Denouncing the Obvious

Stuart Taylor of the National Journal has a column out today in which he takes both presidential candidates to task for engaging in what he characterizes as “a race to the bottom”.

But it isn’t the candidates or campaigns which are the real target of his disdain. It is the media:

At the same time, many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama’s distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.

We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.

I’m again taken back to something Clive Crook said a week or so ago:

It is an attitude that a good part of the US media share. The country has conservative media (Fox News, talk radio) as well as liberal media (most of the rest). Curiously, whereas the conservative media know they are conservative, much of the liberal media believe themselves to be neutral.

Their constant support for Democratic views has nothing to do with bias, in their minds, but reflects the fact that Democrats just happen to be right about everything. The result is the same: for much of the media, the fact that Republicans keep winning can only be due to the backwardness of much of the country.

I’m more and more convinced that Crook’s analysis is spot on. Rush Limbaugh knows what he is and is unapologetic about it. He’s conservative and when he talks you expect to hear him attacking liberal ideas. OTOH, when Ed Schultz talks – and he is as unapologetic a liberal as Limbaugh is a conservative – I expect to hear liberal ideas and attacks on those of conservatives.

That’s the same thing with blogs. I know when I read the Daily Kos what to expect. And, as you might imagine, when I click over to Right Wing News, I’m expecting what I get (and yes, I think RWN is far superior to anything that comes out of DK – and yes, I’m biased). Blogs may be noisy and opinionated, but they aren’t hiding what they represent nor are they pretending to be unbiased.

What I expect from those who call themselves “journalists” and “reporters” is factual, balanced reporting devoid of opinion. Yes, I know there is a difference between a news story and an op-ed. Or at least there should be. But the lines are so fuzzy now that at present it seems we’re being offered opinion journalism as news.

Then there is plain old vanilla bias which for the most part remained much better hidden in the past. Maybe that was because past journalists weren’t “superstars” driven by ego who mistakenly believed anyone listening to them cared one whit what their opinions might be.

Taylor makes the point that the bias has never been more obvious or evident, and he uses some very topical examples to make his point.

* In Sarah Palin’s first big media interview, on September 11, Charlie Gibson of ABC News asked: “You said recently, in your old church, ‘Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.’ Are we fighting a holy war?” Palin responded: “You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.” Gibson pressed: “Exact words.”

Viewers had no way of knowing that, in fact, Gibson was distorting Palin’s meaning by leaving out critical context and thus making an unremarkable exhortation to prayer sound like a declaration of holy war. Palin had not said that the war was a task from God. She had urged her listeners to “pray” that it was a task from God. A September 3 Associated Press report by Gene Johnson distorted Palin’s meaning in exactly the same way.

* A front-page story in the September 12 Washington Post, by Anne Kornblut, was headlined: “Palin Links Iraq to Sept. 11 in Talk to Troops in Alaska.” This was misleading, as were the first two paragraphs. They implied that Palin had advanced the long-discredited “idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” In fact, Palin’s reasonably clear meaning was not that Saddam had a role in the 9/11 attacks but that (as the article backhandedly acknowledged) the troops would be fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is related to the group that launched the 9/11 attacks.

* The New York Times did a huge (3,120-word) front-page story on February 21 implying that McCain had had a sexual affair with a female lobbyist while doing her political favors. But the article lacked strong evidence either that there had been a sexual affair or that McCain had crossed legal or ethical lines to do favors. Would The Times have printed the same story had the senator been Barack Obama or John Kerry? I doubt it.

* The Times also rushed to assert, in a front-page story on September 2 questioning how carefully McCain vetted Palin’s background, that she “was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede.” This turned out to be erroneous. (Her husband had previously been a member.)

The media person or institution taken to task in those examples would most likely vociferously deny bias. But that goes to precisely the point Crook made – they actually believe themselves to represent the “neutral” opinion in the country.


Taylor also reminds us of another recent example of bias, when the NY Times and other media outlets misled us on the Kindergarten sex-ed ad by claiming it was a flat out lie.

But a Times editorial overstated the case in saying that “the kindergarten ad flat-out lies” and that “at most, kindergartners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators.” In fact, whatever Obama’s intention, the bill itself was designed “to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children below sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten,” as Byron York demonstrates in a detailed National Review Online article.

Journalism’s ethics and integrity are taking a beating in this election. Among more and more people, the media has become a running joke. Fewer and fewer people trust the “MSM” to present all of the facts objectively about important stories. If they’ll slant the news during a political campaign, there is certainly nothing to keep them from doing the same during some crisis if they prefer a particular outcome is there? Iraq comes to mind immediately.

One of the primary roles the media tells us it plays is that of a watchdog. But it is impossible to be a watchdog if they’re committed to one side of an issue ideologically. Then they become a propaganda organ.

Bottom line: I don’t care what reporters want, believe in, care about or champion. I don’t care what their ideology is and certainly don’t want it included in a news story. I don’t want their opinion about anyone or anything. What I want are the facts, sir. All the facts. From both sides of the issue.

I’ll take it from there.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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