The reviews are in, and guess what? Ari Fleischer's book Taking Heat is full of misleading claims and factual assertions -- just like its author. Here's Salon's Eric Boehlert:
Elsewhere in "Taking Heat," Fleischer, who chastises the press corps for not checking its facts, writes matter-of-factly that the bungled CBS report on "60 Minutes Wednesday" last September was based on "forged" documents, an inaccurate statement. In January, the independent panel set up by CBS to investigate the matter reported it could not conclude that the documents were forged.
The book is filled with curious omissions... [T]here's also no mention about how Fleischer, along with off-the-record White House aides, helped fan the flames of a fabricated 2001 scandal about exiting Clinton staffers who allegedly trashed the White House. Just a week in office, Fleischer piqued reporters' interest by confirming the acts of vandalism were being "catalogued," while aides lavished journalists with descriptions of phone lines being cut and trash strewn all over the West Wing. (The General Accounting Office looked into the matter and concluded those wild accusations were false.) Nonetheless, Fleischer writes, "Through my first six months on the job, the press repeatedly tried to bait me into a fight with President Clinton on a variety of issues. I tried hard not to let them create a conflict."
...Fleischer sets out to try to document the press bias, how it has been unfairly critical of Bush and adopted a double standard when the Republican moved into the White House. Not surprisingly, given the rampant timidity with which the press has treated Bush, that's when Fleischer's troubles begin.
On page 13, in one of his first barbs directed at the press, Fleischer complains that during the contested 2000 election, the press was eager to label the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Bush's favor to stop counting votes as "bitter" and "divided," but days earlier, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in Gore's favor, reporters shied away from the divisive nature of the decision to the point where "most Americans would have thought it was a unified Florida Supreme Court that put Al Gore on the doorstep of the presidency," according to Fleischer.
But a quick check of LexisNexis database finds Fleischer pontificating based on his own press bias, not actual reporting at the time. The "bitter" and "deeply divided" nature of the Florida Supreme Court ruling was widely reported...
Examples like that, which undercut Fleischer's thesis, litter "Taking Heat." For instance, riding a favorite conservative hobby horse, he complains that while reporters routinely label Republicans as "conservatives," they shy away from tagging Democrats as "liberals." "Why have they largely stopped using the word 'liberal'?" Fleischer wonders.
Stop using? Just within the last year, according to Nexis, the New York Times has published 325 articles that contained three or more references to "liberal," followed by the Washington Post (with 283 articles), Los Angeles Times (266), Associated Press (227), Chicago Tribune (165), and USA Today (71).
On the flip side, Fleischer doesn't like the word "progressive": "I don't really know what a 'progressive' is, but I know the Democrats like the word and the press use it, particularly in their coverage of social issues." Compared to the 325 "liberal" articles in the New York Times over the last 12 months, the paper has generated 39 articles that feature "progressive" three or more times. (Not all those articles dealt with politics, and neither did all the "liberal" articles, but the number gives a fair indication of their use.) In his analysis of the press, Fleischer argues "liberal" is underused, while "progressive" is overused, the exact opposite of what's happening.
More trouble ensues when Fleischer complains about how journalists use (or don't use) "social liberal" compared to "social conservative." Fleischer writes, "I don't think I've ever seen the phrase 'social liberal' in the press." Had Fleischer searched Nexis for U.S. media mentions containing the phrase "social liberal" that appeared between 2001 and 2003 -- the time Fleischer served as press secretary -- he would have seen the 725 matches it retrieved.
...Fleischer also complains that reporters, letting their supposed Democratic bias seep through, fail to label the American Civil Liberties Union a "liberal" organization even though they're quick to tag a group like Club for Growth as "conservative." Here's a partial list of the news outlets that have referred to the ACLU as "liberal" in the last 12 months: Bergen (N.J.) Record, San Antonio Express-News, Associated Press, Time, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Newsday, Seattle Post Intelligencer, United Press International, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Kansas City Star, San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune, International Herald Tribune, CNN, and Dallas Morning News.
And here's Time's John Dickerson:
The Recount: As an example of liberal bias in the press, Fleischer asserts that the coverage of the Florida Supreme Court's 4-3 decision to re-start the counting of votes during the 2000 election was reported without modifiers because it favored Al Gore. When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to settle the election controversy in George Bush's favor, the papers described the justices as "bitterly divided." He cites a Washington Post story the day after the Florida decision as an example, saying the paper made "no reference to a close or bitter decision."
Well, maybe not in the story that Fleischer cites. But that piece ran on A17, and was narrowly focused on how the Gore camp was reacting. The story about the decision itself ran on the front page, however, and cited "the bitterly divided court." The paper not only used the very expression Fleischer says was missing, but the editors put it at the top of the paper's lead story about the Florida ruling.
Labeling: Conservatives are always labeled as such, he writes, but liberal organizations are presented as objective actors. He uses another example from the Washington Post: "On September 5, 2003, the Washington Post, writing about Moveon.org, a left-wing group that has spent tens of millions of dollars against President Bush and in favor of liberal policies, simply called it "an online advocacy group." Lets shelve for a moment that the story wasn't about Moveon.org, as he makes it seem. It was about Texas redistricting and included a single passing mention of the group. If you look at all the 14 Washington Post mentions of the organization from July to September—the months surrounding the citation Fleischer chooses—Moveon was referred to as "liberal" or "left-leaning" or as "an organ of the left," 10 times. The instances in which it goes un-labeled are either unnecessary because the political leaning is clear, or incidental. That's almost the exact treatment The Post gives Americans for Tax reform, a conservative group Fleischer says is more frequently singled out for its ideological leanings.