By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustration by Peter Bennett|
When the jury reached its verdict in the Scott Peterson trial — any fertilizer salesman with that many hairstyles had to be guilty — you could hear the cable-news honchos cheering all the way from Redwood City. After months of the same old Laci-Scott-Amber triangulation, the story got a new angle. Finally, some must-see TV.
Nobody was more delighted than the folks at Fox News, who cherished the Peterson case because it wasn’t about the murder of a mere woman: Why, the bastard killed a fetus! Looking suspiciously like a CGI refugee from The Polar Express, creepy-suave anchor Shepard Smith whiled away the minutes before the jury’s announcement by discussing why this particular murder had proved so boffo (pretty people, Christmas Eve, massage therapist). The same issue came up on CNN, where it predictably took on a killjoy tone. After long hours of belaboring the trial (Jeffrey Toobin was airlifted in for the occasion), CNN’s house conscience, Aaron Brown, trotted out his trademark shtick — interrupting his report on the Peterson verdict to let us know the story was actually beneath his journalistic dignity.
Not that Brown had been knocking himself out to explore stories worthy of his vanity. Although the Internet was ablaze with tales of Election Day fraud — and millions of voters were convinced it had happened — the only mainstream figure to take the idea seriously was MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. All but sporting a beret and Sierra Maestre beard, this unlikely rebel examined the voting controversy night after night on Countdown, offering interviews and information you didn’t see on the other networks.
He was absolutely right to do so. Like you, I don’t know whether the election was stolen, but given the circumstances — the tens of thousands of voters knocked off the rolls, the hundreds of thousands of disputed ballots, the use of hackable electronic voting machines (manufactured by self-proclaimed Bush supporters) that don’t leave paper trails, the startling gap between the official pro-Bush tallies and the pro-Kerry exit polls (which even Republican guru Dick Morris told Fox are famously accurate), not to mention the whole disgraceful history of the 2000 voting in Florida — given all this, it’s hardly unreasonable to have suspicions of jiggery-pokery.
Which makes it all the more unnerving that, Olbermann aside, the big media outlets either ignored the question of electoral malfeasance or went out of their way to mock anyone who didn’t. Those supposed bastions of liberal bias, The New York Times and the Washington Post, devoted articles to debunking Internet claims of voter fraud. Indeed, the Post piece ("Latest Conspiracy Theory — Kerry Won — Hits the Ether") was so nakedly derisive that you would never have guessed that Kerry voters might have any reason to feel concern or that democracy is threatened when computerized machines make recounting votes impossible. Obviously determined to maintain social order (and bitch-slap uppity bloggers), the Post sought to squelch all discussion, thereby setting the limits of what it’s politically acceptable to say.
These days, the limits on speech are increasingly defined by the right, which never, ever stops pushing. Despite controlling all three branches of government and the machinery of economic power — two-thirds of those making over $200,000 voted for Bush — conservatives keep playing their tricky double game. Even as they insist that they have been given a mandate (51 percent), they rail that leftist elites are somehow running everything. Accordingly, last Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured a hilariously bogus op-ed by Bret Stephens assailing arrogant lefties for assuming they get to decide what ideas are legitimate.
While I’m tickled by the image of today’s gelatinous liberals browbeating beleaguered conservatives ("You must vatch Ze Vest Ving — or else"), precisely the opposite is happening. The current Columbia Journalism Review explains how the right, especially the Bush administration, has hijacked reporting on such scientific issues as global warming (true) and claims that abortion increases the likelihood of breast cancer (false). Even when the scientific consensus points in one direction, news organizations now feel obliged to quote the dissenting opinions of fringe scientists motivated by ideology, theology or corporate financing. Such "phony balance" implies there’s an ongoing debate when, in fact, the scientific community has no doubts that creationism is bunk.
The right’s attempt to grab power is even more blatant with cultural issues. Speak up for gay marriage and somebody will snap that you "just don’t get it" — that the left is on the wrong side of the cultural divide that carried Bush to red-state Nirvana. (This sometimes comes, eerily enough, from knock-kneed liberals like New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who urges Democrats to "get religion," stop being obstructionist and confirm Supreme Court nominees who’ll only "turn the clock back 10 years.") If you insist on the constitutional separation of church and state, extremist Christians like Dr. James Dobson — who Andrew Sullivan calls "the social-policy director of the Bush White House" — won’t stop at simply saying you’re wrong. He’ll dub you "a God’s people hater." Actually, I like God’s people, Doc. I just can’t stand zealots of any stripe, whether it’s would-be mullahs like you or the Islamic loonies who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.