When You Assume...
CNSNews.com believes Democrats act only for purely political reasons, an assumption it refuses to make about Republicans.
By Terry Krepel
The ConWeb is biased in big ways and small. CNSNews.com specializes in the small ways, such as biased labeling of politically oriented groups, as ConWebWatch has noted.
Add another small but pervasive measurement of bias: CNS assumes that Democratic politicians are motivated only by politics and personal ambition, but it makes no such assumption about Republicans.
A May 2 story by Randy Hall asserts that "many Americans" claim that there is "what appears to be a concerted effort" to move Hillary Clinton "toward the political middle on one of the nation's most contentious issues -- abortion." Hall adds: "It's a strategy that appears to come right out of the political playbook of the senator's husband, former President Bill Clinton."
Hall goes on to quote Janice Crouse, executive director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the policy arm of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, as saying that Hillary is "very skillful at saying one thing and doing something else politically. She has mastered that art, and she's done it over and over again throughout her career." He also quotes Dick Morris, the disgraced ex-Clinton adviser and, as Hall describes him, "no fan of his ex-boss's wife," thusly: "How odd it is to see Hillary trying to convince us that she's a red state kind of girl (offering moderate views on abortion, condemning illegal immigration, emphasizing the importance of prayer in her life and backing the war) even as her party lurches to the left." And under the subhead "The rest of the story," Hall claims: "Like her husband, Sen. Clinton has also been careful in trying not to alienate her liberal base and supporters of abortion rights."
The assumption that Hall makes, but does not support, is that Mrs. Clinton is making her allegedly "moderate" statements about abortion purely from political calculation, an assumption reinforced by Hall's quoting only Clinton critics and not any Clinton defenders.
But Mrs. Clinton has a long record of moderate statements about abortion; in her 1996 book "It Takes a Village," she wrote: "I think we need to do everything in our power to discourage sexual activity and encourage abstinence." Hall apparently didn't do any research into Clinton's past statements on the subject.
A May 3 CNS article by Susan Jones takes a similar approach, claiming that the attendance of Mrs. Clinton and of John Kerry at various town hall meetings to gain support for legislation they are sponsoring is self-serving. "Both Kerry and Clinton are expected to make a run for the next Democratic presidential nomination, and promoting pet legislation is one way of getting them out among voters long before they formally declare their intentions.
Jones' article even goes so far as to state this assumption in the headline: "Sens. Clinton, Kerry Using Legislation to Boost Profiles."
Yet in March, when congressmen led by Republican Rep. Tom DeLay went into emergency session to pass a hastily crafted bill to move the Terri Schiavo case into the federal court system -- a move of involving politics into a medical case that brought accusations of political calculation, culminating in a memo written by an aide to a Republican senator calling the Schiavo case "a great political issue" for Republicans -- CNS' coverage did not assume that Republicans had a political motive for their actions.
The headline of a March 17 article states: "House Passes Bill to Save Terri Schindler Schiavo." A March 18 article is headlined "House Leaders Offer Last-Minute Rescue Plan for Terri." Another March 18 article is headlined "Congressional Subpoenas Issued to Protect Terri Schiavo." And yet another March 18 story quotes DeLay as saying, "Terri Schiavo will not be forsaken." In none of those stories are any concerns raised that the congressmen who pushed for passage of the bill were motivated by anything other than concern for Schiavo.
A March 21 article by Jones proclaims in its headline that it details "Praise and Criticism for Congressional Involvement in Schiavo Case," but it's hardly a balanced examination; only five of the story's 24 paragraphs offer criticism.
But a March 24 story by Jones assumes liberals were motivated by political concerns in the Schiavo case. Headlined "Schiavo Case Is Political Fodder for the Left," the story describes criticism issued by "anti-Bush group MoveOn.org," which called the Republican-led actions of Congress an "ugly and shameful incident of political grandstanding" and called for the restoration of "some common sense to a Congress that's out of control."
Jones then tries to undercut MoveOn's argument by adding: "But many conservatives believe it's the nation's courts that are out of control. In fact, the Schindlers' attorneys have argued that federal judges are ignoring the clear intent of Congress to have Terri's feeding tube reinserted while her case get a new hearing."
Sometimes, CNS' assumptions are not so subtle, such as in a May 23 article by Jones based on an American Center for Law and Justice press release (one in a series of press release-based articles CNS has done of late) about parental notification laws for minors seeking abortions. After rewriting the release, Jones adds a couple extracurricular paragraphs:
The question for many court observers is whether Chief Justice William Rehnquist will still be on the court next term - and if not, who will be selected to replace him.
Jones offers no evidence for this overbroad assumption, even though many of the more than 200 judicial candidates nominated by President Bush and approved by the full Senate -- most with the backing of most, if not all, Senate Democrats -- have "pro-life records."
A May 23 article by Jones makes the assumption that Democrats are angry, while Republicans are calm and reasoned. It repeats talking points from MoveOn that couch the Democratic argument in extreme, highly partisan terminology, such as "MoveOn says Republicans are so desperate for power, they want to 'break' Senate rules by denying Democrats the right to filibuster."
The Republican side, however, is presented in a calm, non-inflammatory manner that reads not unlike Republican talking points (as ConWebWatch has noted): "Republicans say all they want is an up-or-down vote on those nominations that make it out of committee to the full Senate."
A May 13 article by Jones assumed motives of revenge and nepotism on the part of two Democratic senators: "Democrat Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan have opposed the nominations of the four Michigan judges, partly because Republicans blocked President Clinton's nominees to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (including the wife of Levin's cousin)." Jones stated no assumption about the Republicans who blocked Clinton's nominees. (Jones also makes the false claim that "filibusters have never been applied to judicial nominations until President Bush took office," a inaccuracy Jones has made before.)
Even certain Republicans are not immune to CNS' assumption of nefarious ulterior motive. Sen. John McCain, who was one of the 14 senators who spearheaded the compromise that, at least temporarily, heads off the impasse over filibusters of judicial nominees, is assumed to be more concerned about self-promotion in a May 26 article by Jones. The article, headlined "McCain Says He Was Thinking About Senate, Not Presidency," makes prominent mention that "The Arizona Republican, a familiar face on the television news-talk circuit, is now making a round of media appearances to promote both the cable TV movie and his book, on which the movie was based. The interviews also give McCain an opportunity to discuss the Senate deal he brokered this week and his widely rumored presidential ambitions."
CNS follows the conservative line on despising McCain elsewhere as well. A May 24 article by Jones quotes a group called the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters as claiming that McCain and other Republican centrists who signed on to the compromise "showed a complete disconnect with their constituents" and "have rewritten the Constitution." Jones fails to note that the head of the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters is Manuel Miranda, last seen in his job as a staffer for Senate majority leader Bill Frist surreptitiously rifling through confidential Democratic e-mails about judicial nominees and leaking them to conservative outlets like CNS, as ConWebWatch previously noted.
Perhaps Jones assumed her readers already knew that. You know what they say about what happens when you assume, right?