By: Allan Wolper

Allan Wolper Criticizes the New ‘Watchpuppies’ Of the Press

The wall is tumbling down. You could see it during the endless
hours of Florida. Chatting about chads. Beating the Bushes for
information. Going after Gore. The insiders who are now the
watchpuppies of the press.

Paul Begala. James Carville. John Ellis. Jeff Greenfield. David
Gergen, Mary Matalin, Dick Morris. Mike McCurry. Dee Dee Myers.
Oliver North. Tim Russert. George Stephanopoulous.

They are everywhere. Analyzing elections. Dishing dirt on news
programs. Hosting talk shows on all-news stations. Giving
gorgeous sound bites. They know what the politicians are thinking
because they used to think for them. They tell you things. They
are as important as the people they talk about.

In the beginning, they all share the same first name: former.
Then the line blurs and they become a permanent part of the
fabric they cover. They are the poli-journalists of our time.

Here is an example: Dee Dee Myers leaves the White House as a
Clinton press apologist and soon is co-hosting a CNN talk show
with Mary Matalin, wife of Clinton wiseguy James Carville. When
Matalin takes a break to spend quality time with her hubby, here
comes Bay Buchanan, the sister of Pat Buchanan, the columnist who
got all the Jewish votes in Florida by mistake, to split the
airwaves with her.

Myers knows media. She is Los Angeles correspondent for Vanity
Fair, consultant to NBC’s “The West Wing,” and wife of Todd
Purdum, a political heavyweight at The New York Times.
During the Democratic National Convention in L.A., Myers-Purdum
threw a private party at their home for all The Formers and The

Which makes it so hard to believe what they say or write. The TV
and newspaper audiences don’t know any of the above unless they
are media junkies who swallow media gossip pages whole. Even if
they do, they have to figure that being on both sides of the
fence is OK because so many people are doing it. By the way,
everybody knows the media is biased. So what’s the big deal?

There was a shriek of indignation when The New Yorker
magazine writer Jane Mayer reported that Fox TV analyst John
Ellis, first cousin of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, was discussing
voter information on Election Night with his relatives. Eric
Mink, the New York Daily News TV critic, ripped Fox and
New York Post multimedia baron Rupert Murdoch just as much
for hiring Ellis as for his conversations with Cousin George and
Cousin Jeb, the governor of Florida.

Hiring Ellis was proof to Mink that Fox was biased. But Mink
never mentioned a word about the Bush connections of Thomas M.
DeFrank, the White House bureau chief of the New York Daily
News. DeFrank is on the advisory board of the Center for
Presidential Studies at the George Bush School of Government and
Public Policy at Texas A&M University, his alma mater, and co-

wrote a book with Bush’s Florida strategist, former U.S.
Secretary of State James Baker.

George Herbert Walker Bush, the one the school is named after,
arranged to get DeFrank special access to his 1988 presidential
election campaign so his “respected friend” could write a book.
It’s all there in his letters.

There are hardly any degrees of separation anymore. Consider:
Nina Totenberg, the National Public Radio correspondent who
covers the U.S. Supreme Court, was married by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
– a Supreme Court justice she covers. The marriage ceremony
was reported in “The Reliable Source” column of The Washington
Post as part of an understandably sympathetic story about an
accident that Totenberg suffered on her honeymoon.

That story pained Jim McGrath, an editorial writer at the
Times Union in Albany, N.Y., on ethical grounds. “NPR
Supreme Court reporter has a high justice marry her,” he wrote to
Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews. “Permanent conflict of interest. Or
doesn’t anyone care?”

So why should any of this be surprising? Henry Kissinger and
Jesse Jackson have appeared in ads promoting The New York
Times. Campbell Soup Co. paid ABC, owned by the Walt Disney
Co., a fee to have its brew sipped on “The View,” a TV program
hosted by Barbara Walters.

Nancy Rhoda, a photo editor at Nashville’s Tennessean, Al
Gore’s old newspaper, gave the vice president $1,000 for his
campaign. “I’ve removed myself from editing photos of them,” she
said. “He’s an old friend. We still see them. No one at the paper
said I couldn’t contribute money.”

No wonder. The Tennessean is known as Gore Country. Frank
Sutherland, its editor, was featured on a fund-raising video for
Gore, and the paper’s Web site, during the entire primary
campaign, carried not-so-hard-hitting coverage of a day in the
life of the vice president.

Hey, media and politics have always been a messy mix. Newspapers
used to name themselves after their favorite political parties:
the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, the Chicago
Republican. But, back then, people weren’t so sensitive about

Allan Wolper’s “Ethics Corner” column appears monthly in
E&P. He can be reached at

Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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