion weekly. "It's always simpler to be writing about an administration with which you generally disagree, as we do with a Republican administration" he says. "But the trick is disagreeing without being predictable."

The New Republic recently ran an editorial warning the Bush administration not to abandon its plan for school vouchers. Unlike most liberal publications, the New Republic supports voucher initiatives, at least on an experimental basis. The magazine also ran positive articles on Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Tommy G. Thompson, Bush's pick to head the Department of Health and

Human Services.

In fact, Beinart was happy to say goodbye to the Clinton administration, at least in some ways. "We found ourselves in the position of agreeing with the policies, but finding the culture of the administration to be distasteful" he says. "That's a difficult position to express in print."

Yet for all the turmoil of the Clinton years, the liberal press has no intention of going easy on the Bush administration. "I think one of the vulnerabilities is they insist on acting as if they won an uncontested election," Beinart says. "They are going to act as if they didn't lose the popular vote, as if Florida never happened. I think that makes them, down the road, politically and ideologically vulnerable."

The Nation's vanden Heuvel is even more critical of what she calls "George W. Inc." "With Bush, you really do see the corporate power, the money-soaked politics, the extremism and the intolerance far more vividly," she says.

At any rate, vanden Heuvel and Beinart pledge to keep the issues they care about front and center. Conservative magazines also will become more focused on substantive issues than when Clinton was in office, predicts Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va." Conservative journalists have been focused on scandal in the last eight years," he says. "Now they will be focused on policies. It makes you feel like you are living in a healthier political culture instead of debating what the meaning of `is' is."

Magazines such as the Weekly Standard, a Washington-based conservative-opinion weekly, have to walk a fine line between promoting conservative causes and crossing over into the Bush public-relations camp. "We're in the business of journalism" says Executive Editor Fred Barnes. …

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