Philly Inquirer: Making Biased News out of Mole Hills

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by Dave Lindorff

For an example of shameless partisanship and promotion of one candidate in the news pages, it would be hard to find a case more over the top than the Philadelphia Inquirer's handling of John Kerry's botched joke.

Although it offered absolutely no evidence to support the claim that the joke incident had induced a single Pennsylvania voter to change sides in the Senate race from Democratic challenger Bob Casey to Republican incumbent Rick Santorum, the once-proud paper ran a banner headline on its front page on Nov. 2 saying "Kerry's gaffe jolts Santorum, Casey," with a subhead that said, "Santorum uses the remark to put Casey on the offensive."

Anonymous "analysts" were said near the top of the article to be claiming that Kerry's remark to students implying that those who didn't hit the books in college would end up "stuck in Iraq" had "cracked a small window of opportunity for Santorum's struggling campaign." No mention was made of the fact that Santorum is in trouble precisely because the majority of Pennsylvania's voters have concluded that his war-mongering (he wants war with Iran, too) and uncritical support of Bush's war in Iraq mean he has to go.

The truth is that Kerry's remark, which was characteristic of this Boston blue-blood snob, was nothing but a meaningless blip on the electoral terrain, where the vast majority of Americans have already concluded that they've been lied to big time by the Bush administration, and ill-served by a Republican Congress that has turned into nothing but an unthinking cheering section for Bush administration war-mongering. The only way Kerry's comments could have any impact on this election--nationally or in Pennsylvania--would be if they were hyped and blown up in the media into something they were not. But then, that is precisely what the Inquirer attempted to do by making them page-one banner material.

This is not fair and impartial journalism. It's not even journalism, at least as I learned the craft. It's partisan polemics and propaganda.

I have no problem with an analysis by Inquirer political analyst Dick Polman, who made the point that Kerry is an inept bungler with a remarkable ability to say stupid things that get him and his party into trouble. That's certainly true, and certainly is appropriate grist for a political column. I have no problem either with the Inquirer's editorial that day, headlined "Smart Move, Senator," which made much the same point (though I do question the editorial's reliance on a biased right-wing Heritage Foundation report noting that 2003 recruits in the military reflect the general society in educational and income, since we know from military reports that since the war, the educated and those with options have shied away from the National Guard and the Reserve, and that the Pentagon has actually had to drop the requirement that enlistees have at least a GED or high school diploma--pretty undeniable evidence of a post-2003 dumbing down of the military).

But the Inquirer, typically, followed up this barrage of anti-Democratic propaganda verbiage with an opinion page on Nov. 3 which featured, not a liberal riposte to its one-sided coverage of the day before--the appropriate use of an op-ed page--but rather with yet another screed against Kerry and the Democrats by right-wing columnist Jonah Goldberg. (This was adjacent to a second piece, an op-ed by NY Times right-wing columnist David Brooks, which bore the unselfconsciously ludicrous title "Santorum, a champion of the poor," which claimed Santorum, that cheerleader for tax giveaways to the rich, is really the friend of the poor because he floor-managed the Clinton program that ended welfare without creating jobs to replace those lost checks.)

It was left to a lone letter writer, Monique Frugler, to make the point that the Inquirer had left unsaid in all its coverage: That hypocritical calls by Bush and the Right for Kerry to "apologize" to the troops for his purported insult, and for Democratic candidates to denounce Kerry, ignored the much bigger need for Bush to apologize to the troops for causing them to lose over 2800 lives "lost in Iraq in his war of choice."

It is, after all, clear that the real elitists are the Bush administration leaders, including the president himself, the vice president, the secretary of state, and a whole gang of neo-conservative strategists around them--all "chickenhawks" who avoided combat and military service when they had the chance to serve their country during the Vietnam War--who casually tricked this nation into war and caused the deaths and maiming of over 25,000 Americans. And of course when it comes to snobs, it would be hard to top Princeton grad and Defense Secretary "you're-doing-a-fantastic-job, Don” Rumsfeld, who famously told GIs in the Middle East who complained to him about the Pentagon's failure to provide them with body armor and armored vehicles that "you go to war with the army you’ve got" and urged them to "get over it."

One has to ask where's the Inquirer's outrage?

And where are the paper's journalistic principles?

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