Most political consultants would warn that running commercials 19 months before the election isn't the most effective use of funds. But it paid off tremendously for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) when they took to the airwaves with ads attacking the abortion records of Republican candidates George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole.
It was the oldest trick in the book. NARAL ponied up just a few thousand dollars for the ad buy, but what they were counting on - and got - was hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity, thanks to the networks. Both NBC and CNN presented exactly the theme NARAL wanted, that old quadrennial chestnut - the Republicans are "too extreme" on abortion.
Despite NARAL's tried and true tactic of calling anyone to their right "extreme," the networks didn't ask: where do NARAL's opinion fit on the abortion spectrum? NARAL is so extreme they cheer the idea of taxpayer-funded security equipment for multi-millionaire abortionists. But you'll never see NARAL described as "extreme." Heck, reporters won't even call them "liberal."
Imagine that the Christian Coalition or Gary Bauer's Campaign for Working Families announced an ad campaign making the point that Al Gore and Bill Bradley are "too extreme" on abortion.What kind of positive network air time would they get? What kind of free publicity selling their point of view? In fact, as has been the case numerous times in the past, the networks won't even sell them advertising time.
The coverage for NARAL was not only sappy, it was wrong. On the March 22 "Inside Politics," CNN's Judy Woodruff never called NARAL liberal but did label Pat Robertson and the National Right to Life Committee conservative. After Woodruff played portions of two the NARAL ads she suggested the GOP would have to walk a fine line: "The abortion issue presents a troubling complication for a Republican Party anxious to win back the White House, for while anti-abortion activists make up a large part of the GOP base, other more moderate voters, especially women, have drifted away from the party, in part because of its hard-line image on issues like abortion."
Here we go again with the media's "pro-lifers-hurt-politicians'-chances" mantra. When, oh, when will these reporters concede (or learn) otherwise? Even die-hard pro-aborts like Faye Wattleton, whose own Center for Gender Equality discovered that 53 percent of all women oppose abortion, had to admit it. Another 17 percent in Wattleton's poll said abortion laws should be tougher than they are now. Why can't reporters stop the charade?
On NBC's "Today" the next morning, reporter Lisa Myers opened: "Eleven months before the first primary two top Republican hopefuls already are under fire. Accused of trying to hide their opposition to abortion. An abortion rights group is running ads in Iowa and New Hampshire questioning whether Elizabeth Dole is all that different from her male opponents."
Myers, also publicizing NARAL without a liberal label, played a portion of an ad claiming "Like the rest of the Republicans on the far right, Elizabeth Dole is anti-choice." Now, anybody putting Liddy Dole on the "far right" deserves either an old-style "ad watch" rebuttal or a laugh track, but Myers was silent. Myers played a second NARAL ad in which both Bush the Sequel and Pat Buchanan are pictured with the narrator asking, "Which Republican presidential hopeful said, 'I will do everything in my power to restrict abortions?' Nope. George W. Bush did."
Both Bush and Dole responded to the NARAL attack by saying next to nothing. (Surprise!) Both candidates have their fingers in the wind on abortion, still intimidated by the media's pro-abortion biases. But Steve Forbes counter-attacked, airing radio ads charging NARAL is a liberal stalking horse for the Gore campaign. His ads charged that Gore supports positions most Americans don't, like opposition to parental consent, taxpayer-funded abortions, and partial-birth abortions. "The next time you see an ad attacking me, ask Vice President Gore why he's hiding, while his liberal friends do his dirty work."
Did CNN, NBC, or any other network cover the counter-attack? No. On CNN's "Inside Politics" March 29, a week after her first report, Judy Woodruff repeated that NARAL ran ads attacking Bush and Dole, and asked reporters in Iowa and New Hampshire "How are they playing?"
In announcing her ads, NARAL boss Kate Michelman claimed Bush and Dole "are trying to hide their extreme views because they know those views are not shared by the majority of the American people." Frankly, one expects Kate Michelman to lie, and it is too much to ask her to desist. But it's not too much to ask the networks to stop promoting falsehoods.