Candidates Get Uppity at Audience With Media Royal Family

Feb. 29, 2004

Also published at

Also published in an edited version on

“Well, I’m not going to be addressed like this.” — Elizabeth Bumiller

The headline about today’s CBS debate on the CBS website is “Dems Get Feisty In NYC Debate,” and it’s followed by an absurdly dishonest article suggesting that the four remaining Democratic candidates for president engaged in unusually spirited disagreement with each other over what they would each do if elected president. Fortunately, the website includes a link to a transcript of the debate:

Anyone who had the misfortune to watch the thing knows that the candidates mostly “got feisty” toward his Royal Highness Dan Rather, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, and Sir Andrew Kirtzman of Channel 2 in New York. I thought that all four candidates, two of whom I don’t even like, came off looking admirable by comparison to the media royalty’s arrogant abusiveness. This is getting to the point where a media-approved president might break up the media monopolies out of sheer dislike for the media’s arrogance. That could be the best result of this kind of debate.

I hadn’t thought it possible that anyone could top Larry “I really am a king” King’s performance earlier this week in the CNN debate, during which he referred to two candidates by their first names and addressed the other two as Senators, denounced one as a socialist, interrupted the same repeatedly, and tried to interrupt another.

Today’s debate was one of the very few opportunities that people who do not subscribe to cable television have had to view the part of our political process that is of primary importance, the primaries. This is the part of the process in which the significant alternatives are removed in order to keep everyone uninterested and half the country unwilling to vote during the later general election contest between two relatively similar candidates.

There was an earlier broadcast television debate on ABC months ago, during which Cardinal Ted Koppel wasted a great deal of time on nonsubstantive nonsense and Congressman Dennis Kucinich received thunderous applause for pointing that out. But Dan Rather must have missed the ABC debate.

Dan Rather, of course, has a record of courage and integrity that would incline him to hold politicians to the highest standard. Here is a remark he made on the David Letterman show on Sep. 17, 2001: “George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions….Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he’ll make the call.” Had Bush made any calls to Dan Rather to help him prep for today’s debate he probably couldn’t have produced questions he would have liked any better.

In May 2002, Rather had this to say on the BBC: “There was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be ‘necklaced’ here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions….I do not except myself from this criticism….What we are talking about here, whether one wants to recognize it or not or call it by its proper name or not, is a form of self censorship. I worry that patriotism run amok will trample the very values that the country seeks to defend.”

So, watch out Senators! Expect some serious substantive inquiries from this guy! Here was his first question to open the debate today:

“I want each one of you in turn, in one sentence, in terms of your own spirituality, if you prefer religiosity to complete the sentence, ‘This I believe…’ Senator Kerry?” The responses were all heart warming.

King Dan then asked John Kerry about Haiti. Kerry’s reply was not exactly passionate, but he came off as very reasonable because he was interrupted twice by Bumiller. The Grand Duchess then asked John Edwards the same question, and he gave basically the same response as Kerry but at greater length.

Reverend Sharpton tried to jump in, but Bumiller pretended he wasn’t there and kept questioning Edwards, who went on so long that even Kerry tried unsuccessfully to jump in. Meanwhile Kucinich and Sharpton had yet to speak.

Next, Kirtzman asked Edwards a follow up: “

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