Media Watch: The Middle East Factor in Negative Media Coverage of Bush Campaign
"Annoy the media, re-elect Bush! They wouldn't know good news if it hit them in the face. Have you heard this on television at night: That unemployment claims have gone down to the lowest in two years? Have you heard that inflation is down, that interest rates are down, that total employment is 93 percent, inflation 2.5 to 3 percent, home mortgages are 8 percent?"
--President George Bush at Montgomery, AL election rally, Oct. 24, 1992
Never in the 15 presidential campaigns I've watched closely has there been such an extraordinary media gang-up on a major party candidate as that against George Bush in 1992.
In the final two weeks of the campaign, when it was unlikely to make a difference, some of the media offenders expressed qualms about their performance. Host Ted Koppel on an Oct. 20 ABC "Nightline" program entitled "The Media: Reporting or Predicting?" noted: "You can understand why supporters of President Bush would be dismayed. The networks are continually citing polls suggesting, if not an unsurmountable, then certainly a daunting Clinton lead . . . Are the media reflecting reality or creating it?"
Ombudsman Joann Byrd, in an Oct. 25 response to a reader complaint that The Washington Post consistently selected photos that made Gov. William Clinton look presidential and President George Bush look like the village idiot, gave the following breakdown:
Of 144 pictures of the three presidential candidates printed by the Post between Aug. 20 and Oct. 21, Governor Clinton looked "confident and enthusiastic" in 28 photos, Bush in 20 and Perot in 8. Of photos that made them look "gawky," there were "21 of Mr. Bush, 13 of Gov. Clinton and 6 of Mr. Perot," Byrd reported. "In the eyes of this beholder," she continued, "six of those made the president look particularly silly, and even if the 13 weren't flattering to Gov. Clinton, I think we'd agree none of them made him look foolish."
Then, amazingly, after revealing her own damning figures, the ombudsman concluded: "I don't find photographic favoritism here, and the accidental differences hardly constitute a smoking gun."
Right. In this visual age, the Post used a Big Bertha to assure that, regardless of how much sense the president's words made, anyone who read them in The Washington Post would think that he couldn't talk with both eyes open.
The Post editorially endorsed the Clinton-Gore ticket on Oct. 11. America's other "newspaper of record," The New York Times, also endorsed Clinton. In fact, no New York newspaper endorsed the Bush-Quayle ticket. The New York Daily News, whose ownership is in transition from British news tycoon Robert Maxwell to U.S. news tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman, endorsed the Democratic ticket, and neither The Wall Street Journal nor the New York Post had taken a stand, at this writing.
Washington Post managing editor Leonard Downie, Jr., in an unusual Oct. 18 article, explained to readers that the Post's endorsement was reached by a triumvirate consisting of Board Chairwoman Katherine Graham (daughter of the Post's long-time owner, the late Eugene Meyer), her son, Donald Graham, who is the Post's publisher, and editorial page editor Meg Greenfield.
"Neither I nor any of the editors and reporters who cover the news under my direction has anything to do with these endorsement decisions or any of the other opinions expressed on the editorial page," Downie wrote. "Neither Miss Greenfield nor any of the editorial writers has any involvement in our coverage of the news, including the election campaign."
Actually, very few editorial writers influence how managing editors cover the news, any more than commentary writer John Chancellor influences how anchorman Tom Brokaw covers the nightly news on NBC. But publishers and network owners do influence news coverage. If a newspaper editorially supports a candidate, or if network executives personally support a candidate, does anyone seriously believe that their preferences have no effect at all on coverage of the presidential campaigns by editors and reporters on their payrolls? …