The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, June 07, 2002  

There’s Just No Pleasing Some Republicans

Richard Parsons, the new chief executive officer of AOL Time Warner Inc., traveled to Washington this week, pleading the case to conservatives that CNN isn’t just for liberals anymore.

According to a report in Roll Call by Susan Crabtree, “DeLay Sees Progress from CNN,” Parsons on June 4 “visited House and Senate leaders to introduce himself…and boost the embattled media conglomerate’s profile on Capitol Hill.”

Parsons’ pilgrimage is not the first by a representative for CNN. Last summer Walter Isaacson, chairman and chief executive officer of CNN News Group, met with congressional Republicans “in an effort to burnish the network’s image with conservative leaders and seek their advice on how to attract more right-leaning viewers.” Isaacson’s mission was regarded at the time as an effort to stave off the encroachment of blatantly partisan Fox News onto CNN’s previously well protected political-news turf.

Parsons’ courtesy calls evidently sowed some goodwill with House Majority Whip Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas). An unnamed Republican aide to the House leadership told Crabtree, “DeLay expressed appreciation that CNN has been willing to listen and improve its ideological balance. They definitely have been reaching out in an effort to improve and listen to both sides.”

Parsons reportedly agreed with DeLay’s assessment of CNN that the network’s programming had improved under Isaacson’s direction. “One aide seized on the comments as an admission that the network had previously reflected a liberal bias,” reports Crabtree. The fact that the aide was trafficking in an obvious non sequitir apparently escaped Crabtree’s grasp.

“Parsons also met with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), but the issue of CNN’s coverage did not come up,” Crabtree says, citing spokesman Erik Smith. Why would it have? Rep. Gephardt hasn’t made a career out of divining non-existent bias in the media, nor is he in the habit of brow-beating journalists, the preferred modus operandi of right-wing ideologues like DeLay.

Smith’s assessment of the increasingly unusual relationship between CNN and congressional conservatives is far more rational than that of the unnamed Republican staffer. “Republicans have been whining about this for years, and clearly it’s beginning to take its toll on some very rational people,” says Smith, for which read, CNN is caving.

Face time

Although DeLay himself has appeared on CNN “several times” since Sept. 11, “the combative conservative, who had suggested a GOP boycott of the network just last year, is not completely mollified,” Crabtree reports. DeLay’s complaint? CNN gives members of the Senate more “face time” than it does members of the House of Representatives, “a gripe he has with several networks.”

Perhaps someone should pull DeLay aside for a civics lesson. Just a quick ten-minute tutorial is enough to explain that, despite the Constitution having established that spending bills must originate in the House and that the House elects the President in the event of a tie in the Electoral College, the Senate is, in nearly every respect, the upper chamber. (See also: “Advice and consent,” treaty ratification, impeachment trials, higher age requirement, etc.) Politicians themselves know this, as evidenced by the longstanding aspirations of House members to join their colleagues on the north side of the Capitol.

As Gephardt aide Smith put it, “That’s completely understandable. Senators always get more airtime. Even Fox gives them more airtime, so I would suggest Mr. DeLay start there.”

Moreover, what difference, really, does this make? Although the Senate is controlled by the Democrats, their majority, 51-49, is as narrow as is mathematically possible, making it difficult to argue that giving more attention to Senators is per se unfair to Republicans. Of course, DeLay is just hiding behind this cover. What DeLay is doing when he accuses CNN of giving Senators more attention is that the network reserves more time for Democrats. Since that is DeLay’s complaint, why doesn’t he just say so?

Regardless, there is just no pleasing those Republicans who secretly enjoy walking around with permanent chips on their shoulders. Crabtree cites a Republican aide (also unnamed, possibly the same as the staff member cited earlier) who is still complaining: “What DeLay was mostly concerned about were some of the news shows. But a lot of the commentary shows still have a built-in bias…like ‘Capital Gang.’ And ‘Crossfire’ is really not that interesting anymore either.”

We wonder whether this unnamed and clearly adrift Republican aide finds “Crossfire” less interesting these days is because James Carville and Paul Begala so routinely rout counterparts Robert Novak and Tucker “I’m in way over my head” Carlson.

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