The Alito hearings may not have revealed much about the new Supreme Court Associate Justice's constitutional views, but they did highlight the pro-Bush bias that continues to characterize most mainstream debate. CNN's Wolf Blitzer, as reliable a weather vane for conventional wisdom as can be found anywhere, continually skewed his coverage to reflect the Republican Party's talking points, announcing, "Some Democrats are delivering an early verdict on Alito's performance" without asking whether Republicans were doing the same. Blitzer also complained, "Are [Democrats] looking for answers, or for the Supreme Court nominee to stumble?" and inquired of Ted Kennedy whether he had already made up his mind without posing a similar question during his interview to Bill Frist, or noting the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who had already declared themselves in Alito's favor.
Blitzer's coverage proved to be the norm. PBS's Gwen Ifill, giving no evidence, complained of "all of the demonization of this candidate" by liberal interest groups. MSNBC's coverage was dominated by pro-Alito guests, including nights of prime-time programming that allowed not a single dissenter.
The punditocracy's ignore-except-to-attack attitude toward liberals is a far greater impediment to our ability to mount an alternative to the ruinous rule of George W. Bush than the attitudes of Americans themselves, who in poll after poll disagree with the President on almost all significant issues. Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby gleefully announces that "attacking Bushonomics"--the policies of the party that controls the government and has abandoned even the pretense of fiscal responsibility--"is too easy, like shooting a lame duck." He prefers "to focus instead on Democrats' response."
Liberal war opponents were clearly correct about the self-defeating stupidity of Bush's Iraq misadventure, but pundits treat their foresight as a kind of disqualifying handicap. Mallaby's colleague Richard Cohen lauded Joe Biden because he "voted to authorize the president to go to war but has since characterized that vote as 'a mistake,'" which, Cohen notes, "approximately reflects my own position." Woe unto those who were right in the first place. Among media war boosters, George Packer cannot find room in the 467 pages of his celebrated war history, The Assassins' Gate, for the words "I was wrong." Those who recognized the Bush Administration's lethal combination of dishonesty, ideology and incompetence--in plain view at the time--are dismissed by Packer as possessing "second-rate minds."
Among the most egregious offenders against journalistic standards and simple honesty for the purpose of abusing liberals is Time's Joe Klein, who is, amazingly, the most liberal commentator currently employed by America's highest-circulation newsweekly. (Klein's animus toward liberals coupled with his cavalier treatment of inconvenient facts could hardly be in greater contrast to that of Newsweek's high-profile liberal columnist Jonathan Alter, whose solid reporting and tempered idealism serves as a kind of remnant and reminder of the long-defunct liberal Establishment.)
To take just one recent example, a Klein column posted January 8 accused Democrats of "playing too fast and too loose with issues of war and peace." Now look who's talking:
Klein writes, "The latest version of the absolutely necessary Patriot Act, which updates the laws regulating the war on terrorism and contains civil-liberties improvements over the first edition, was nearly killed by a stampede of Senate Democrats." In fact, this "stampede" was led by four Republicans.
Klein writes, "A strong majority would favor the NSA program...if its details were declassified and made known." In fact, when an Associated Press poll asked Americans if the Bush Administration should be required to get a warrant before wiretapping, 56 percent answered affirmatively.
Klein writes, "Until the Democrats make clear that they will err on the side of aggressiveness in the war against al-Qaeda, they will probably not regain the majority in Congress or the country." This statement ignores that the Bush Administration diverted resources from capturing bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda to send them to Iraq, where no such threat existed but where one has since been created. It also ignores the fact that Republicans received a minority of the Congressional vote in 2004, as well as in the presidential votes of 2000, 1996 and 1992.
Klein writes that since the publication of the New York Times story on domestic spying, "the terrorists have modified their behavior, hampering our efforts to keep track of them." His evidence? "U.S. intelligence officials" told him. Now, that's convincing. The Times reported that virtually without exception, the wiretaps "led to dead ends or innocent Americans." (Perhaps the gullible Mr. Klein might be interested in buying some hot African yellowcake uranium, special price...)
Klein concludes, "For too many liberals, all secret intelligence activities are 'fruit,' and bitter fruit at that. The government is presumed guilty of illegal electronic eavesdropping until proven innocent. This sort of civil-liberties fetishism is a hangover from the Vietnam era." But what Klein mocks as fetishism and a Vietnam hangover is the law of the land, according to fourteen scholars of constitutional law and former government officials who wrote to Congress that "the program appears on its face to violate existing law." The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also reported that it is "unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations," and added that the Bush/Klein argument "does not seem to be...well-grounded."
So here, apparently, is the punditocracy argument in a nutshell: Never mind that liberals are constitutionally correct. Never mind that their view is supported by a majority of Americans. And never mind that the Bush Administration has repeatedly lied to the American people on exactly these issues. Never mind, most of all, the truth.