`You can't say we weren't cautious," said CNN's Judy Woodruff shortly after calling Florida, with 98 per cent of the vote in, for President George W. Bush Tuesday night.
"I enjoyed how much I've heard `We don't know,'" her colleague Aaron Brown said at some other point in the long night, referring to how nobody was jumping the electoral gun on the states. "We're not ashamed to say that."
Yeah? So where was their sense of shame over the past four years? Where was the circumspection, deliberation and responsible reporting after Americans went to the polls in 2000?
Instead of waving the flag and waiving the freedom to criticize the self-styled "war president," the media should have been asking the questions that needed asking.
They suited up and counted down to a dubious and disastrous war on Iraq where as many as 100,000 civilians have been "liberated" from this mortal coil and where American kids are killed for want of armoured Humvees.
Which makes that ad of the gorgeous blonde driving her son to school in a Hummer — while the cool kids coo "Nice ride!" — all the more obscene.
But then it's all about the bottom line, not the public interest.
That's why so much of the coverage of the presidential campaign focused on trivia — the polls, the ads, Howard Dean's scream, the already out Mary Cheney's being outed as a lesbian, nausea ad nauseam — instead of real issues such as the economy, the environment, education, health care and, oh yes, that mess in Iraq.
Even the reporters who brought us all this mili-tainment in the past few years admit their work has come up short, at least according to last month's survey of its members by the Committee of Concerned Journalists.
That's assuming that the Wolf Blitzers and the Tim Russerts are "concerned journalists," of course.
So now what? Now that the Democrats have finally shaken off the shackles of patriotic correctness, will they keep screaming?
And will the mainstream media give progressives and dissenters the microphone they have been denied since those planes ripped through the heart — and fearful heartland — of America?
Don't count on it.
After all, Sept. 11 has faded so far from the conversation — except when exploited for political purposes — that the media have glossed over the report of the special inquiry that Bush did not want to appoint.
Iraq is so dangerous that the few Western reporters remaining there rarely venture out of their fortified Baghdad compounds to do their jobs.
And when the media actually produce tough journalism, such as last month's late-breaker on the looted explosives, they are attacked by the right for being "liberal."
Make no mistake: "Liberals" — whether they're pro-choice grannies or bereaved fathers of the casualties in Iraq — will continue to be the enemy and Bush will keep using his get-out-of-criticism-jail-free card.
That despite Vanity Fair media critic Michael Wolff's accurate observation last month that "all modern-era second-termers get at least the semi-bum's rush: Clinton was impeached; Teflon Reagan was besmirched; Nixon was thrown out of office."
But Wolff is wrong when he posits that the mainstream media will demonize Bush. He can't possibly believe that the Rush Limbaughs, the Tucker Carlsons and the Bill O'Reillys will now turn on their guy.
And if he thinks that the more moderate talking heads on CNN and MSNBC will now ask the questions that must be asked, I want some of the drug he's on. That's because the right has tightened its grip on the White House, the Congress and the Senate.
And as for the media, well, the right already had it by the throat.
As Joe Conason wrote in his Big
Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine And How It Distorts The Truth,
"Conservatives enjoy their virtual monopoly over the nation's political
conversation, of course. They paid a lot of money for it and they intend
to keep it."
Yesterday, CNN's Bill Hemmer actually mused about liberalism being "dead" in the United States. Never mind that 55 million voters chose John Kerry, or that just about every survey conducted over the past 10 years indicates that Americans overwhelmingly support such liberal concepts as universal health care.
Already the media are throwing caution to the winds, conducting an autopsy on liberalism. But reports of its death are, like calling a close race before the ballots are counted, premature.
More to the point, if they seriously think liberalism is dead and they are looking for the killer, they should be looking to themselves.
© 2004 Toronto Star