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Paula Zahn tried, but she just couldn't raise her journalistic standards  
By Mike Cuenca | July 15, 2004
The strangest thing appeared on Paula Zahn's CNN program last night: a flicker of sound journalism.

As Zahn introduced a segment on the Bush election team's ongoing characterization of Democrat John Kerry as a "flip-flopper," she actually gave a detailed explanation of Kerry's vote against the $87 billion appropriation for the Iraq war. First, Zahn showed a portion of a Bush TV ad in which Kerry is quoted as saying, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Then she went on to describe the details:

Here is how that vote actually happened. Last September, the Bush administration asked Congress to dole out $87 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but the president didn't want to raise taxes to cover the cost. That same month, Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden proposed an amendment that would reduce the Bush tax cut on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to pay for the extra spending.

KERRY: We are a going to pay that $87 billion for Iraq, it ought to come out of that $690 billion tax cut.

ZAHN: It was an idea the Bush administration opposed. The Republican-controlled Senate voted on the Biden-Kerry amendment in October and rejected it.

15 days later, the Senate voted on the original war funding bill without the amendment. That's when Kerry voted no. But this time, the bill passed.

Wow. For once, a mainstream journalist actually provided TV viewers with some context. Viewers could analyze for themselves the intricacies of Kerry's statement and make up their own minds about what it says about him and about that issue.

But before we pop the corks and celebrate the revival of ethical journalism, we have to pop back into the real world. The Bush campaign's characterization of Kerry as flip-flopping is an election-year strategy employed to undercut Kerry's credibility with the voters. Besides being hypocritical in light of Bush's own flip-flopping on issues ranging from the gay marriage ban to the importance of capturing Osama bin Laden, the story detracts from the many other substantive discussions the media could be presenting over the positions these two candidates have taken on many significant issues.

Zahn's guest for this segment was Joe Klein of TIME Magazine. Even as he sat there and engaged in this lengthy analysis of Kerry's vote, he stated his understanding that the issue was distracting from the more important discussion of the integrity of the decision to go to war in the first place. Klein said:

And to the extent that the discussion is about this rather than the wisdom of going into Iraq and also the wisdom of the president, the administration's kind of nonpolicies for what was going to happen after the war was over, the fact that the discussions about this is very good for President Bush and not so good for John Kerry.

This is just one more example of the media acknowledging that they're haplessly taking part in a diversion from the real issues. Klein's statement should have been a dismissal of the story, not just a passing commentary about it. When Zahn first brought it up, that should have been his first and last statement about it: it's a Bush-generated diversion from the real issues. But before leaving the subject, Klein inflated it into the primary issue of the election season:

This is a very complicated issue. Complicated is a word that political consultants hate to hear and, yet, I believe that this issue is at the center of the campaign and John Kerry won't win unless he really plainly explains this to the American people.

There you have it. Joe Klein says John Kerry can't win unless he adequately explains this one vote to the American people. And for an example of what the mainstream media considers "balance," Zahn and Klein then obligingly dismissed the discussion of whether or not Dick Cheney will remain on the GOP ticket as being a mere distraction raised by the Democrats:

ZAHN: Final thought on the speculation about Dick Cheney being dumped from the ticket. We just had a spirited discussion in our previous segment with one guest suggesting that this is much to ado about nothing, there's no real movement underway to do so. What do you think?

KLEIN: Oh, absolutely. Jonah Goldberg was absolutely right. This is an incredibly stupid story that's being spread by the media and by Democrats in terms of disinformation...

ZAHN: Since when is Al D'Amato a Democrat?

KLEIN: Al D'Amato was speaking off the top of his head. There were a lot of -- there's some panic on K Street that the lobbying wing of the Republican party [transcript incomplete]

Doug Schoen was right that Cheney is a problem for Bush, but he can't be dumped because that would be a total admission of failure of all of his major policies, as Jonah said. But you know, it's a fun story; it's an inside the beltway story. It isn't -- But it isn't a true story. There isn't real -- there isn't a real debate going on within the Bush campaign: "Do we keep this guy or not?"

There are also rumors spreading about whether or not to dump Donald Rumsfeld, also untrue. These are the kind of rumors you get at this point in the campaign.

The other party usually -- Al D'Amato was doing the Democrats' work for them. The other party is usually the one that spreads these. In 1992, the rumor was spreading that George Bush, the elder, was going to dump Dan Quayle.

It's all part of politics, but it's not something that we should take all that seriously.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, appreciate it.

KLEIN: OK.

Again, there in that exchange, Zahn almost crossed the line into sound journalism, pointing out to Klein that the source of the rumor, Al D'Amato, isn't even a Democrat, but she let Klein talk his way out of it and dismiss the whole issue. Even as he dismissed it, he acknowledged the story's significance, pointing out that "Cheney is a problem for Bush." He also brought up the point that George H.W. Bush fought the same rumors about his vice-president, Dan Quayle, but then he left out an important and relevant aspect of that story: GHW Bush didn't drop Quayle—and then lost the election.

Right here in this five-minute segment, we have an example of how the "liberal" media slants their coverage to favor President Bush. In these two "journalists" minds (and, apparently, the minds of their producers, publishers, and networks), the Bush campaign's characterization of Kerry as a "flip-flopper" will likely decide the election, while the serious consideration of just how much of a drag Cheney will be on the GOP ticket is a "stupid story" that shouldn't be taken "all that seriously."

 


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