Fact-Checking History’s First Draft

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Journalism, the old cliché goes, is the first draft of history. Unfortunately, it rarely gets through rewrites before it hits the classroom.

Yesterday’s headlines often look a bit silly when viewed through a microfiche, and not just because that technology is itself becoming dated. As the archives of our sister organization, Accuracy in Media, show, the original reporters often got the big stories of their day wrong.

One who, more often than not, got it right, was veteran journalist and broadcaster Neal B. Freeman. Although not, as he points out in his book Skirmishes, a household word, he did work with a few legendary figures who were, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., at National Review.

As it happens, National Review Books recently published Skirmishes, a collection of columns, reviews, articles and speeches that Mr. Freeman delivered over the past 40 years or so. One part of the book worth pausing over here is his commentary on our last Republican president, who is lately back in the news due to his criticism of our current Republican president.

Indeed, said critique may yet give George W. Bush a respect on college campuses that he could never attain during his two terms as president. Do not be surprised if speaking engagements and reappraisals are forthcoming. Ironically, during the Bush years, W had the reputation of being a conservative. Freeman helps dispel that notion.

“With George W. Bush, conservatives voted for Reagan and got Nixon,” Freeman said in an interview in 2013. Later, in that same interview, he noted, “But in political terms, the Bush 43 legacy is already set in stone.”

“He nurtured, promoted, and helped entrench a consultant class that maintains a chokehold not only on party structure but on much of the donor base that funds it and the commentariat that promotes it.” I’ve seen a lot of them: They make Karl Rove look Reaganesque.

Of the TEA Party, Freeman pointed out one reason why it was anathema to Democrats and Republicans alike in 2010: “We know what they’re against: the sad and widely unremarked fact that Obama is conducting what looks to many people very much like a third Bush term—bailouts, stimulus, entitlement expansion, war escalation, wall-to-wall Tenth amendment overreach from the school to the hospital to the bank to the gas station.”

In addition to his decades of writing for National Review, Freeman has also served as director of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and producer of the public affairs television program, American Interests. Although formerly a denizen of the Washington, D. C. area, he did not become enamored with the region, much to his credit.

Even when he was in it, he wasn’t of it. Put it this way, he saw it as a swamp before our current president acknowledged that it was. “In Washington, and marbeled throughout its pricey suburbs, there’s income inequality of a different sort,” he wrote in 2015. “The richest counties in the country—Fairfax, Montgomery, Loudoun, and the rest—are now clustered in the metro Washington area.”

“They’re rich not because D. C. has just emerged as the Silicon Valley of the East or the North Dakota of the South. The D. C. region produces few new products, few new services, but is rolling in boomtown money, nonetheless.”

“Its faux prosperity is generated the old-fashioned way: by state coercion. The central government takes money from the folks ‘back home’ and spreads it around the lobby culture, creating a fix-and-favor economy so prosperous that it outstrips all—literally, all—of the productive communities ‘back home.’”

“This situation can’t be politically hygenic.” But it is bipartisan: After last year’s presidential election, I noticed that Republican Capitol Hill staffers were as disconsolate as their Democratic counterparts.