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Book Reviews:

Off With Their Heads

Traitors, Crooks, and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media and Business

by Dick Morris
Book Review By Lucas Everidge


Off with their heads! exclaimed the Queen of Hearts in Alice In Wonderland. Many people who have dealt with the political life inside the Beltway come away as visiting a kind of nonsensical Wonderland. Dick Morris, who first gained notice as a key campaign advisor to President Bill Clinton, and today speaks from the right-of-center as a FOX News commentator, details a complete collection of targets he fells act duplicitous.

In Off With Their Heads, Morris cites the news media for distorting the news, pushing a blatant liberal agenda. He lacerates Howell Raines' New York Times for its desperate attempts to pump up anti-war sentiment through the buildup to the Iraq War.

Morris also makes the case that the three broadcast networks slanted their news coverage on the war in Iraq by emphasizing casualties and downplaying other significant progress. He refers to Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Maureen Dowd and Peter Arnett as the Sky-Is-Falling Brigade. "The American media establishment has blundered and blundered badly" in what Morris describes as a "credibility gap, but this time it's not official Washington that Americans disbelieve - it's the media itself that we can't trust to tell the truth."

Morris' case against the New York Times is lengthy and well researched.

From that chapter:

The New New York Times: All The News That Fits, They Print

There is a new New York Times. Howell Raines's New York Times. No longer content to report the news, he admits to "flooding the zone" - and floods it with stories that carry forward his personal crusades and the paper's editorial views. And the Times doesn't stop at slanting the news; it also weights its polls. The surveys the newspaper takes regularly are biased to give more strength to Democratic and liberal opinions and less to those of the rest of us.

The newspaper has become like a political consulting firm for the Democratic Party. Under Raines, it is squandering the unparalleled credibility it has amassed over the past century in order to articulate and advance its own political and ideological agenda. For decades, the Times was the one newspaper so respected for its integrity and so widely read that it had influence well beyond its circulation. Now it has stooped to the role of partisan cheerleader, sending messages of dissent, and fanning the flames of disagreement on the left. Each month brings a new left party line from the paper, setting the tone for the government's loyal opposition.

Reading the New York Times these days is like listening to Radio Moscow. Not that it's communist, of course, but it has become almost as biased as the former Soviet news organ that religiously spewed the party line. Just as Russians did under Soviet rule, you now need to read "between the lines" to distinguish what's really happening from what is just New York Times propaganda.

Morris spends great time on explaining the polling methodology used by the Times. He makes the case that the paper spends its own money to fish out positions that are most critical of the Bush Administration. He also goes into an interesting discussion of the use of weights in poll data, which is an industry-wide method to statistically compensate for inaccuracies. Weighting polls is a perfectly legitimate practice, when corrections are needed. For example, often more women than men answer the telephone for pollsters, so they adjust accordingly to improve the poll's accuracy. Morris describes situations where their polls on subjective questions are down-right manipulated:
Acting like the chief campaign strategist for the left, the Times generally conducts six to eight public opinion polls each year. But lately the Times seems to me to be deliberately misinterpreting and weighting its data to suggest that its liberal ideas have a popularity they don't actually enjoy. The polling seems to have one major purpose - to help the Democratic Party set its agenda, encouraging it to embrace the Times's own liberalism on a host of issues. Then, from editorials to op-ed articles and a blizzard of front-page stories, the newspaper relentlessly expounds its views, doing its best to create a national firestorm on the issues it chooses to push.

Other New Related Books:

Jack Shafer, the media critic for the on-line magazine Slate, described the new policy to Newsweek on December 9, 2002: "The Times has assumed the journalistic role as the party of opposition" to the current Bush administration. According to Newsweek, "many people around the country are noticing a change in the way the Old Gray Lady [the Times's pet name] covers any number of issues. . .. ." The magazine pointed out how Raines believes in "flooding the zone - using all the paper's formidable resources to pound away on a story."

Other newspapers often try to do the same thing. What is unique about the Times's approach is the sharp departure it represents from the paper's past. Long priding itself on objectivity, political neutrality, and even reserve in reporting news, the Times is renowned as our nation's primary voice of objective authority. As such, it occupies a unique place in our national iconography. But Alex Jones, author of The Trust, a book about the Times, describes the Times's latter-day style of news coverage as "certainly a shift from the New York Times as the 'paper of record.'

Morris does not simply discuss the media in Off WIth Their Heads. Drawing on his time in the Clinton White House, Morris reveals how Clinton close to avoid dealing with al Qaeda, Iraq and North Korea. Morris also takes France to task for acting as, one would call an alcoholic's friend, the Enabler. He writes, "(France) helped create the monster Saddam Hussein, leading the fight to allow Saddam to sell as much oil as he liked and do as he pleased with the money."

Morris also covers corporations who manipulatively harm the economy, congressmen who manipulate the redistricting process to ensure easy reelections, and California Governor Gray Davis for using the tobacco-settlement windfall to cover budget gaps.

Morris also has little good to say about cigarette companies, nursing home entrepreneurs and other interesting targets.

The result is an interesting, well-researched book. Critics of American left-sided thinking, as well as the opponents to the Bush Administration will find a wealth of stories, debate points and anecdotes.

Morris has written other books including Behind The Oval Office and Power Plays. A former political gun for hire, he has worked for clients as diverse as Bill Clinton and Trent Lott.

-Lucas Everidge

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