- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

Democratic leaders are increasingly lining up to denounce certain newspapers, radio commentators and television networks as biased for Republicans and conservatives.

Al Gore became the latest such Democrat, saying in an interview published yesterday in the Dec. 2 New York Observer that some news outlets are in league with Republicans to inject the party's message into daily coverage.

"Fox News network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh there's a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultraconservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media," he said.

His remarks follow those of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who last week decried the "shrill rhetoric" on conservative talk radio, which he compared to the "shrill power that motivates" theocrats in other countries and which he blamed for threats on public officials' lives.

Many conservatives have long felt that most news outlets ignore legitimate stories or spin stories to advance a liberal agenda, but in recent years Democrats have responded with their own charges of bias.

When she was first lady, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, charged that she and her husband were the target of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to discredit the administration.

In his interview, Mr. Gore said some news outlets act in order to affect the way others report news. He said it begins when they publish or air an item developed at the Republican National Committee.

"They'll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they'll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they've pushed into the zeitgeist," he said. "Pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these RNC talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

Democrats and Republicans were divided on whether the two men's comments represent a new strategy or just their frustration at losing the 2000 and 2002 elections.

"Maybe these guys are just trying to rally their base," Mr. Limbaugh said on his top-rated radio program yesterday. "They know the base hates me, the base hates Fox News Channel, base hates conservative anything. And that's where you start if you're rebuilding. You've got to get your base."

Mr. Limbaugh said what Mr. Gore is complaining about isn't bias or spin, but rather some news outlets' willingness to look at different parts of a story that other papers and television networks don't examine.

But Paul Begala, who along with fellow Democratic strategist James Carville helped Bill Clinton win two terms as president and now is an analyst for CNN, said the Democratic leaders' comments are less a strategy than "a statement of the obvious."

He said Mr. Limbaugh and commentators on Fox News, as well as the editorial pages of The Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, do have a conservative bent. But he said the problem Democrats face isn't those news outlets.

"They tried to kill Bill Clinton every single day. He kicked their ass, and won election twice," he said, pointing out that even at the height of his impeachment trial in the Senate, Mr. Clinton's job-approval ratings were still high. "It's not the media; it's the message."

Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the remarks just represent frustration with election losses.

"I think it's just two frustrated people who once had a following who seem to be losing all ability to lead. They're offering nothing, really, to their party and to the American people other than excuses," he said.

In Mr. Daschle's remarks, made at a briefing with reporters and aimed particularly at conservative talk radio, he said threats to him and his family increased when talk-radio hosts blamed him for obstructing Republicans' agenda in Congress.

David Dougherty, a Democratic strategist in Washington, said that if the broader critique of conservative commentators is a new plan, "it's a pathetic excuse for a national strategy."

"Before we start bellyaching about getting our message out, I think we should think about our message," he said.

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