1996's Winners and Losers in the Press
by L. Brent Bozell III
November 12, 1996
Another long campaign is over. Now that the inside-the-Beltway media sages have pronounced their winners and losers, what say we analyze the job they did, for a change?
Winners: Pollster John Zogby and the Reuters News Service, whose polls were regularly ignored, or ridiculed, throughout the campaign. They consistently showed a smaller lead for Bill Clinton than did all the other major media surveys. Zogby's last poll put the gap at 8.1 percent - and it ended up at 8.4.
Losers: The other media outlets, especially CNN-USA Today-Gallup, and CBS-New York Times, whose inaccurate polls constantly put the race at ridiculous gaps of more than 20 points.
Loser: CNN analyst Bill Schneider, who predicted a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives on the eve of the elections.
Losers: CNN "Capital Gang" experts Al Hunt ("Helen Chenoweth, the militia momma, is toast"), Margaret Carlson ("Oh absolutely, toast, yeah") and Mark Shields ("Helen Chenoweth better start working on her concession speech").
Winner: Their colleague Robert Novak ("Helen Chenoweth is not toast"), same program.
Winners: The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal. Each broke countless stories on Clinton administration scandals throughout the campaign.
Honorable Mention: The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. Both broke last-minute stories on the Democratic National Committee's very questionable fundraising practices abroad.
Winner: Jerry Seper of The Washington Times, who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for breaking countless Clinton scandals, much to the embarrassment of the rest of the so-called investigative news media.
Loser: Jerry Seper, who will never win a Pulitzer Prize for the same reason.
Losers: The networks. Gone are the days of investigative journalism - at least while Democrats control the presidency. An internal White House memo leaked to The Wall Street Journal lists - count 'em - 36 different scandals swirling around the administration. With all their news programs, their "60 Minutes," "Datelines," and "Prime Time Lives," not one major scandal was ever broken by the networks. And even when scandals were broken by others, more often than not the networks refused to report them on their newscasts.
Loser: Al D'Amato. Constantly accused of political opportunism and shameless grandstanding by the media.
Winner: Anyone in the media who correctly accused D'Amato of political opportunism and shameless grandstanding.
Winners: Sam Brownback, Helen Chenoweth, and Jesse Helms. Not content to have Big Labor spend tens of millions to defeat them, the media echoed the same "extremist," "far right," and "radical conservative" themes in their own news stories. All won their campaigns.
Losers: Those who urged, with reporters cheering them on, that the GOP abandon its pro-life platform. Two of those media darlings - Pete Wilson and Arlen Specter, were demolished in the presidential campaign. A third, Gov. Bill Weld, insisted, with media "experts" concurring, the fight against the pro-life plank would help with the female vote - and then got 38 percent among women in his own race. A Richard Wirthlin poll for the National Right to Life Committee told the tale once again: more people voting on the abortion issue voted pro-life than pro-choice, and once again, the media spiked the report.
Winners: The rare network investigators - ABC's Brian Ross (on the influence of Big Business and Big Labor in the campaign) and CNN's Brooks Jackson (correcting the "cuts" claims of Democrats) - without whom evening news coverage would be almost totally vacuous and unoriginal.
Losers: The networks' Election Night coverage. It was bad enough that, armed with so much incorrect exit polling data (sorry, Sen. Dick Swett), so many reporters suggested a Democratic takeover of the Senate was in the realm of possibility. But this was followed then by the late-night, what-does-it-all-mean analysis that was pure claptrap. From Tom Brokaw to Bernie Shaw to so many others, the spin was (and continues to be) the public voted for moderation, for centrism. Never mind that there isn't a shred of evidence to bolster that claim. If, as these reporters have been saying for months, this was a referendum on the Newt Gingrich revolution; and if, as they told us all along, the House Republican freshmen were most vulnerable because of this; and if, after all this and over $200 million thrown against them by Big Labor, only 13 of 71 freshmen running for re-election (including two moderates) were defeated - isn't this a clear validation of their conservative message?
Winners (and to them, a tip of the hat): Those who told the truth about the media's pro-Clinton slant - Bernard Goldberg of CBS and Sam Donaldson of ABC. They saw their colleagues' blatant liberal-leaning coverage and had the courage to wonder publicly if the so-called "news" media are no longer observers, but active participants, in the political process.
Winner: Finally, David Brinkley. I hope future journalists will look at this gracious man as a professional role model, who dedicated his career to fairness and balance. And I don't care why he said what he said on Election Night. It's about time someone said it.