Last week the L.A. Times’ Pooh-Bah in Chief, John Carroll, sent his section editors a sharply worded memo announcing his campaign to purge the paper of all political bias — though the only type he mentioned was “liberal.” In excoriating a front-page story by Scott Gold that detailed efforts by Texan lawmakers to force women wanting an abortion to get counseling on the risk of breast cancer, Carroll fulminated: “We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times . . .”
Carroll admitted that his reporter, in citing studies made by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, made a “strong case that the link between abortion and breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers.” Carroll then went on to write that he “wondered . . . whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who believes in it.”
Now another memo has surfaced — one whose authenticity cannot be guaranteed. We can only assume that any likeness to actual events and people is fully intentional:
June 1, 2003
From: Karl Rove
The White House
To: John S. Carroll
Editor, Los Angeles Times
I know I speak for President Bush in congratulating you for your courageous quest to stamp out all liberal bias in the press. This is a goal that is shared and cherished by all of us who work in this administration and who give of our time and talent for a better America.
Although you and I both know that Scott Gold’s story was solid as a rock and that my good friends in the Texas Legislature indeed intended this measure mostly as a means to scare the bejesus out of women wanting abortions, kudos to you, John, for reminding Mr. Gold and the rest of your staff that the truth, especially uncomfortable truths, should never deter you from achieving your primary journalistic mission: the publishing of fair and balanced stories. Just like Fox News.
This is part and parcel of what we might call the great “megaphone” tradition in American journalism, i.e., reporting faithfully what government says, not what it actually does. Fortunately for us in elected office and those who advise them, great American newspapers like yours don’t stoop to the unethical model of, say, French-style journalism, which relies excessively on interpretation, context and historical analysis.
As you wisely pointed out to your staff, “liberal values” are “unreflective of the nation as a whole.” Given that our candidate in the last election won almost 50 percent of the vote, we know this assertion to be (mostly) true. Through millions of dollars of polling, we in the White House try to stay closely in sync with the opinions and attitudes of the great American electorate. We appreciate your implied desire not to challenge any of those prevailing opinions. (By the way, John, if you folks ever want a little help in polling your readership so you can more closely fine-tune your editorial line, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone.)
John, while your memo was a great first step in righting the course, and while we would never want to tell the media how to behave, I have to tell you honestly that I don’t think you went quite far enough. Even a superficial perusal of the Times, on almost any day, will turn up, I fear, more than a handful of examples where truth is left to prevail over a more down-the-center, more fair and balanced approach.
One painful example comes from last Thursday’s front pager on what y’all called the Bush “tax cuts.” Don’t you think the word “cuts” has a kind of slashing, negative sound to it? Mightn’t something like the “Bush Economic Recovery Package” be more balanced? Anyway, as I was saying, my attention was caught by one of the summary graphs in the piece that flatly read: “The latest tax cut deepens the budget deficit, draining funds that otherwise might be available for such Democratic spending priorities as health-care reform and prescription-drug coverage for senior citizens.”
That assertion is obviously true, but hardly balanced. To cadge some of your own language you used in the Gold memo, I just wonder if somewhere there exists some Democrat you might have quoted who could tell us that bankrupting the Treasury for our narrow political ends was, in the long run, fiscally beneficial. Again, if you can’t find a Democrat to say that, give us a jingle. And isn’t the term “draining funds” blatantly biased?
On the other hand, we want to thank your staff for referring to those so-called “Democrat” priorities. You got that right, old buddy. After all, who except a Democrat (or a feminist or a liberal) could care about health care or the cost of drugs? I mean, doesn’t that automatically make you a Democrat?
In that regard, there are also plenty of other bright spots in your paper. I particularly appreciate whenever you let reporters stray from the bounds of objectivity so they can edge closer to our agenda — I mean — prevailing public opinion. Last week Edwin Chen, in reporting on the Bush Economic Recovery Plan, penned this wonderful, upbeat phrase that in one masterful stroke balanced out any biased notion that we in the administration were somehow selfish, rich people indifferent to the needs of ordinary working people:
“In a sign that the administration wants to get money into taxpayers’ hands quickly,” Chen wrote, “the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday posted on its Web site a revised withholding schedule, so that employers can re-calibrate the lowered taxes workers now owe Uncle Sam.” Please pass on our compliments to Mr. Chen. You can’t imagine how many nights we go sleepless around here worrying about getting cash to the poor — even though we forgot to include the children of minimum-wage workers as eligible for this summer’s rebate.
Well, John, I think you get my drift. Just as I am sure your fine L.A. Times staff couldn’t help but get the message you were sending with your memo. By the way, if you need help tracking down the scumbag who leaked it to www.laobserved.com, call me. Bob Mueller at the FBI owes me.
Again, thanks for your ongoing work.
Karl Rove, Chief Adviser to the President
P.S. Oh, I almost forgot again. A belated thank you from all of us here at the White House for so dramatically underplaying the anti-war protests last spring. We know it’s not easy, even for you at the Times, to ignore what goes on in your back yard.