John F. Harris spent six years on the White House beat during the low, dishonest Clinton years for the Washington Post. Forwarding all that dishonesty with a straight face (or its print equivalent) for all that time has taken a toll on poor Mr. Harris. With the arrival of a new President who's more Ozzie and Harriet than Sex and the City, he is channeling a Clintonite mantra: the media are much nicer to Bush than they were to poor Bill.
In the Washington Post "Outlook" section, Harris began by betraying his inspiration: "I was on the receiving end the other day of a harangue from Rahm Emanuel, a top aide in the Clinton White House, who is not impressed by the news media's coverage of President Bush." Harris noted that the complaint "had a note of self-pity," but the self-pity was unanimous, "a view I hear these days in virtually every conversation with any Democrat." Perhaps we should have some pity for people who devoted eight years of their lives to working for a leader who'll be remembered mostly for juicy passages in the Starr Report. There's so much rehabilitating to do, and so few decades of their lives left to do it.
But Harris isn't really dissuaded by the self-pity. He's helping them wallow in it. He's still an enabler.
A few hundred words could never contain the book-length rebuttal Harris's ridiculous litany could inspire. But let's home in on the obvious point: Harris is just as addicted to promoting Clintonite spin as they are to shoveling it out. Observe the following pathetic themes that sound like they were dictated from Clinton's dinner table in Chappaqua:
1. There's no left-wing attack machine. Harris claimed one big reason for Bush's easy ride: "There is no well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president...Who is the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh, who so colorfully rallied opposition to Clinton? Nor is there an obvious Democratic version of Rep. Dan Burton, eager to aim the investigative apparatus of Congress at the White House."
This sounds exactly like Bill Clinton in his first term whining about how Limbaugh was awarded three hours of airtime a day with no truth squad, as if Limbaugh had more media power and influence than that insignificant President of the United States. Here's your counterargument, Rahm Emanuel: who is the conservative equivalent of Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings pounding the GOP every night? Who is the conservative equivalent of ABC and CNN boss Rick Kaplan, the presidential golfing buddy? Where is the conservative equivalent of Time or Newsweek reaching millions of Americans each week with cover stories on Newt Gingrich as Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch?
2. Clinton was the victim of harsh, unpatriotic tone, not a perpetrator. To Harris, the only intemperate rhetoric came from the right: "For the most part, Clinton's foes and their contemptuous views of him were within the bounds of fair debate. But Democrats are not likely to give as good as they got. They simply aren't as well organized. And they are not shouting as loudly."
Harris must have lost half of his brain to forget the Clinton style of "fair debate." How can he forget what the White House attack machine did to Kenneth Starr, or Linda Tripp, or Kathleen Willey? How about the smearing of Billy Dale? What about Clinton blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on talk radio? Were those all "within the bounds"? The Clintonites specialized in character assassination and lies, and no one should claim with a straight face that they didn't "give as good as they got."
3. Democrats are wimps on Bush. As if Rahm Emanuel weren't good enough, Harris moves on to James Carville, "one of the few Democrats to match conservative zeal for combat." What Harris is saying here is "I wish all Democrats were as harsh as Carville." The raging Cajun is frustrated by how the Democrats and the media are "not reacting more aggressively to such things as Bush's discomfort at news conferences and confusing statements." Carville's saying it's time to get personal, and call Bush dangerously moronic. Apparently, it's wimpy to just run TV ads claiming Bush wants more arsenic in kids' water, and more salmonella in their cheeseburgers.
No one who actually studies the content of the national media can say President Bush is getting an "easy ride." Harris and his Clintonite manipulators are simply trying to goad the media into being harsher. Don't let them tell you that Bill Clinton isn't already saying what he thinks of this presidency. Harris is the rebuttal.