SOLOMON: "Hypocrisy" Rampant in Media Crossfire

Thundering into the second term of the Clinton presidency, the national media herd is making a lot of noise about political hypocrisy. It's too bad that so many of those complaints are...well...hypocritical.The other day, Democratic Party loyalist Susan Estrich wrote a syndicated column putting a weird spin on the sexual harassment charges by Paula Jones. To hear Estrich tell it, Jones claims that when Bill Clinton "propositioned her coarsely" one afternoon in May 1991, she said no and "he accepted the rebuff graciously." Estrich called it "a gracious acceptance of rejection."Are we supposed to believe that then-Gov. Clinton's alleged behavior toward a state employee in a Little Rock hotel was "gracious?"Such lame attempts at damage control for Clinton are truly pitiful. But plenty of his foes are being just as two-faced.A few days ago, New York Times columnist William Safire blasted "the hypocrisy of feminists who were prepared to sacrifice the principle of sexual harassment on the altar of political favoritism." He had a point -- or, more precisely, half a point.Like many other pro-GOP pundits, Safire is complaining about hypocrisy while engaging in it himself. Back in May 1994, Safire ridiculed sexual harassment statutes as "loosey goosey" -- a far cry from reverence for "the principle of sexual harassment."Another fiery supporter of Jones' rights, Rush Limbaugh, used to publicly brag about a sign on his office door: "Sexual harassment at this work station will not be reported...It will be graded."In fact, many of the most righteous advocates for Jones in the punditocracy -- including the sleaze-mongering but influential American Spectator magazine -- were all too eager to trash Anita Hill when that served Republican purposes.Similar media hypocrisy is now routine in the Newt Gingrich matter. Solid evidence shows that Gingrich lied about a tax dodge that enabled him to use charitable contributions for partisan purposes. The right-wing commentators who are defending him would be screaming for blood if a Democrat had done any such thing.These flashy scandals make it easy to bypass deeper issues. Today, most political coverage is mired in shallow bogs of news blather.Of all the current media themes, none is more annoying -- or cloying -- than the prattle about Bill Clinton's place in history. The hype obscures the reality that a president is important because of how his career affects the public, not the other way around.While Clinton preens himself in the media mirror, millions of children are unlikely to care a whit about his "place in history." They'll be too busy coping with the consequences of his politically expedient neglect.Kids are the main victims of this country's inequities -- and the latest figures from the Labor Department show that economic gaps are still widening. While family income has risen by 26 percent among the richest one-fifth of the U.S. population since 1979, the poorest one-fifth suffered a drop of 9 percent. Rhetoric aside, Clinton and Gingrich are aiding this trend under the guise of "welfare reform."What's truly scandalous about most media coverage of politicians is how little it has to do with key concerns. For instance, the IRS booklets arriving in America's mailboxes this month include a pie chart with information rarely discussed in news media: Corporate income taxes account for only 10 percent of federal revenue.If journalists spent less time chattering about what matters most to Clinton and Gingrich, we might hear more about what matters to the rest of us.Even when the national press gets down to substance, the results are often dubious. The Jan. 20 edition of Time bangs on a familiar drum when it urges Clinton to get serious about "reforming Medicare and Social Security, the middle-class entitlement monsters that will consume the budget if left unchecked."Dire warnings about "entitlement monsters" are standard media fare. But it's typical that the flagship magazine for the multibillion-dollar Time Warner conglomerate isn't mentioning the need to tame a taxation monster that lets corporate America get off with a mere one-tenth of the nation's tax burden.If the word hadn't been so cheapened by now, we might call such reporting "hypocrisy."

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