- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

The late, brilliant professor of semantics (and U.S. senator) S.I. Hayakawa wrote almost half a century ago that the act of communication is the basic moral act: "One begins with the sharing of perceptions about commonplace or even obvious things, so that, with the establishment of myriads of little agreements, larger and larger agreements become possible." That would be a pretty good mission statement for a news organization.
But, regretfully, not all news organizations report the details accurately, thereby justifying the confidence of their readers or viewers which brings me to the anti-gun "Million Mom March" (a Mother's Day march on Washington which will call for registration of all handguns and other sundry gun-control measures.)
CNN's coverage is typical. Earlier this week CNN reported that "the march is the brainchild of a New Jersey mother, Donna Dees-Thomases, who conceived of the idea as she watched footage of a shooting at an area day camp." In a script that goes on for more than four single-spaced pages, that is all we learn of Ms. Dees-Thomases.
But that is just television what about the printed word? In a major, front-of-the-section Sunday piece, the New York Times headlined its story: "Invoking the Moral Authority of Moms." Befitting the greatest news organization in the universe, the Times gives us more information. It quotes Ms. Dees-Thomases explaining: "Our maternal instincts were just kicking in … Everyone truly believes that until we get the politics out of this, nothing much will get done … This is a public health issue … This is personal, not political … We are in this for one reason alone: to keep our kids safe."
The New York Times, whose motto is "all the news that's fit to print," does manage to squeeze into this almost 2000-word report the background fact that Ms. Dees-Thomases is "currently on leave from her job as a part-time publicist for CBS." So, apparently, she is not just any New Jersey mother, but a part-time CBS publicist. But even the vaunted New York Times couldn't fit in all the news about Ms. Dees-Thomases. Before she was a part-time publicist, she was Dan Rather himself's publicist and by reputation an exceptionally able public relations executive.
Oh, there is one other interesting fact about her. If the last half of her hyphenated name rings a bell, it's no accident. She just happens to be the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases, who just happens to be Hillary Clinton's best friend and closest political adviser. Just a New Jersey housewife, indeed. One might as well identify Queen Elizabeth as "Liz Windsor, an English mother of four."
Now, maybe all those warmhearted thoughts about maternal instincts, the kids and getting politics out of it, are genuine. But when the organizer of this event so timely and politically useful to the Clintons turns out to be so closely connected to the Clintons, shouldn't that be reported widely?
During the New York Republican primary, when some anti-McCain environmental ads ran on New York television, the major media formed a posse to find out who placed the ads. When it turned out to be a businessman closely connected to George W. Bush, that became the main story. For days the media itemized every available detail about the Bush connection as well they should have. The public has a right to judge the motives of political players by knowing their background and affiliations.
The absence of such information in the New York Times piece is particularly galling, because it is an otherwise fascinating account of the role of mothers in reform crusades. I have a personal interest in that topic because for many years my mother, now retired, was an organizer for the Mother's March of Dimes, which fought polio and birth defects. Now those were public health issues bereft of politics. So it upsets me when political operatives cover their activities under the saintly mantle of motherhood.
Yet, in the lead of that New York Times article Ms. Dees-Thomases' motives are characterized as "trying to break through ideology and partisanship and make an appeal based on the moral authority of women as mothers." Thus it is penetratingly probative of the story's thesis (and of Ms. Dees-Thomases' credibility), whether Ms. Dees-Thomases is acting "as a mother" or as a political operative. To deny the readers such necessary (and available) information is to breach what professor Hayakawa called the moral act of communication.

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