By: Alicia Mundy
Alicia Mundy Takes On ‘Male Thing’ Mentality
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by Alicia Mundy
There is nothing funnier, or sadder, than watching perfectly thoughtful journalists trying to butter up a candidate. However, it seems there’s
been so much of the high-price spread lathered on George W. Bush this political season that W may develop clogged arteries just by osmosis.
In Washington Pack Journalism, it’s not unusual to see major daily
newspaper reporters, columnists, and editors ignoring their own
previous stories or their papers’ investigative reports. Hypocrisy
and inconsistency are not just for politicians.
But sometimes the obvious attempts to box up and ship away problematic
facts about popular candidates are so blatant that they beg the reader
to willingly suspend disbelief. One column that illustrated both the
swings in Pack loyalty and the tendency toward fantasy was penned
during the height of Bushmania in June by, of all people, David
Ignatius of The Washington Post.
Ignatius has been a level-headed business writer and editor, as well
as an earnest editorialist, and was named the new editor of the
International Herald Tribune just a few months ago. It would have
been normal to see a column by him supporting some of W’s business
ideas or parts of his Social Security plans.
However, Ignatius’ paean to Bush took several veteran reporters (some
of them at the Post) by surprise. He discussed W’s career as a minor
investor in the Texas Rangers baseball team and lauded his ability to
delegate authority and ‘let his people make tough decisions.’
‘A gentle owner,’ Ignatius wrote of Bush. ‘He knew everybody’s names,
from the batboys to the local sportswriters,’ and, accompanying Nolan
Ryan onstage at the Hall of Fame ceremonies, called out to a familiar sportswriter from Fort Worth, Texas, ‘Hey Reeev-o.’ Well, that’s enough
for me to know – bring on the voting booth.
There’s been a lot made this year of Bush’s ability to be ‘one of the
guys,’ particularly, it should be noted, among ‘guy’ reporters. A wise
writer for a major national daily, a neighbor, confessed that while he
found W to be a lightweight with a cruel streak, he also found he could
joke with him about sports, which, he said despondently, he could never
do in all the time he’s covered Al Gore.
Toward the end of his column, Ignatius mentioned that when Bush sold the
team in 1998, his share ‘magically’ grew from less than 2% to 12%, making
him $15 million. And he cited a Harper’s Magazine piece on Bush’s
baseball adventure that noted how W got Arlington residents to cough up
the millions for the new Rangers’ stadium while letting the boys in the owners’ box rake in the profits; Harper’s called Bush’s conservatism
It’s much less than the right-wing magazine American Spectator said
about Bush’s business deals – how he got the money to invest in the
Rangers, W’s behavior in the failed business Arbusto, or his canny sale
of his stock in a huge oil firm on whose board he sat, just weeks before
its slide into business hell, or about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s comment on its 1991 investigation of that business debacle,
while his father was president: ‘The facts just didn’t support any
judgment that this was something that would result in a serious
enforcement proceeding.’ Not exactly the Good Housekeeping Seal of
It’s worth reminding reporters about these facts, just as it’s worth
reminding reporters and voters about abandoned investors in Whitewater
and about Gore’s bizarre Buddhist Temple visit. Since we’re certain to
hear a lot about the latter, maybe some of the good ol’ boys in the Pack
will deign to tell us a little more about the former.
But news of the candidates today flows in waves – Bush rode the crest
for a while, and all references to Vietnam and Bill Clinton’s days as a
draft dodger were eliminated from public discourse and the news.
Newsweek’s incredible story about the year missing from Bush’s life,
when he apparently failed to report for Air National Guard duty in
Alabama, dropped into a deep well.
Then Al ‘ate face’ with Tipper, and the Buddhist monks faded into the
scenery, and few mentioned Gore’s strange ‘ice tea’ escape from campaign fund-raising scandals.
Here’s an idea: Once a week, every major newspaper should devote a few column-inches of space to remind us of the major inconsistencies and
factual problems with both candidates. Use bullets and boldface to mark
the years and remind us how their explanations have changed as they both
have gotten closer to the presidency. But, please, spare us any more
Norman Rockwellesque pictures of Bush and his baseball team.
Alicia Mundy’s ‘Pack Rat’ column appears monthly in E&P. Mundy is
Washington bureau chief for Mediaweek, a sister magazine.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher