In today’s Week in Review section of The New York Times, Public Editor Daniel Okrent gives over his page two column to two guest columnists, one from the left, one from the right, each rebutting Okrent’s contention that the Times “is not systematically biased in its campaign coverage.” The two are Columbia journalism professor Todd Gitlin (left) and California lawyer Bob Kohn (right), and they’re both bright fellows, but the setup itself is uncomfortably close to the lame answer that cable networks have devised to the “balance” question — let loose two talking heads (or, in this case, typing heads), one from each end of the political spectrum, and leave it to the viewer/reader to sort his way through the resulting carnage.
No, to us the most telling comment on press performance in the Week in Review section (sorry, Dan) comes on the facing page three, where the Times reprints an episode of Tom Tomorrow’s weekly cartoon, “This Modern World.” Since it speaks for itself, we’ll let it speak for itself:
John Kerry: “Osama is very good at master-minding terrorist attacks! That’s why we must defeat him!”
President Bush: “So my opponent thinks Osama is VERY GOOD? Well, I don’t think Osama is good at all! I think he’s very BAD!
Dick Cheney: “John Kerry is one of Osama’s BIGGEST FANS! He thinks Osama is a REALLY GREAT GUY! They’re practically BEST FRIENDS! Snarl!”
News Anchor: “Bill, I don’t know what John Kerry was THINKING when he praised Osama Bin Laden, but —”
Ann Coulter: “If John Kerry loves Osama so much, why don’t they just go have a BIG GAY WEDDING — in TAXACHUSETTS?! Haw, haw!”
Wolf Blitzer: “John Kerry CLAIMS that the President quoted him out of context! Ed Gillespie — how does the R.N.C. respond to this ALLEGATION?”
Ed Gillespie: “Wolf, the American people know who thinks Osama is GOOD — and who thinks he is BAD!”
Male Anchor: “Coming up next! The results of our Internet poll question — do YOU think Osama is GOOD?”
Female Anchor: “And we’ll find out if John Kerry REALLY thinks Osama is his BEST FRIEND in the WHOLE WORLD!”
Male Anchor: “First these messages!”
Seems about right to us.
—S.L.Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.