If we had a national media dominated by conservatives, they might have put an unflattering spin on Bill Clinton's peculiar methods of arms control as they unfolded in early April. The President banned the importation of more foreign-made "assault weapons" by executive order. But he allowed friendly defense contractors to export nuclear missile technology to communist China. In a nutshell, the question could become: who needs the right to bear arms, when all you've got to fend off a Chinese missile is an assault weapon?
The Chinese-missile story in question is an April 4 New York Times front-page scoop by Jeff Gerth and Raymond Bonner ignored by almost every other print and broadcast outlet. The Justice Department was looking to prosecute two defense contractors - Loral and Hughes Electric, a division of General Motors - who may have illegally provided China with space expertise that "significantly advanced Beijing's ballistic missile program." But in February, Bill Clinton "quietly approved the export to China of similar technology by one of the companies under investigation."
Gerth and Bonner noted that Loral has a number of business ties with China. Its chairman, Bernard Schwartz, was the largest individual contributor to the Democratic National Committee in 1997. Loral flacks claim Schwartz never spoke to Clinton or other administration officials about the matter. But the genuflection to Loral clearly appears to be the latest in a series of policy decisions demonstrating Clinton's donation-driven quid-pro-quo attitude toward China. The Times scoop also suggests two undercovered Clinton defense policy developments: the hollowing out of the military (the Democrats' idea of "reinventing government") and the complete post-Cold War collapse of American export-control policy. If the story hasn't been about sexual harassment by commanding officers or adulterous female fighter pilots (another story to which the pro-Clinton press avoids making any uncomfortable parallels), the networks have taken a pass. They've hardly covered defense policy since the Gulf War.
But let's get back to the political spin on these matters. If Clinton truly faced an adversarial press, they'd be endlessly running clips of his 1992 campaign talk excoriating George Bush for coddling Deng Xiaoping. But this is Clinton, and the pro-Clinton press doesn't feel the need to underline the obvious point that Clinton never means what he says.
Now, when Clinton's doing something "for the children," it's an altogether different story. Pandering to soccer moms is genuine news, at least to soccer moms, who are a prized network demographic. Gun rights groups were furious when Clinton blatantly bypassed Congressional authority to ban importation of more foreign semi-automatic guns. Oh, the press did attack the President - for not going far enough. NBC's David Bloom and CBS's Scott Pelley were competing in the White House briefing room to see who could sound more like Sarah Brady and press Mike McCurry into advocating repeal the Second Amendment.
On the April 6 "CBS Evening News," Pelley continued the anti-gun crusade: "Dan, the assault gun ban bans the importation of 58 kinds of military style weapons. Now that sounds impressive but the ban actually has a loophole in it that is big enough to drive a tank through." Pelley dutifully spotlighted Clinton's announcement exploiting the Jonesboro shooting, but didn't have time for an opposing viewpoint from the National Rifle Association. He also didn't make the sort of adversarial points White House reporters used to make in the Reagan-Bush years. For example: the boy killers in Jonesboro weren't exactly using foreign-made assault weapons.
Right after Pelley's report, CBS's Jim Stewart blamed guns, not criminals, for recent tragedies. "Pick almost any scene from a slaughter in recent U.S. history and at the core of it you will find a madman and his assault weapon." (Coded message: only madmen don't favor banning these weapons.) Stewart recounted infamous shootings at a Stockton, California schoolyard, a Texas McDonald's and last year's Hollywood bank robbery shootout. Stewart painted a dire portrait of America without more gun controls, noting "lone crazies" and organized-crime types both "like the large capacity magazines which are now illegal to manufacture, but still easy enough to find...they turn your average semi-automatic assault gun into its full blown military cousin. And in the blink of an eye turn an otherwise ordinary crime scene into a virtual war zone." Mission accomplished: you've scared a bunch of soccer moms. And CBS could care less that the President lacks the legal authority to ban whole classes of weapons by executive order.
Despite Clinton's complete lack of a hard-and-fast ideology, these two recent actions both qualify as a classic liberal two-fer, the podium-pounding tough pose on gun control and the dangerously Jello-soft back-door sellouts on national defense. If our media weren't so stacked with Clinton-loving liberals, wouldn't the news be a lot more interesting to watch?