He makes the decisions . . . wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” Several days later, Rather told Entertainment Tonight that if Bush ever “needs me in uniform . . . I’m there.”
ABC’s Cokie Roberts certainly didn’t volunteer to suit up, but she, too, unself-consciously admitted to Letterman an almost blind faith in our boys at the Pentagon: “Look, I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff.”
A few reporters were less accommodating. After Dubya’s testosterone-fueled, with-us-or-against-us speech to Congress, a Texas City Sun editor, Tom Gutting, lamented Bush’s “poor judgment and leadership,” writing, “I’m aware of the American custom not to criticize our country’s leaders in times of crisis. But . . . it’s time we snapped out of the ‘support our president’ trance and start to be vigilant citizens, as our Constitution demands.”
Gutting’s skepticism was welcome amid calls to replace scrutiny with “unity.” But the demands of democracy held little interest for Sun Publisher Les Daughtry Jr., who, the next day penned an apology in addition to an editorial headlined, bush has been superb; editor used poor judgment, calling Gutting’s column “offensive” and “incorrectly stated.”
Within a week, Gutting was fired. He wasn’t alone. Since September 11, the cost of expressing dissent has been steep: journalists in Oregon and New York were sacked after presenting alternative views, while several progressive radio shows were yanked off the airwaves and the Internet. And when the White House didn’t appreciate a wisecrack from comedian Bill Maher, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer ominously warned “all Americans” to “watch what they say, watch what they do.”
In this McCarthyite climate, questioning U.S. foreign policy became a sin akin to justifying terrorism. Antiwar activists were vilified as traitors in the “blame America first crowd,” their calls for “justice, not vengeance” dismissed as a desire to “do nothing.” In a rant against “reactionary left-wingers,” Jonathan Alter of Newsweek seethed, “Talk about ironic: the same people always urging us not to blame the victim in rape cases are now saying Uncle Sam wore a short skirt and asked for it.”
At the same time, poll stories like the Washington Post’s public is unyielding in war against terror; 9 in 10 back robust military response that appeared immediately after the attacks gave the misleading impression that Americans were “unswerving” in their “demand for a full-scale response.” But “the public” is not a monolithic group, and those numbers don’t compute. As it turns out, the 9-in-10 statistic refers to Bush’s approval rating; the same Post poll shows that while 44 percent of women support a broad military effort, “48 percent said they want a limited strike or no military action at all.”
Pretty strong evidence contradicting the notion that “the public” is gung-ho for war. So why was this gender gap so underreported? Maybe because, according to a study we conducted at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), women were outnumbered 10 to 1 on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today in the month following the attacks.
If a wider range of women’s voices are allowed to compete with the sea of mostly male, Fed-friendly insiders, we might hear a little more about why nearly half of us do not support a broad, punishing war that may cost billions of dollars and millions of lives.