I don't often get the chance to witness media bias up-close and personal.  But I did on Monday night, when CNN Headline News invited me on to talk about our campaign on the weapons of mass destruction and the new Misleader TV ad.

I was scheduled to go on air a little after 9 PM EST, and I arrived at the studio early.  After checking in, I was delivered to the studio where I would be speaking from, and I sat and listened to the show.

Rudi Bakhtiar was the anchorwoman, and as the clock ticked toward nine, she gave a preview of what was up ahead.  After a short clip from our ad, Ms. Bakhtiar gave a synopsis of the scandal over the President's State of the Union claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger -- a claim now known to be based on fraudulent evidence which even the White House knew was untenable.  Ms. Bakhtiar pondered whether there was going to be political fallout from Bush's "slip of the tongue," and then invited viewers to stay tuned.

"Slip of the tongue?" I thought.  "They're letting Bush off the hook."

In the commercial break before I went live, I asked the producer of the show about the "slip of the tongue" comment.  She explained that it had been written for Rudi beforehand -- Rudi was just reading her script.

As I went on air, Ms. Bakhtiar greeted me and asked me about the ad. I laid out the basic case -- the President isn't being forthcoming about this, and we need to know what happened so that we can avoid it next time.  Then things started to get really weird: Bakhtiar responded by spending about 30 seconds on air chiding me about how Saddam Hussein was a murderer, how he defied the UN, and how he attacked other countries.

I explained that everyone agrees that Saddam's a bad guy, the question is whether the President misled us about his capacity to do harm. Bakhtiar wasn't satisfied: "Don't you think you're betraying the troops in service by airing ads like that?"  she asked.  (Unfortunately, we were unable to get a transcript from CNN to verify the exact question. This is a paraphrase to the best of my recollection.)  I responded that the opposite was true: one of the petition signers whose comment I had caught was an active-duty military person who was worried that he was putting his life on the line for a lie.  I said we needed to find out what really happened so that these folks know that they're risking their lives for something important.

Then the interview ended. I walked out to greet a friend who had come with me.  She was shocked -- for most of the interview, rather than showing me, they had shown footage of Saddam Hussein waving guns.

Now, I'm all for hard questioning -- I think the media needs to do a lot more of it.  But I'm not for taking sides, and I believe that's what happened here.  Folks who support the President in this just don't get accused of betraying their country or siding with dictators -- although both claims could easily be made.  And although I haven't dug through the transcripts, I'm betting that President Clinton's lie about Monica Lewinsky wasn't called a "slip of the tongue" by a major media outlet.  I'll also bet that CNN doesn't black out Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay with footage of long food lines when he's on to talk about the economy.

As Noah pointed out in his alert yesterday, the media bear a critical responsibility for ensuring that the truth comes out.  When it's discovered that one party isn't telling the truth, it's their job to expose that -- not to be apologists for a war that was based on a lie.

ACTION: If you're as irked by this as I am, you can take a moment to tell CNN how you feel. Use their comment form and select "Rudi & Mike" from the menu of news anchors:    www.cnn.com/HLN/email/frameset.exclude.html

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--Eli Pariser

P.S. Political commentator and author Arianna Huffington has been asked to host a new radio show on Westwood One that already has 200 stations lined up. This week, she's trying it out for a couple of days to see if the glove fits.

She'll be on live today, July 16th, in the time slot formerly home to the Laura Ingraham Show: from 7 to 10 PM EST / 4 to 7 PM PST. Consult your local listings for the radio station that carries that show in your area. Please tune in and give Arianna a call. The show's toll free phone number is (800) 743-4443. You can also email Arianna during the show at arianna@ariannaonline.com.