When George H.W. Bush announced his candidacy for the presidency, in October 1987, Newsweek ran its cover story titled “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’” The clear implication of the story was that Bush (the youngest American combat pilot in WWII, a war hero, diplomat and CIA director, who served with distinction) lacked the inner fortitude to lead the free world.
Days before the 1988 Iowa caucuses, CBS anchor Dan Rather attempted to sidetrack Bush’s presidential bid with a rankly partisan interview on the Iran-contra affair (falsely presented to the Bush team as a routine profile); Rather berated Bush on the Evening News: “You made us hypocrites in the face of the world! How could you sign on to such a policy?!” His over-the-top invective backfired, however, and Bush won his party’s nomination.
Time’s William A. Henry III revealed after the 1992 election on a PBS special. “The White House press corps by and large detested George Bush.” He continued: “Their real contempt for him showed through in their reporting …” (No wonder Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign promoted a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Annoy the Media. Vote for Bush.”)
Keep all of this in mind as you hear journalists sing their praise of the late President Bush this week. They weren’t always so deferential or objective. The job of journalists is to aggressively scrutinize those in power, not to be gratuitously snarky to satisfy their personal agendas.