BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. What if the New York Times were slanting the news to reflect its political agenda? About half the public would say, "Duh. Tell me something I don't know," as the notion of liberal media bias is pretty much a conservative article of faith. But some conservative Republican pundits think they have found the smoking gun in the Times' recent coverage of the debate over war with Iraq. And so does Democratic pundit Mickey Kaus of Slate.com. He joins us now. Mickey, welcome back to the show.
MICKEY KAUS: Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: So set the stage for us. How has the front page at the Times differed from, say, the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post this summer?
MICKEY KAUS: The front page of Times has, for the last couple of months, has featured a steady drumbeat of stories that seems designed to build opposition to a war in Iraq, to vent discontent with that course, starting with a story that it was going to cost, you know, 40 billion dollars or billions and billions of dollars. Then there was a story about how we had aided the Iraqis in the Iran/Iraq War and that they had used poison gas. There was a very, very biased coverage of the, of the hearings that Senator Joe Biden had where only the, the generals that were saying well this is going to be more costly than we thought were given voice, and the fairly compelling witness that said well, Hussein is closer to developing weapons of mass destruction than you may think -- his voice was completely ignored -- and culminating in a story which was basically accurate that there was dissent among Republicans about the Iraq policy -- all told it amounts to a, a William Hearst, almost, -like campaign against the war. And we haven't seen that for a while in, in the New York Times. We've seen it, a little of it in other journals, but you didn't find it in the Washington Post or the L.A. Times.
BOB GARFIELD:The United States is headed on a path towards war as announced by the administration, and it's a contentious issue, and is it not the job of the press and the New York Times, perhaps foremost among the newspapers of America, to raise the difficult questions and put the issues right out in front for the American people to judge?
MICKEY KAUS: Yes, it totally is, and I think the Bush administration brought some of this on themselves, cause they've sort of given these hints that we're going to war with Iraq without laying any groundwork with the public or the press. They're just sort of confident that when the time comes they can whip everybody up into pro-war sentiment, and that invites a strong reaction from doubters, including myself, who say wait, wait, wait -you know - since when do we invade and attack countries that haven't attacked us yet? It's a new principle in war and Bush hasn't laid the groundwork for it and-- the press should show the other side, but they should show both sides, and that's where the Times campaign falls down. The smoking gun in this was the Biden hearings. People who attended the hearings were dumbfounded to read in the Times that it was only doubts about the war. There was one sentence about oh, some people, you know still supported the war. The L.A. Times reported it straight.
BOB GARFIELD:Now that's one smoking gun. The other prominent smoking gun in the accusations that the Times is biased was its characterization of a mounting insurrection among, among Republicans not eager to go to war with Iraq, and they cited Dick Armey, they cited Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and others and came then an editorial in the Wall Street Journal which said no, that's not happening. This is entirely invented by the New York Times and Krauthammer has weighed in, and so has George Will and the Weekly Standard saying you know they're, they're just basically making this up out of whole cloth!
MICKEY KAUS: Well they're certainly not making up the fact that there's dissent within the Republican party and that it's a big deal if Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger who were two leading foreign policy guys in the administration of the current President Bush's father -- if they say we shouldn't have a war with Iraq; that there's no justification that they've seen, that's obviously a big story, a legitimate story. The, the legitimate objection is to the sort of blanket characterization that includes people like Henry Kissinger who generally seems at least to be for the war with a few caveats as to how it's presented. But there's no doubt that there was a legitimate story there.
BOB GARFIELD:It's certainly been a charge against the important media in this country for a long time that there is a liberal bias and that the New York Times and others are just constitutionally unable to keep their liberal opinions off the front page. And if this is a smoking gun about so doing, that's damaging not only for the Times but for, for all of the media. Do you think that this is an issue that's larger than the particulars of the Iraqi war debate?
MICKEY KAUS: It's very damaging to the Times. I don't know if it's damaging to all the media. It doesn't bother me if bias seeps into news pages as long as you can tell that it's sort of honest bias -- that the reporter says -- look - this is my argument - I think this is wrong - here, here's the facts and gives both sides. And that's why this is sort of a new step. Usually the Times has only slanted the news. Here the Times is sort of almost suppressing the negative news which is really damaging to their credibility I think.
BOB GARFIELD: Mickey Kaus, thanks very much.
MICKEY KAUS: Thanks very much, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Mickey Kaus writes the Kaus files column on Slate.com.