- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

ON MEDIA

Both print and broadcast media gyrated at the confluence of politics and American culture this year and emerged chastened but still feisty from the experience.

A media war most likely looms for the new Bush administration as liberal-leaning journalists strike back. It should make for a lively marketplace in 2001.

Meanwhile, a few sterling media moments from the last 12 months:

• The big bust. On Election Night, cable and broadcast networks prematurely announced Al Gore had won the Florida vote, only to retract the call once real poll numbers proved otherwise.

They hedged their way through the night, while newspapers reconfigured front pages up to four times with changing reports.

A Washington law firm later filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against the broadcasters, claiming they had "subverted the public interest" with the early call.

• Bush-phobia: The election impasse made "president-elect" a rare designation in the media. Mr. Bush remained "governor" in many reports until Mr. Gore's "legal challenges" ended.

Even after the Supreme Court's final decision Dec. 13, some couldn't surrender to the news of a Bush victory.

CBS said the decision did not "deliver the presidency to George Bush" and hinted the Gore contest could continue while NBC suggested Mr. Gore become "a shadow president, a de facto president."

• No pictures: Before its decision, the Supreme Court tested broadcast media with 90 minutes of historic dialogue but no pictures.

Cable and broadcast channels wisely let the direct audio feed run undoctored, revealing the nation's fanciest legal footwork.

• The big boost. Coverage of chads, lawyers and Votomatics was often loony but it provided the biggest boost for the 24-hour media since President Clinton's impeachment. Cable channels reported increases of viewership up to 342 percent during November.

• Print bias. The October issue of Editor & Publisher revealed a poll of 2,000 newspaper readers who found liberal bias in the print media. Forty-four percent said their paper "favored one candidate over the other" and two-thirds of those said it was Mr. Gore who got preferential treatment.

• Kiss and pants. To boost his media image, Mr. Gore passionately kissed "stunned" wife Tipper at the Democratic convention in August timed by journalists at three seconds, and buzzed about for five days.

The vice president also shed his wonk image by wearing jeans and earth-toned colors, culminating in a Rolling Stone cover in snug trousers, said to be airbrushed in a strategic area.

• On the tripe trail: The Project for Excellence in Journalism monitored 17 print, broadcast and Internet news groups to find much ado about little content.

Of 1,149 stories, 57 percent covered "internal politics of campaigning," rather than policy issues or character; reporters preferred to cover "performance tactics" during presidential debates, campaign ads and even "momentum and media."

• Late-night bounce: The power of the punch line found candidates vying for coveted spots on late-night TV. Comedy hours were a convenient springboard for politicians intent on gilding their images with clever one-liners. The New York Times called midnight fare the "election's barometer."

• The Inter-Not: Cyberspace is still wanting. In March, the American Bar Association warned the public there was no privacy on the Internet.

"Few laws limit what the private sector can do with information collected in cyberspace," the ABA advised.

The Committee for Concerned Journalists later analyzed the 12 political Web sites to find a third had no original material and "only half" had links to the candidates.

• Pre-emptive strike. The New York Times disarmed its own bomb. In an unprecedented action, the 149-year-old newspaper printed an admission that the paper's coverage of espionage accusations against nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee was flawed.

"It is not an apology," the Times told The Washington Times. "It is an assessment."

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at 202/636-3085 or by e-mail (Harper@twtmail.com).

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