If Press Is Despised by All Sides, Maybe It Isn't So Biased

In his recent book, "Lessons Learned the Hard Way," Newt Gingrich admits to being exceedingly inept in his dealings with the media. But lest anyone think that Mr. Gingrich is willing to take all the blame for his bad press during his first three years as speaker, please take a look at some opening words of a chapter in his book which is entitled, "Learn to Keep Your Mouth Shut":

"Every poll of the Washington media shows overwhelming support for liberal Democrats. ... I will never understand why so many of America's most honored journalists should be on the left. Still, there is no denying that they are.

"Nor can anyone deny that while conservative ideas - not to mention conservative politicians - have been growing ever more popular among the voters over the past quarter-century, they are treated with a special kind of hostility, if not downright ridicule, by most of the institutions of the media."

Does this sound as though the usually feisty, suspicious-of-the-media Newt has really changed his spots? Absolutely not. This book is not a mea culpa - or not much of one. He's really only saying that he has made himself too available to the media and talked too openly and unguardedly with them. But he doesn't leave it there. He goes on to charge that the press is always lying in wait, eager to write or air a story that is harmful to a public servant if he is conservative. "If you are not only a power but conservative," he asserts, "the press's scrutiny is usually both intense and hostile."

I cite these Gingrich quotations in part because I may have left the impression in a previous column that the speaker in his book was taking full blame for his bad press. You can see that's not at all so. But I'd also like the reader to note that Gingrich's highly critical views of the press are so similar to the complaints we're currently hearing about that same press from the White House and many Democrats.

Indeed, one has only to listen to any of the president's designated defenders - like James Carville or Lanny Davis - and you hear them not only attacking Ken Starr but also lashing out at the media. They're alleging, over and over again, that it's the media that is digging up all of these stories about President Clinton, that it's the media that is keeping the scandals alive even when the public is tired of hearing about it all. Ken Starr, they charge, is "out to get the president." Then they will add with equal vehemence that much of the media is also "out to destroy Clinton."

So, one might conclude, just about everyone hates or at least distrusts the press these days.

I'm reminded of the Watergate period when so many loyal Nixonites were complaining that the press was "after Nixon." My answer then to readers was this: "The press is the messenger, not the message." That's my answer to those today who are charging that it is the nasty press that is at the bottom of all these accusations against the President.

I can't deny that there may well be some bias getting into some of the critical stories about Mr. Clinton. And maybe there are reporters whose political feelings about Gingrich cause them to leap eagerly into writing what could be called anti-Gingrich stories.

But it seems to me that we're seeing signs today of a rather nonpartisan press - one that is giving both sides a hard time. And why? Because the message coming from both camps is deserving of that kind of coverage.

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