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12 March 2002

Our current howler (part II): Leo the lyin'

Synopsis: The American way of life has been challenged. But whose side is John Leo on?

Free speech for the favored
John Leo, The Washington Times, 3/12/02

John Leo is anti-American. We’ll explain why that is at the end of this piece, but here’s a clip from his current column in U.S. News and the Washington Times. Leo is talking about Tammy Bruce, who wrote an op-ed defending Dr. Laura in the Los Angeles Times:

LEO: Her op-ed piece was mainly a defense of free speech. Instead of printing her op-ed right away, as it usually did, the L.A. Times delayed and said there were problems, so Ms. Bruce sent it to the New York Times, which gave it a heavy edit that "bore little resemblance to what I had originally submitted" and was "arguably anti-Laura." She withdrew the piece. It finally ran in the L.A. Times, tucked away in the poorly read "Calendar" section, and very late in the quickly unfolding debate over Dr. Laura.

Ms. Bruce found her status had changed. She had become uninterviewable in the L.A. Times. She said: "I’ve found out what it’s like trying to get your message out when you are on the wrong side of an issue."

But why does Leo lie to his readers? Here at THE HOWLER, we did what the boohooing Leos never do—we subjected the highlighted claim above to the NEXIS record. Did Tammy Bruce "become uninterviewable" as a result of her piece on Dr. Laura? Sorry. Her column appeared on 9/18/00, and it’s true—she wasn’t interviewed in the Times in the year that followed. But maybe you can already guess, boys and girls; Bruce also hadn’t been interviewed in the year which preceded her piece. From 9/18/99 through the date of publication, her name had appeared in the paper two times. On each occasion, she was mentioned in passing because she had endorsed a certain candidate for local office. In fact, as near as we can tell, Bruce was last interviewed by the Times for a piece back in 1996. Leo’s statement made an exciting story. It also was so grossly misleading that we may as well call it a lie.

Did Leo know that his statement was false? In the age of LEXIS-NEXIS, at some point that no longer matters. It has never been easier for people like Leo to check the accuracy of their claims—and in our book, people like Leo become dissemblers when they simply refuse to do so. Quite literally, it would have taken Leo all of two minutes to learn that his statement was laughably false. But the great John Leo is anti-American. Pumping you full of his rank propaganda, he didn’t bother making the effort—and hapless editors at U.S. News didn’t check his claim out, either. In the name of America’s interests, those editors all should be fired.

As usual, Leo is boohooing about that ol’ debbil, liberal bias. And he’s been learning bad habits from his pal, Bernie Goldberg. Get out your hankies as crybaby Leo takes up for that poor beat-up boy:

LEO: Mr. Goldberg got a good ride from radio and cable TV, but the three old-line TV networks have pretended his book doesn’t exist. He thinks Bias is the first No. 1 nonfiction bestseller of modern times that failed to get a single minute on CBS, NBC, or ABC. He was interviewed by Italian Nightline but not by the American version, the one that will cause the republic to fall if it is ever replaced by David Letterman.

Goldberg "thinks" that Bias is the first such book? As we noted the last time we reviewed Bernie Goldberg, the self-pitying gentleman simply refuses to conduct any actual research. It would be perfectly easy for Goldberg—or Leo—to find out if this statement is accurate. But Leo is piously anti-American. He pumps you full of his rank propaganda. He couldn’t care less if it’s true.

Whimpering, crying, keening and wailing, Leo tells a tale of woe about that liberal bias. To steal a phrase from the hapless Goldberg, here is his (anecdotal) "Exhibit A:"

LEO: The reluctance of the news business to hold seminars and conduct investigations of news bias is almost legendary. In 1990, Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw stunned everybody with a 12,000-word, four-part series on press coverage of the abortion issue. He essentially concluded that the American newsroom culture is so strongly pro-choice that it cannot bring itself to report the issue fairly.

This apparently explosive report provoked no self-examination, no panel discussions. It quickly made the rounds of newsrooms like samizdat. Privately, lots of reporters and editors said it was true, and a few articles appeared. But in general, journalists reacted as if the Shaw report had never happened.

Did those events happen? We don’t have a clue; we certainly can’t put our trust in John Leo. But we have no doubt that these events could have happened; the press corps maintains Codes of Silence about its own conduct, as we have noted for years. The problem here is Leo’s suggestion that such actions will always involve liberal bias. But let’s let Leo have his say. He continued describing the event:

LEO (continuing directly): I arrived on the advisory board of the Columbia Journalism Review a year later, and I pushed hard (but, of course, late) for CJR to examine Mr. Shaw’s findings. No dice. Everyone was determined to look the other way. I cannot think of a major newspaper series that got less attention. The reason, I think, was obvious: Feminists in the newsroom would not stand for this issue to be aired. So it wasn’t.

Leo "thinks" the reason is obvious. And, of course, his speculation may be right (and, of course, it may be wrong). But Leo "cannot think" of another series that got less attention than Shaw’s series did. This suggests that the press corps only plays cover-up to express liberal bias.

But the press corps buries all sorts of work which threatens the press corps’ hegemony. Leo, apparently, can’t recall the way that Gene Lyons’ work on Whitewater got buried. Lyons wrote two articles on the topic in Harper’s; in the pieces, he accused the New York Times and the Washington Post of inventing a damaging pseudo-scandal with work that was simply a hoax. He then penned a book on the subject, Fools for Scandal. (Note: You haven’t attempted to explore your world if you haven’t yet read this book.)

But Lyons’ attacks on the Post and the Times were roundly ignored by the media. When Harper’s held a high-profile panel discussion of the articles, for example, the New York Times refused to attend. Major execs at the Post and the Times still feign ignorance of Lyons’ criticisms. And even when Ken Starr’s attempt to prosecute Whitewater broke down, no effort was made to review the original coverage—the puzzling coverage which began the whole mess. In this case, the major media conducted a whitewash; they circled the wagons around two major papers’ highly suspect anti-Clinton reporting. Somehow, though, Leo "couldn’t think" of this case, or of others like it, when he put his propaganda into print.

For amusement purposes, let’s note Leo’s latest screed is full of the ripest illogic. He indulges in the utter nonsense that only a pamphlet-peddling propagandist can love. Incredibly, he cites a 12,000-word series alleging liberal bias as an example—what else?—of the press corps’ liberal bias! And dig this closing weep-a-thon:

LEO: Now [Bruce] has a strong book out: The New Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds. A few conservative outlets plugged it, but in five months she has not received a single review in any mainstream newspaper or magazine, which sort of proves her point about the power of the censoring left. If Norah Vincent, a brave L.A. Times columnist, had not written about this newsroom-unapproved book, few people in Ms. Bruce’s hometown would even know she had written it. She is a nonperson in the L.A. Times, and her book apparently never happened. Now she knows: Bernie Goldberg is right.

Bernie Goldberg is right, Leo says, and Tammy Bruce now knows it. But how can Goldberg’s example prove that conservative books will be squelched? Goldberg’s own book has been widely reviewed and discussed in the media. Indeed, here’s how Leo started:

LEO: Some 440,000 copies of Bernard Goldberg’s book Bias are now in print. Who knew that a complaint about news bias would become a runaway bestseller? You could tell the book was touching a nerve when two very good journalists, columnist Michael Kinsley and TV critic Tom Shales, both attacked Mr. Goldberg with berserk and sputtering, almost vein-popping rage.

Of course, Kinsley’s column—which did not sputter with vein-popping rage—appeared on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, a high-visibility outlet. And the book has been widely reviewed. Meanwhile, how far will Leo lower standards? According to Leo, you can be a "very good journalist" while writing columns that are "berserk." Indeed, Leo seems to be trying to prove some form of the point with his own current inept work.

Leo himself? A democracy’s life blood is its discourse. This is especially true at times like these, when intelligent judgment is so sorely needed. But even at a time like this, Leo won’t stop with his rank propaganda. He doesn’t care if his statements are true. There’s a word for that unending game. And you know the word: Anti-American.

Facts aren’t stubborn things: Facts mean little to the pamphleteers who make a joke of your national discourse. Here’s part of Leo’s recitation on Bruce: "Instead of printing her op-ed right away, as it usually did, the L. A. Times delayed and said there were problems." As it usually did? According to NEXIS and the L. A. Times archives, the Times had last published a column by Bruce on December 24, 1995. The Times hadn’t been rushing her work into print. To all appearances, the Times hadn’t been publishing her at all.

Leo was making things up again. So here’s our question to U. S. News: Are there any rules—any rules at all—concerning what appears in your columns?


The Daily update (3/12/02)

The blood of Count Ruffini: According to Andrew Sullivan and the ingenious Count Ruffini (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/8/02), even Leo reeks of liberal bias! Make yourselves ready for outrage:

LEO: Mr. Goldberg says reaction to [his] book shows "a total disconnect between regular people and media people." He thinks most "regulars" understand that the packaging of news reflects the worldview of the packagers, while most media people take the fundamentalist view that the news is neutral and pure, so anyone who doesn’t agree with this must be a right-wing nut.

Uh-oh! Ruffini will count up uses of the phrase "right-wing nut." He will discover that U.S. News has been using the phrase; he will therefore announce the mag’s "liberal bias." And a certain Brainy Brit we know will run fast to type ’er on up.

In fact, this sort of circumstance often obtains when the media uses phrases like "right-wing extremist." In many instances, newspapers quote conservatives using the phrase as they offer hyperbolic complaints about attacks from the left. Count Ruffini—filled with ardor—tells you that this shows the paper’s liberal bias. We think something a little bit different. We think the Count’s know-nothing approach threatens our American discourse.