John McCain's political censorship show may have changed venues to the federal court system, but journalists aren't about changing their idea of what constitutes news. They still believe that large corporations (theirs excluded, naturally) are too influential in politics. When the Republicans decide to do something conservative, it must be an evil, mustache-twirling corporate plot.
When the Energy Department released records demanded by the Democrats showing that their officials met with energy industry leaders, but not energy-loathing environmental extremists, you could almost hear the "Aha!" from major newspapers and networks. If it wasn't illegal, it was certainly unethical and confirmed every suspicion about the unholy Bush-energy industry alliance.
"Energy Contacts Disclosed: Consumer Groups Left Out, Data Show," warned the front page of The Washington Post on March 26. That morning on CBS's "The Early Show," co-host Jane Clayson said "apparently there's not much in them." Bryant Gumbel protested: "Yeah, except they do show that the administration consulted business leaders and not consumer groups." White House reporter Bill Plante underlined: "There were almost no consumer or conservation groups but there were a lot of energy industry people who were big campaign contributors."
That night, "CBS Evening News" substitute anchor Ed Bradley ominously found "a new chapter in the long-running controversy over President Bush's energy policy and who was consulted about it in secret." Reporter Wyatt Andrews announced that "one statistic stood out like a lopsided sports score. At least 36 times, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met representatives of the energy industry to discuss the policy, compared to zero meetings with environmental groups." Noting how the Natural Resources Defense Council complained the documents were "heavily censored," Andrews relayed that "environmentalists call this a coverup" and then threw the NRDC activist this soft pitch: "Do you think the amount of blackout breaks the law?"
A few hours later on CNN's "NewsNight," Connie Chung chirped like a Henry Waxman pom-pom girl about how "thousands of documents released last evening are only making a hot issue hotter." Chung asked Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank: "Tell me, do these documents confirm the worst suspicions of influence peddling?" When Milbank said 29 of the 36 companies consulted were donors, Chung excitedly repeated: "Once again, 29 out of 36!"
Leave it to the Washington Times, once again, to demolish this leftwing witchhunt. Its March 26th front page story focused on a truth available to all these other reporters were they interested in that commodity moreso than in political gamesmanship:
"The Bush administration sought the advice of environmental groups in drafting its energy plan, but several declined to participate ... just-released documents show ... [T]he Energy Department contacted Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the World Resources Institute, Resources for the Future and four other groups ..."
Beyond the non-story of this media story there's also a blazing double standard at work.
Let's reflect back on the Clinton era, when the hard-charging media gave us eight years of calming Muzak over noise about illegal fundraising - unless the donors were funding a "vast right-wing conspiracy," of course. The Clintons could have their picture taken with a cocaine smuggler, Jorge Cabrera, and there was no "long-running controversy." There wasn't even a story. The Clintons could look the other way as large donors like Loral handed missile secrets to the Chinese, and the Chinese handed their soft money to Hillary's aides. They could send "heavily censored" documents to investigators without worry. So what?
Nor were the Clintons ever scolded by these same reporters for refusing to meet on their socialized-medicine schemes with the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Isn't it just odd that liberals expect to be coddled and consulted when they've lost the White House, but think of Democrats meeting with conservative groups as less than politically necessary?
And when, oh when, can we start describing liberal activists as liberal activists? Take it from Washington Post automotive reporter Warren Brown, as he wrote in a recent Internet chat: "We tend to believe that any nonprofit group is telling the truth because the group is, well, nonprofit. We overlook the fact that nonprofit groups hustle for money just like any other organization." Brown suggested, "It's time that we in the media take away that carte blanche believability from nonprofit organizations and start treating them the way we treat everybody else."
It's also time we take away that carte blanche believability from many in the "news" media, too.