In his March 8 column, titled "Three Good Options for the Right," Washington Post columnist George F. Will asserted that, when reporting on politicians' shifting positions on issues, "[t]he journalistic rule is that conservatives pander, liberals 'grow.' " Will claimed that when Democrats "[former Vice President] Al Gore, [Rep.] Dick Gephardt [MO], [Rev.] Jesse Jackson and [Rep.] Dennis Kucinich [OH] changed from being pro-life to pro-abortion, their conversions, a price of admission into Democratic presidential politics, were often described as conscientious 'growth.' " By contrast, Will argued, when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reversed his opposition to President Bush's 2001 tax cuts, the media "called [it] pandering," presumably to conservative voters. But in arguing that the media have not previously criticized Democratic presidential candidates for allegedly changing their positions, Will ignored the media's repetition of the Republican smear of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (MA) as a "flip-flopper" on a variety of issues. Further, contrary to Will's assertion, Gore, Gephardt, Jackson, and Kucinich have all been assailed in the media for allegedly "flip-flopping" on abortion in order to get elected.
Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, the media -- echoing Republican attacks -- frequently labeled Kerry a "flip-flopper." Following are several examples:
- A July 9, 2004, Washington Times editorial echoed GOP talking points by accusing Kerry of "performing an ideological flip-flop," claiming that McCain, not Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), was Kerry's first choice for vice president.
- San Diego Union-Tribune editor Robert J. Caldwell wrote of Kerry in an October 31, 2004, column: "Serial flip-flops are not the hallmark of strong wartime leaders."
- Philadelphia Daily News sports writer Kevin Mulligan referred to Kerry as "Sen. Flip-Flop" in an October 27, 2004, article.
- An October 26, 2004, Boston Herald editorial claimed Kerry had "a propensity for flip-flops."
- A July 19, 2004, Washington Times editorial, offered up several misleading examples of what the Times editorial board characterized as Kerry "flip-flopping."
Further, media figures often uncritically reported Republicans' characterizations of Kerry as a "flip-flopper":
- On the July 6, 2004, edition of CNN Live Today, anchor Daryn Kagan and senior political analyst Bill Schneider portrayed a comment Kerry made about Edwards as a "classic" example of "what the Republicans are trying to get across, that [Kerry is] a flip-flopper, he can't make up his mind, he says a negative thing then immediately he takes it back."
- On the October 25, 2004, and November 3, 2004, editions of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell uncritically referred to Republican efforts to attack Kerry as a "flip-flopper." On the July 10, 2003, edition of NBC News' Nightly News, Mitchell again uncritically reported that Republicans had attacked Kerry for purportedly committing "a series of flip-flops on the Iraq issue."
- A September 28, 2004, Washington Times news article -- headlined "Bush attacks Kerry's flip-flops" -- uncritically reported "flip-flop" accusations against Kerry.
Kerry was also repeatedly labeled an "opportunist" by those in the media:
- In an October 24, 2004, Slate.com feature, senior writer Timothy Noah stated that, even though he was planning to vote for Kerry, he "disliked" him because "[h]e's pompous, he's an opportunist, and he's indecisive." Noah went on to say of Kerry's service in Vietnam: "I can't suppress the uncharitable suspicion that what drew him there wasn't patriotism so much as a preppy passion for physical challenge and the urge to buff his future political resume."
- According to an October 25, 2004, Associated Press report, in its editorial endorsing Bush for president, The Forum (Fargo, North Dakota) "called John Kerry an 'opportunist' who changes positions when it fits his political ambitions."
- In an October 24, 2004, column, Jay Ambrose, Scripps Howard News Service's director of editorial policy, asserted that "John Kerry is mostly worse [than Bush], an opportunist whose own views are so slippery that just about the time you think you have a grip on one it has squirted out of sight and a new view is being dangled before your eyes."
- In her October 21, 2004, syndicated column, Linda Chavez stated: "Mr. Kerry isn't a mere political opportunist but a man who knowingly engages in deceit and is so contemptuous of those who disagree with him that he underestimates their intelligence and their character."
- On the October 3, 2004, edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol referred to Kerry as an "an opportunist and a triangulator," and accused Kerry of "flip-flops ... inconsistencies," and "weakness."
Additionally, contrary to Will's suggestion, media figures have criticized Gore, Gephardt, Jackson, and Kucinich for allegedly "flip-flopping" on abortion to get elected:
- In a February 14, 1988, Los Angeles Times op-ed, contributor Bill Schneider asserted: "Gephardt's problem is that he has a record of flip-flops on the issues. He has reversed himself on abortion, the 1981 tax cut, tuition tax credits, the MX missile and a freeze on Social Security benefits."
- A 1992 editorial in Georgia's Augusta Chronicle, titled "Gore's Hypocrisy," stated, "For real flip-flops on the abortion issue, opinion-molders ought to look at the record of Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn." The Chronicle went on to accuse Gore of having "a long history of tailoring his views to suit his career objectives."
- A June 6, 1988, Chicago Tribune editorial alleged that Jackson had shifted positions on abortion for political gain: "[B]y 1984, candidate Jackson shifted like a reed in the wind, so that he now defends federal funding of the very same form of 'genocide' that once seemed to outrage him. On the flip- flop factor, Jesse Jackson is a black Dick Gephardt."
- A March 4, 2004, column by Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio) columnist Steve Hoffman accused Kucinich of engaging in "flip flop[ping]" from "anti-abortion to pro-abortion" while "rehabilitat[ing] his populist image."
From Will's March 8 column:
The journalistic rule is that conservatives pander, liberals "grow." When Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich changed from being pro-life to pro-abortion, their conversions, a price of admission into Democratic presidential politics, were often described as conscientious "growth." But when McCain, who opposed President Bush's tax cuts, concludes on the basis of the humming economy that they should be made permanent, it's called pandering.