Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Elder Bush Blasts NY Times Bias

His son can speak for himself, but Bush Sr. is done with 'Times'
Media Mix
By Peter Johnson

Like many U.S. presidents, the elder George Bush has had a love/hate relationship with the nation's so-called paper of record, The New York Times.
But Monday, Bush told CNN's Paula Zahn that he has "given up" on the paper. He said that his son, President Bush, may have as well.
"The thing that troubles me is, in my opinion, their news columns are getting to show a certain bias," Bush said. "There is a new way you do it now: 'Reporter's Notebook.' That gives you a little chance to be an advocate in the news column. Or 'Washington Whispers' or something like that. And that relieves the reporter of objective reporting. ... I've given up on them."
Zahn: "Has the president given up on them?"
Bush: "I don't know. He might be like his mother; she won't read it anymore."
Bush had a colorful, often playful history with Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who doggedly poked fun at his language and syntax when she was a White House correspondent during his administration.
But his son has had a frosty relationship with the editorial page, which repeatedly has taken him to task on his policies. Bush refused all interview requests from the Times until the eve of the Republican National Convention.
Times editor Bill Keller said Tuesday that the paper's "notebooks" are intended to give reporters a chance to elaborate on bits of color that might not otherwise fit in a straight news story.
As for bias in its news pages, Keller said Bush's charge doesn't "stand up." While "unacceptably snarky" lines "with some attitude" do creep into notebooks, Keller said, editors "try to fight that. But sometimes when somebody is writing the lighter side of the news, a kind of snide turn of phrase will turn up.
"We do our best to make sure that doesn't happen, but occasionally it does," Keller said. "But notebooks are not by any means a vehicle for people to slip their personal opinions into the newspaper."
'Hardball' gets its groove
Chris Matthews' obsession with politics may be rubbing off on viewers: For the past three months, Matthews' political chatfest Hardball has beaten Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN by a slim 5% margin: an average 576,000 to 546,000 viewers.
While numbers for both shows pale compared with Fox News' Shepard Smith (1.5 million), Hardball is MSNBC's bright light.
It has "succeeded in establishing a beachhead, which is something we haven't been able to do in seven years," says NBC News chief Neal Shapiro.
For his part, Matthews says he consciously has tried of late to tone down his trademark shout-'em-down style, a change he already has made on his weekly syndicated Chris Matthews Show.
The change came after Matthews watched reruns of Hardball and discovering just how many times he interrupted guests. "It was unnerving. It just bugged me. So I said, 'I gotta stop this.' "
Don't hold your breath, but he's thinking about trying out a new line during this week's Republican convention that he says will disarm whomever he happens to be talking to at the time. The line: "... but finish your thought."
Matthews started his career in politics as a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and as a top aide to House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill before segueing into political commentary and now a "passionate anchor" role.
His definition of that role? "A guy concerned about the issues. He's not some person who is just assigned to politics, but who loves politics, loves the game, and deeply believes the stakes are high."
GOP ratings: Cable draws
Some 1.4 million more people watched the first night of the GOP convention on cable than did the first night of the Democratic convention in Boston. But the Big Three networks didn't air Monday's opener in New York as they did in Boston, which sent viewers to cable. (Networks air an hour tonight, compared with no coverage on Boston's second night.)
All the gain went to Fox News with 3.9 million viewers (up from 1.6 million in Boston); CNN drew 1.3 million (down from 2 million); MSNBC had 854,000 viewers (vs. 1.1 million); and PBS drew 1.9 million (down from 2.5 million).