- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

Things are getting so bad for the Democrats that even their message about being ignored by the news media was dismissed.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote to cable executives recently that the networks are not giving Democrats their fair share of television coverage.
But some news coverage of their letter characterized it as "whining." With that image threatening to overshadow their issue, Mr. Gephardt on Thursday felt compelled to clarify for reporters what exactly was the Democrats' original point.
"We just tried to point out something that we think maybe has gotten lost in all of this," said Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. "There needs to be some ability on the part of the loyal opposition to get its ideas in front of the American people."
Democrats have been complaining for months that, with a war on, news organizations have given too much coverage to the Bush administration and not enough to their side. They said Democrats have averaged only about 6 percent of the live television coverage the same percentage of journalists who identified themselves as "conservative" in a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Democrats' exasperation continued to boil over last week on issues as seemingly innocuous as the farm bill.
When a reporter asked Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, whether it was too late to apply crop prices in the unfinished farm bill to the crops produced this year, the normally patient senator didn't hide his annoyance. Democrats had tried to make that case late last year, but the White House won the day by arguing the farm aid was too expensive and premature.
"When we say things a lot and never and don't break through, it's so frustrating," Mr. Daschle replied. "But that was what we were trying to say last December, and you all reported the administration just didn't think it was necessary. And so we never were able to get that message out, unfortunately. Now you're asking me the questions that we said you would be asking last December, and never got any traction. We never broke through on it "
Congressional Republicans said the White House always receives the most news coverage, no matter which party is in power.
"The big dog eats first," said Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who is active in the House Republicans' message strategy. "It's one of the problems we had as the minority party under [President] Clinton. The president has the 500-pound megaphone, and we couldn't win for losing. We were in the D section of the paper, right under the Help Wanted."
Spokesmen for the networks said the president and his Cabinet are making the decisions on how to run the war, so they deserve the level of coverage they receive.
Brent Baker, vice president of the conservative Media Research Center in Alexandria, said there has been "a TV bias in favor of the president" for the past 35 years or more, regardless of party.
He said that Mr. Clinton used the cable networks to his advantage during the government shutdown in 1995, and that not all of the coverage of President Bush has been favorable.
"Part of it is [White House press secretary] Ari Fleischer being quizzed by liberal reporters," Mr. Baker said.
He also said the combined viewership of daytime cable news is "miniscule" less than 2 million daily, compared with about 3 million for the CBS "Early Show," the lowest-rated network morning show.
Democrats complain that Mr. Bush, whose popularity remains high, is mixing war and politics on the campaign trail as he stumps for Republican candidates in the November elections. Mr. Daschle argued last week that Mr. Bush was neglecting his domestic agenda in Washington in favor of politicking outside the Beltway.
"The president certainly has an active itinerary, going to those states where they have close Senate races," Mr. Daschle said. "He's spending a lot of time on the road campaigning, and I don't see as much activity here in Washington on these important priorities."
John Feehery, spokesman for Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, said Democrats must do more than oppose Republicans' actions to get network coverage.
"If they had anything other than whining to offer, the networks might cover them," Mr. Feehery said. "To make the news, you've got to make news."

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