Mr. Westin Five Years Overdue

Scripps-Howard News Service 11.07.01
Balint Vazsonyi

It may not be "cricket" to pile it on at a time when David Westin, president of ABC News, has been nationally chastised for his comments at Columbia University, but I cannot resist opportunity knocking.

On February 24, 1996, I attended the symposium "Our changing culture," at Washington's Cosmos Club, meeting place of thinking people. Mr. Westin gave the dinner speech about media bias.

Predictably, he had found none worth mentioning. This was the time when Steve Forbes campaigned for president, and newscasts consistently referred to him as "the millionaire publisher." I asked Mr. Westin during the question-and-answer period whether Democrats, two U.S. senators in particular, have ever been referred to in a similar manner.

Mr. Westin didn't know, but promised - in the presence of a large, distinguished audience - to investigate. At the end of the evening, we shook hands and he repeated his promise to let me know.

Having offered to reciprocate with a recent essay about the matters under discussion, I dispatched the following letter, via Federal Express, on February 26, 1996:

Dear Mr. Westin:
Your presentation at the Cosmos Club last Saturday was most interesting. I was glad to make your acquaintance and hope that you did not find my question offensive.
By way of reciprocation, I enclose two versions of The Battle of America's Soul. The long is a fuller, the shorter a more current treatment of my view of the national debate.
While you look into the matter of referring to Senators Kennedy or Rockefeller as "The Millionaire Senator from...", you might also investigate the following:
Since there is almost daily reference to "The Christian Right," is there sometimes reference to "The Atheist Left," or "The Socialist Left"?
Since there is frequent reference to "White Supremacists and/or Separatists," is anyone ever described as a "Black Supremacist and/or Separatist"?
These would be some measures of bias. I am in your debt for taking this on and I look forward to your findings.

Getting close to six years, I am still waiting for his answer.

And, as long as the topic is in the national headlights, let me propose that "media bias" is way too general a manner in which to describe the concerns of those who have had them increasingly since the 1960s. Let us get specific.

With few exceptions, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN function unashamedly as arms of the Democratic Party, not only in reporting, but - significantly - in questioning politicians and others with a Republican or Conservative leaning, while treating "their own" with kid gloves. Just watch facial expressions and listen to voices. (Judy Woodruff's is a good start.) Special note: when they criticized Bill Clinton, it was not because they disapproved of what he had done, but because he had let the side down.

And, between the interests of America and of others, they unashamedly favor the others. Those familiar with the broader dimensions of political philosophy will find these two aspects of media behavior quite compatible. Internationalism as a political agenda has been - as the word attests - a vehicle of the Communist International and, later, of the Soviet Union, and it has always embodied anti-Americanism.

Given the foregoing, Mr. Westin's mini-lecture in response to a question at Columbia University, "we journalists are not supposed to take a position on the Pentagon bombing," was not only unpatriotic, morally detestable, and flying in the face of all human decency - it was also a blatant untruth.

As for his subsequent apology - "I was horrified at the loss of life" - one says that after a train wreck or an earthquake, not when one's country has been viciously attacked. If Mr. Westin truly wanted to make amends, he would have said something like this:

"The nights following my appearance at Columbia, I was kept awake by coming face-to-face with a way of thinking I must have acquired while growing up, and never subjected to critical assessment. As president of ABC News, I and my colleagues could have performed a national service by investigating how we have come to turn everything on its head - our history, our bona fide heroes, our morality, our once-legendary journalistic integrity, and loyalty to the country to which we owe everything. We could have demonstrated how to earn each and every day our unique privilege embodied in the First Amendment.

"As I consider how to pay my debt to America, the question of my fitness - and that of several ABC News stars - to continue in our present positions is uppermost in my mind."