GOP to the Press: Drop Dead

GOP to the Press: Drop Dead

Lucille Pershing, a California delegate to the Republican National Convention, doesn't mince words when a reporter asks what she thinks of the media hordes gathered in San Diego this week.

``I think they're scorpions, just like they say in Primary Colors,'' said Pershing, referring to the best-selling Washington novel. ``They're just very biased. They don't give our point of view. There are so few that are Republicans. Wasn't there a poll that said 86 per cent voted for Clinton? That tells you right there.''

Never mind that Primary Colors is about the presidential campaign of a Clintonesque candidate, and that it's Democratic campaign operatives in the book who call the press corps ``scorps.'' Pershing's sentiment is easy enough to understand-- and it's widely shared by her fellow delegates. In a series of interviews on and off the convention floor, GOP loyalists spelled out in chapter and verse why it is that Republicans loathe the press.

Like Pershing, many delegates triumphantly cite a recent survey of Washington reporters conducted for the nonpartisan Freedom Forum--which found that 89 per cent of respondents had voted for Clinton. And many can tick off examples of reporting that doesn't meet GOP standards. They think the record of the 104th Congress has been distorted. They complain that news accounts frequently refer to Republican cutbacks in government programs, when outlays have in fact increased. They feel the press is out to get them.

Once upon a time, said 62-year-old delegate Gwendolyn Hicks of Hendersonville, N.C., who runs a mobile home park with her husband, the press was ``very open-minded'' and simply reported what it saw. Today, she said, ``you go to a political meeting of any kind, and you listen to it, and then the next morning you pick up the paper and you say, `Were they at the same meeting I was at?' because it had a whole different slant to it.''

Pershing, a widowed retiree, said she doesn't expect reporters ``to hew to our line.'' But, she complained, ``instead of giving the news, quite often they give their commentary in the news section. That should be on the op-ed page.''

Some delegates feel they get a fairer shake from their hometown reporters than from the top guns of the national press corps. ``I think the local media is by and large fair and objective, but I think when you get to the major news outlets-- opinion leaders like The New York Times and Washington Post--I think there's an extreme double standard,'' said Texas delegate Ernest Angelo Jr., a petroleum engineer who serves as a Republican National Committeeman.

The GOP faithful gathered here are remarkably friendly, even as they describe the media's manifold sins. Many hasten to assure an inquiring reporter that their criticism is nothing personal. In fact, they're tickled to be interviewed--Hicks's husband took a snapshot of her with a reporter's tape recorder catching her every word.

``Each of the reporters that I have met personally were very nice people,'' said Liz Schofield of Clinton, Iowa. ``But I believe, whatever we said, by the time it was edited by whoever's in charge, it didn't reflect what was said.''

Schofield, who has chaired several county-level GOP campaigns, was wearing red-white-and-blue sneakers along with similarly patriotic shorts and top, hair ribbons, blue-and-silver body glitter and a cowboy hat bearing the words ``Republicans for Life.''

The press, she said, ``tries to slant things and uses words to change the actual meaning of what's going on.'' By way of example, the Christian Coalition activist cited the media's use of the term ``anti-abortion'' rather than ``pro-life,'' which she called more ``positive.'' Some Republicans take an old- fashioned approach to news media reports they dislike: abstinence.

``I don't read the paper in the morning or the evening, and I only look at the news in the afternoon,'' said delegate Bill Cleveland, a black Alexandria (Va.) city councilman. As a result, he said, ``I've found I don't have bad dreams.''

Cleveland's number one example of the media's tendency to accentuate the negative? He once heard a TV reporter describe a survey on racism in which 19 per cent of whites said they had a negative view of blacks. ``But if you turn that on its head, 81 per cent of white people don't view it that way,'' he said. ``[The media] want 100 per cent, and you can't get that.''

Cleveland's media-avoidance seems to be the exception. Many delegates said they are news junkies, reading several newspapers and watching CNN, C-SPAN and network news. At the same time, like other conservatives around the nation, they're increasingly looking for alternative news outlets.

Schofield, for instance, said she turns for information to groups such as the Christian Coalition, Republicans for Life and the Rutherford Institute. ``They're giving us the real truth about what's going on, because we can't get that when we sit down and watch television.''

Hicks agrees: ``We're going to have to bypass the major networks and CNN, too.''

As it happens, the journalist who authored the much- disseminated Freedom Forum study during a recent fellowship doesn't believe it proves reporters are natural-born GOP bashers. ``The political leanings of reporters are irrelevant because most reporters are rooting all the time for the best story,'' maintains Elaine S. Povich, a congressional reporter for Long Island-based Newsday (which, like National Journal and Government Executive, is owned by the Times Mirror Co.).

``If the current polls are correct and Bob Dole is in fact closing the gap on Bill Clinton, reporters everywhere will cheer, because this is a better story,'' said Povich. ``Our goal is news, and the tighter the race, the better the news, the more I get on page one.''

But delegates remain convinced that reporters harbor political biases to which they simply won't 'fess up. They have little doubt that reporters are looking for more than a good story.

Most delegates seem resigned to being at odds with the media, seeking solace in Rush Limbaugh broadcasts and frequent letters to the editor. Angelo said the American public has shown its ability to ``see through the fog.'' For this Republican partisan, however, the press ``does make our job a lot more difficult.''