Before George H.W. Bush fades from memory into the darkness of history books, one more point needs to be made. It is about the contrast between how most of the major media treated him when he was president and how they mostly (but not completely) did a 180 during their coverage and commentary of his funeral.
Maybe reporters and anchors considered their largely favorable and complimentary coverage of the man in death as penance for their earlier sins during his life, but they still should be held accountable for what they said about him when it mattered.
CBS News anchor Dan Rather interviewed Bush, then-vice president, in 1988, before the Iowa caucuses. This was at the height of the Iran-Contra affair during which the White House sought to circumvent a law banning funds to aid the Nicaraguan contras who were fighting communist forces. Bush and Rather shouted at each other in the 10-minute interview on live television.
CBS began its segment on Bush with a taped report that suggested the vice president had played a greater role in the Iran-Contra affair than Bush has acknowledged, and Rather hammered Bush about it during the interview, The New York Times reported. The candidate said he had been deceived about the true intent of the interview.
Phone calls swamped switchboards at CBS News in New York and at Bush’s presidential campaign office in Washington. A CBS News official and Bush’s spokesman said calls were overwhelmingly supportive of the vice president and negative toward CBS, the Times reported.
Bush won the nomination. There would be other moments when the two would face off, but with advantage to Bush.
There was pressure from Democrats and others for Bush to break the famous pledge he made at the 1988 Republican convention: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” They knew it would erode his base of support.
At the 1992 Republican convention, he apologized for breaking the promise. His concession won him no media kudos, however, and he was pilloried in the press.
Even when it came to his most successful foreign policy achievements, many in the media found something to criticize.
After Bush sent U.S. troops to topple and arrest Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, CBS White House correspondent Wyatt Andrews worried: “Mr. Bush is erasing his old image of being timid, but the new question now, almost overnight, is whether this president is exhibiting signs of being reckless.”
It was for such moments that the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” was created.
In 1987, shortly after Bush announced his presidential candidacy, Newsweek ran a cover story in which Evan Thomas called Bush a “wimp.” Last week, Thomas wrote a piece for Yahoo News, admitting he was wrong.
A little late, I’d say.
During funeral coverage, a panel of NBC journalists recalled a story that received a lot of attention during Bush’s 1992 re-election bid. Bush visited a grocery store and it was reported that he was amazed by the bar code on a carton of milk. The Associated Press noted that reporters later learned it was a special scanner with advanced features, including a scale to weigh produce—uncommon then—and the ability to read bar codes even if they were torn up.
The New York Times in its obituary chose to allude to the alleged incident as fact. Fake news dies hard.
Most of the media coverage of Bush’s death and funeral was favorable. NBC ran a warm one-hour special on which Bush’s granddaughter Jenna compiled interviews with her “Gampy.” This would have been something inconceivable when Bush was alive and it does not make up for the biased coverage of the past.
For the major media, it would appear the only good Republican is a dead Republican.
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