See, I Told You: The Conspiracy Lives!

I always knew that someday, someone in the Washington press

corps would notice the right-wing conspiracy. After all, it has been operating

under their upturned noses for these many, many years. On May 6, my faith was

finally vindicated with the appearance of a startling article by one of The Washington Post ‘s most able

reporters, John Harris.

While Mr. Harris carefully avoids using the C-word, he

obviously gets it. By merely acknowledging the existence of what plainly

exists, he breaks new ground. Even more forthrightly, he points out that the

conspiracy’s most important beneficiary, George W. Bush, has so far escaped the

barrage of assaults inflicted by the national media on everything and everyone

associated with Bill Clinton. If the Clintons (and Al Gore) were constantly

spattered with mud and worse, then Mr. Bush has been showered with champagne

and rose petals.

As Mr. Harris writes, “The truth is, this new president has

done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they

had occurred under Clinton. Take it from someone who made a living writing

about those uproars.” He is quick to add that this difference in coverage has

nothing whatsoever to do with “journalists’ attitudes toward Bush or their

willingness to report aggressively on him.”

No, of course not. The true culprit is that right-wing thing

(which perhaps should be renamed La Cosa Destra, in homage to another infamous

group which some have likewise insisted is mythical). Mr. Harris calls it “a

corps” of “aggrieved and methodical people”

whose “well-coordinated” aim was to “expose and undermine” Mr. Clinton

from the moment he took office in 1993. He asserts that the absence of an

organized liberal mob is why Mr. Bush gets such an easy media ride every day.

Briefly sketching the gang’s crews and capos, he notes that

there is no liberal equivalent of the Heritage Foundation-or, he might have

added, the American Enterprise Institute and about half a dozen smaller but

well-funded versions of same, financed by right-wing godfather Richard Mellon

Scaife.

Nor is there any leftish

loudmouth who possesses the influence of Rush Limbaugh-generously described by

the Post reporter as “colorful,”

although “malicious” and “mendacious” would have been equally apt. Perhaps most

important, there is no Democratic counterpart to Representative Dan Burton-the

Hoosier hooligan whose “investigations” of the Clinton White House were only

part of a broader harassment scheme mounted by the Republican Congressional

majority.

The irony of that

contrast between then and now doesn’t escape the astute Mr. Harris. Despite

serious doubts about whether Mr. Bush won or stole the election, and his clear

defeat in the popular vote, he has been granted greater legitimacy by the

opposition party than his Democratic predecessor ever was. Mr. Harris observes

that “Washington’s snarling public tone” during the 90′s was produced largely

by Mr. Clinton’s opponents, a fair judgment rarely offered in The Post or any other major newspaper

when it would have mattered.

Insofar as he discusses the right’s hypnotic influence on

the press, Mr. Harris’ article is semi-confessional, or at least

quasi-confessional. When mainstream journalists write about the shortcomings of

their industry, reassurance always outweighs remorse, and Mr. Harris is no

exception. Yet his perspective as an insider at a Clinton-bashing national

daily ought to be taken seriously.

According to him, there are never any conscious decisions by

reporters or editors to slant news coverage in deference to conservative

dictates. Instead, he explains that “we give more coverage to stories when

someone is shouting.” The Republican right ranted incessantly, about Whitewater

and Travelgate and Filegate and Chinagate, and the Washington press haplessly

lent credence to their ravings.

The busy journalistic establishment somehow neglected to

discover, and thus inform their readers, that much of the scandal mongering was

without foundation. Mr. Harris doesn’t dwell on that failure, or the ambitions

and enmities behind it.

As they grew addicted to the Clinton soap opera, he writes,

“the Washington press corps collectively may have fallen a bit out of shape at

the hard work of examining, exposing, and critiquing public officials as they

go about making the decisions that affect national life.” So the flabby,

scandal-addled minds of those who covered the last administration are in no

condition to cope with this one.

Still, he strives to conclude with the upbeat tone required

inside the Beltway these days: “Good for this White House in avoiding the worst

stumbles of the early Clinton administration; good for Washington in giving a

new president a break at the start. And those people eager to see this

president face scrutiny can rest assured: The opposition is sure to awaken.”

Should that reawakening ever occur, we will see whether Mr.

Harris and his colleagues can hear shouting from the left as well as they heard

it from the right. Based on recent experience, I worry that they’ve become deaf

on that side.