MediaWatch: June 15, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 9

Rest in Peace, Extremist

Network correspondents managed to condemn Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" line when he died, but not the infamous "daisy" ad that suggested he'd start a nuclear war. Only CNN and FNC tied the launch of Ronald Reagan's political career to his speech for Goldwater.

The day he passed away, May 29, Dan Rather displayed the very liberal bias which so upset Goldwater backers in 1964, declaring on the CBS Evening News: "Goldwater was born 89 years ago in Arizona, before it was a state. CBS's Richard Schlesinger remembers the man who turned the GOP hard to the right."

Schlesinger insisted Goldwater's convention speech did more harm than good: "When Goldwater was nominated for President in 1964 his speech defined him and haunted him for the rest of his career." Viewers heard the first half of his famous line - "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" - but not the second half about how "moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue."

Schlesinger moved to the ad in which a little girl pulls petals from a daisy matching a countdown which ends with a nuclear blast: "Lyndon Johnson jumped at the chance to portray Goldwater as a loose cannon in the nuclear age. What might have been the first negative TV ad in history hammered home the point."

ABC matched CBS, letting viewers hear only the first half of Goldwater's comment. Anchor Peter Jennings introduced the "extremism" line: "To his conservative political supporters he was a savior. In your heart, they said, you know he's right." After the Goldwater clip Jennings continued: "To his opponents, including President Johnson who he ran against, he was a dangerous extremist. In your heart, they said, you know he's nuts." Then, over video of the daisy ad, Jennings announced without judgment: "With political ads like this one, that suggested Goldwater would get the nation into war with the Soviets, President Johnson buried him."

CNN's Bernard Shaw also refrained from condemning the daisy ad: "Vietnam became a campaign issue, but President Johnson defended himself by successfully painting Goldwater as a right-wing kook who couldn't be trusted to have his finger on the nuclear button. This commercial ran once and voters got the message."

The media may have delivered another round of biased coverage, but the media message against Goldwater three decades ago did not go unnoticed. On A&E's Biography This Week, narrator Richard Schlesinger of CBS News noted how liberal Republicans attacked Goldwater in '64, adding: "The press joined the charge. There were insinuations that he was a Nazi." Viewers then saw a CBS News story by Daniel Schorr, now with NPR.