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The Gaffe Patrol: Still Blatantly Partisan

The Gaffe Patrol: Still Blatantly Partisan
by L. Brent Bozell III
May 2, 1996

Where, oh, where has the Gaffe Patrol gone? For years, the media have blown up the smallest utterances of Republican politicians into national scandals. But Democratic gaffes just don't achieve national notoriety.

The latest proof arrived in the April 27 Los Angeles Times, where reporter John Broder performed a series of rare journalistic rituals. In covering Hillary Clinton's speech to Emily's List, he typified her remarks as "sharply partisan and at times caustic" and even properly identified Emily's List as a "liberal Democratic women's organization." But perhaps the most shocking revelation came when Broder noted: "Speaking in a mock African American accent, Mrs. Clinton said that [San Francisco Mayor Willie] Brown asked two years ago to be introduced to 'this Emily List' whom he supposed to be a wealthy Democratic donor. 'She's supportin' all these people. She's supportin' Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She's supported Sen. Barbara Boxer...She supported everybody. Why won't she support me?"

The San Francisco Examiner took up the reference to Mayor Brown. Emily's List press flack Frank Wilkinson said "Clinton delivered her Willie Brown quotes not in a black accent, as was characterized by the Los Angeles Times, but 'in a Willie Brown accent. She was imitating Willie Brown.'" The story went absolutely nowhere.

This line was not sufficient when Sen. Al D'Amato did a bad impression of O.J. Simpson trial Judge Lance Ito. NBC's "Today" show highlighted the story two days in a row, including a Katie Couric interview: "Democratic Congressman Norman Mineta and his family were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans placed in detention camps in the United States during World War II."

When House Majority Leader Dick Armey misspoke by calling gay Rep. Barney Frank "Barney Fag," The CBS Evening News made the gaffe its number one story January 27, 1995. ABC's "World News Tonight" flagged the story at the top of the broadcast, and anchor Catherine Crier asked minutes later: "Was it a slip of the tongue or a sign of deep prejudice?"

The double standard exists in any year you select. In March 1993, the Washington Post made it front-page news (and on to the networks) when Oliver North imitated a lisping homosexual calling the White House at a GOP roast. (When Democrat Doug Wilder feigned a lisp to a Post reporter two months later, the Post reported it on D7.) When Al Gore claimed days before the 1994 elections that North drew support from "the extreme right wing, the extra chromosome right wing," the networks did nothing, even though advocates for those with Down's syndrome, caused by an extra chromosome, objected to Gore's insensitivity.

Not only can Hillary speak in a mock black accent, Bill Clinton can openly fake his emotions and get away with it. In another moment of journalistic unorthodoxy, NBC's Bob Faw showed the nation footage of Clinton coming out of a memorial service for Ron Brown. An animated Clinton talks and laughs until he spots cameras, and within seconds, he drops his head and wipes away feigned tears. Laughing is not prohibited in remembering a departed friend, and abrupt solemnity for the cameras is a very minor offense. But wiping away nonexistent tears! Is there a better five-second demonstration of the hollow fakery of Bill Clinton?

Remarkably, the unanimously liberal cast of regulars on CNN's "Reliable Sources" scolded Bob Faw for running this revealing gaffe. From the bottomless pit of gall at the Clinton White House, aide George Stephanopoulos criticized NBC: "We've seen reporters play at being theater critics. Now we see them as amateur psychologists or even pastors. It's really outrageous to see that kind of cynicism embedded in a report." Cynicism isn't in faking tears for voters, it's in exposing it?

Columnist Martin Schram echoed the Clinton spin: "I used to think that the low for television was in-your-face journalism, when they would put a camera and a microphone in a guy's face and chase him down the street. This is worse. This is in-your-head journalism." PBS pseudo-journalist Ellen Hume, whose husband works for Clinton, added: "Bob just went way overboard, and he went into territory he has no idea what was genuine and what wasn't."

Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz just made things up: "You could be at the funeral of a friend and you could be talking and accepting condolences, and when you go up to make a speech, you kind of choke up because you're emotional about it. What's so crazy, what's so noteworthy about that?"

Moderator Bernard Kalb announced with furrowed brow: ""How does a reporter trivialize the president's emotions or the president's sincerity? I don't know where the starting point is for that sort of journalism, but I find it, as you do, Ellen, clearly unacceptable." You can't trivialize the president's sincerity. He's wiped it out all on his own.