consortiumnews.com

Big Media, Some Nerve!

By Robert Parry
November 13, 2004

You might think that the major media that got suckered by George W. Bush’s Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction claims just last year would show some humility about its own fallibility.

But, no, the elite U.S. news media is now criticizing common citizens who have raised questions about voter fraud in the Nov. 2 election. The New York Times has joined the Washington Post and other major news outlets in scouring the Internet to find and discredit Americans who have expressed suspicions that Bush’s victory might not have been entirely legitimate. The New York Times' front-page story was entitled, “Vote Fraud Theories, Spread By Blogs, Are Quickly Buried.” [Nov. 12, 2004.]

As odd as these attacks might seem to some, this pattern of protecting the Bush family has a history. It actually dates back a couple of decades, as the major media has either averted its eyes or rallied to the Bushes’ defense when the family has faced suspicions of lying or corruption. [This pattern is detailed in my new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

That was the case in the 1980s when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was implicated in a string of scandals, starting with the clandestine supplying of Nicaraguan contra rebels.

When one of Oliver North’s secret supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua in October 1986, the surviving crew member, Eugene Hasenfus, correctly named Vice President Bush's office and the CIA as participants in the illegal operations. But for years, the big media accepted Bush’s denials and dismissed Hasenfus’s claims.

After the Nicaraguan contras were implicated in cocaine trafficking – when Vice President Bush was in charge of drug interdiction – again the New York Times and other leading publications pooh-poohed the stories. They even put down then-freshman Sen. John Kerry when he investigated. However, the charges again turned out to be true, as CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz concluded in a little-noticed report a decade later. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Kerry’s Contra-Cocaine Chapter.”]

Arming Saddam

When George H.W. Bush was linked to the misguided strategy of covertly arming Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, again major U.S. news outlets – with the exception of the Los Angeles Times – did little to dig out the truth. Even today, after the junior George Bush has sent more than 1,100 U.S. troops to their deaths to clear Iraq of non-existent WMD stockpiles in 2003-04, the U.S. news media won’t tell the American people about the senior George Bush’s role in helping Hussein build a real WMD arsenal in the 1980s.

During the eight-year Clinton-Gore administration, shoddy reporting from the New York Times and the Washington Post – about President Clinton’s Whitewater “scandal” and about Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations in Campaign 2000 – helped pave the way for the Bush Family’s restoration. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al Gore vs. the Media” or “Protecting Bush-Cheney.”]

The big news organizations couldn’t even get the stories straight about their own Florida recount in 2001. After examining all legally cast votes in Florida and finding that Al Gore should have won that crucial state – regardless of what chad standard was used – the New York Times and other news outlets buried the lead that Gore – not Bush – deserved to be president.

Since these unofficial recount results were released in November 2001 – after the Sept. 11 attacks – the news organizations apparently thought it was best not to clue in the American people to the fact that the sitting president had really lost the election. So the news organizations spun their stories to Bush’s advantage by focusing on a hypothetical partial recount that excluded so-called “overvotes,” where voters both checked a box and wrote in the candidate’s name, legal votes under Florida law.

After reading those slanted “Bush Won” stories, I wrote an article for Consortiumnews.com noting that the obvious lead should have been that Gore won. I suggested that the news judgments of senior editors may have been influenced by a desire to appear patriotic at a time of national crisis. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Gore’s Victory.”]

The article had been on the Internet for only an hour or two when I received an angry phone call from New York Times media writer Felicity Barringer, who accused me of impugning the journalistic integrity of then Times executive editor Howell Raines. I was surprised that the mighty New York Times would be so sensitive about an Internet article that had questioned its judgment.

Professional Pressures

Having worked in mainstream Washington journalism for much of the last quarter century, however, I certainly understood – and even sympathized – with the pressures that reporters and editors face.

Especially when challenging Republicans and conservatives, journalists can expect to be accused of lacking patriotism, undermining national unity or having a “liberal bias.” Beyond those ideological assaults, there's also the formidable pressure that the Bush family’s gold-plated connections can bring down on a journalist’s head.

Yet, while it may be understandable for national journalists to go easy on the Bushes, that pattern over the years has eroded public confidence in the media’s fairness and integrity. Millions of Americans now flatly don’t trust the national news media to tell the truth when the Bushes are involved.

That perception, in turn, has led rank-and-file Americans to step forward via Web sites to lend whatever knowledge and expertise they have to investigate this powerful family. As amateurs, these Americans are sure to make mistakes or jump to conclusions that aren’t well supported by facts.

But the big media has no moral foundation upon which to criticize these shortcomings by common citizens. If the professional journalists focused more on doing their jobs, rather than protecting their careers, the American people would be far better served.


Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek, has written a new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com.

Back to Home Page