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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


Blanket Punishment
Where Have All the “Haters” Gone?

[Carol Platt Liebau] 3/15/04   

Any elementary schoolchild is familiar with the concept of “blanket punishment.” That’s when a teacher – either unwilling or unable to distinguish between children who are behaving and those who aren’t – decide to punish an entire class. Two kids have a fight, no one gets to go on the field trip. It’s a lazy and unjust method for enforcing discipline and keeping order.

That’s why it’s too bad that in this year’s presidential election coverage, the press has apparently adopted the concept of blanket punishment. All of a sudden, according to the media, both sides are engaging in “bare-knuckle politics” – although it’s not entirely clear just what ruthless tactics or unfair denunciations have emerged from the President’s partisans. Indeed, it seems that the press has simply neglected to report upon the significant distinctions between the tone and substance of the political salvos coming from the Kerry and Bush sides.

Of course, it wasn’t like this back in the days of the Clinton administration. Then, the press wasn’t at all shy about naming the names of those who transgressed the alleged rules of “civility” in politics. In what is perhaps the best example of media finger-pointing, the press displayed little reluctance to hang the label of “Clinton hater” on those who criticized the extracurricular or illegal activities of the former President. As Tim Graham of the invaluable Media Research Center pointed out almost five years ago, a Nexis search of stories between 1992 and 1998 turned up 63 uses of “Clinton hater”; 106 references to “Clinton bashers” or “Clinton-bashing”; and 55 mentions of “anti-Clinton” activities.

In offering these characterizations, reporters generally did not even bother to put quotes around the terms. The description was most decidedly not a compliment – according to Graham, it was used most often to identify Richard Mellon Scaife, most notably in news magazines like Time (which called Scaife the “King of the Clinton Haters”) and Newsweek. Time likewise published a story called ''Clintonophobia! Just Who Are These Clinton Haters and Why Do They Loathe Bill and Hillary Clinton With Such Passion?” in April of 1994, and the New York Times Magazine ran a piece on “The Clinton Haters” that appeared on February 23, 1997. The press’ attitude was beautifully summed up in a headline for a piece that ran in the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin: “Clinton Haters are Obsessive, Weird.”

Today, it’s hard to find the mainstream press using “Bush hater” as a term of opprobrium – no matter how richly the label is deserved. In fact, the label more often appears as an honorific that various lefties proudly bestow upon themselves. Molly Ivins has authored an article that appeared in The Progressive under the title “Call Me a Bush-Hater” (and writing “If that makes me a Bush hater, then sign me up.”). One Jack Huberman has authored a tome called “The Bush Hater’s Handbook.” And a quick Google search shows no lack of other, less celebrated online writers more than happy to be identified, quite simply, as “Bush haters.” Apparently, “hating” a President has gone from being “obsessive” or “weird” to becoming fashionable – all in just a few short years. And the press seems to find the phenomenon completely unworthy of coverage.

Even so, the reluctance to report on the existence of “Bush hating” takes on a much deeper significance when it appears that the President’s ostensible opponent – and his opponent’s wife – themselves could quite plausibly be identified as such. Just this week, John Kerry spoke into an open microphone after a speech in Chicago and opined that “These guys are the most crooked, and you know, lying group. It’s scary.” Later, of course, an aide asserted that the remark referred to unspecified “Republican critics,” but the context of Kerry’s vituperative remark made it clear that the reference was much more specific.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate’s wife, likewise surfaced this week with a pin reading "Asses of Evil," bordered by the names “Bush,” “Cheney,” “Rumsfeld” and “Ashcroft.” Remember when President Bush was criticized for calling terrorists “evil-doers” and for denominating Iraq, Iran and North Korea the “axis of evil”? Judging from the relatively light coverage that Mrs. Kerry’s pin has received, it’s apparently more acceptable to characterize the President as “evil” than to apply the term to America’s enemies. (At least it must be comforting for Al Qaeda adherents to know that they agree with the wife of a presidential candidate). But imagine the uproar were Mrs. Bush to pull a similar stunt.

Yes, it’s more work for those in the press to have to distinguish between standard, acceptable political disagreements and the unhinged, overheated accusations that have regularly emanated from Democratic partisans – and given the liberal political orientation of most reporters, it certainly would be an unpleasant task. Certainly, it’s easier to adopt an attitude of world-weary, cynical denunciation of both campaigns, but Americans deserve better.

Admittedly, both the Bush and Kerry campaigns may, at times, act like school children in the months to come. But even so, that’s no excuse for the press to fall back on the lazy and unjust tactic of imposing “blanket punishment” on both sides.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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