Few have a better understanding of the liberal media elite than Ari Fleischer, who spent several years deflecting the daily barrage of arrogant and accusatory media questions as the first White House press secretary under President Bush. His new book, "Taking Heat," has been panned by liberals for having no Bush-trashing moments in it. One can also safely conclude they're the ones who don't want you to read his chapters exposing the liberal ways of the reporters who baited him in the briefing room for three years.
Liberals looking back on the first Bush term would like you to pretend with them that the White House press corps was - and is - an intimidated pack of puffballs, offering no challenge to Bush as he leads America into that disastrous quagmire presently known as the democratic wave sweeping the Middle East.
Truth is, Fleischer was impressive in the nearly impossible job of keeping the anti-Bush hounds of the press at bay. They were harsh in the first days, when they were bitter about not getting to suck up to President Gore. They were hostile in the last days, as John Kerry's chances slipped away.
They were even bitter just weeks after September 11. On November 29, 2001, Newsday's Ken Fireman was already comparing a new Justice Department program for getting anti-terrorist tips to "what totalitarian societies like East Germany and the Soviet Union used to do." Then there was Helen Thomas, always throwing up bitter questions from the loony left at Fleischer. Before the war, she always tried to underline Bush's thirst for blood: "You people are acting like this is a conversion to democracy by the sword! How can you, I mean, are you going to kill all these people, to get democracy [in Iraq]?" Fleischer lists a lot of these inflammatory questions in the book to frustrate those delusional oddballs who ask: "What liberal media?"
Some on the left have lamely tried to challenge his charges. In one section, Fleischer notes that the stories he was seeing on partial-birth abortion always located "social conservatives," but wouldn't define Planned Parenthood or other abortion advocates as "social liberals." At the leftist website Salon.com, writer Eric Boehlert protested that if Fleischer had searched Nexis for "U.S. media mentions" of "social liberal" during Fleischer's days on the job from 2001 to 2003, "he would have seen the 725 matches it retrieved."
That's just lazy, sloppy criticism. You don't disprove liberal bias in the national media by citing a huge Nexis sample with three years of articles in hundreds of news sources, including every newspaper from Lewiston, Idaho to South Bend, Indiana to even little college newspapers like "The Justice" at Brandeis University. You also don't disprove bias in news reports by citing a sample that includes a lot of editorials and letters to the editor (where conservative writers aren't hesitant to use the label "social liberal").
So let's go back to what Fleischer was talking about - the national media. Take a look at the most influential national media sources in Nexis and see how often they employed the label "social liberal" in the campaign year of 2004 - the year when the socially liberal cause celebre of "gay marriage" took center stage. ABC? Zero. NBC? Zero. PBS's "NewsHour"? Zero. NPR? One, but only if you count Carol Moseley-Braun calling herself a "social liberal." NPR reporters weren't using it. CBS? One, but only when a reporter explained Republicans attempted to tar Kerry with the loathsome label.
Even the major daily newspapers on the left couldn't bear to use the label in 2004. The Washington Post had only six usages, three in editorials, and three in news stories - and only one of the news stories identified "social liberals" as a fact, as a Kerry constituency. The other two were only GOP attempts to "paint" Democrats as social liberals. Similarly, the New York Times also managed just six usages - two in editorials, two in news stories about GOP accusations, and two admissions that social liberals walk the Earth.
One of the juiciest anecdotes in the book concerns ABC White House reporter Terry Moran, whose sharply opinionated questions make him look like he's auditioning for the role of the next Helen Thomas. On April 28, 2003, President Bush made a speech to Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, proclaiming his confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to create a new democracy and his commitment to helping build that vision. The crowd went wild in an emotional response. But ABC only gave the speech two sentences.
Fleischer asked Moran: Why so little coverage? "I couldn't get it on the air," Moran tells him, adding: "If they had booed him, it would have led the news." That's the national media we see too often. Arrogant, tendentious, partisan, unbalanced, unfair - and in denial.