Streetcar Line

Media Hackery: Subtle, But Insidious

Leftist bias is worse than ever.

By 3.30.12

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Yeah, yeah, I know: Noting the leftward bias of the establishment media is about as newsworthy as noting that cows moo, the sun rises in the East, and Hollywood stars tend to rut around like bonobos. But what's different these days is the flagrant and willful dishonesty that often accompanies the bias.

It has gotten so bad that sometimes editors will refuse to listen to audiotapes directly disproving their stories making conservatives look ignorant -- instead, insisting that it is better to go with the (incorrect) account of a major news leader rather than to get it right, even when presented with irrefutable proof of what was and wasn't actually said.   

Yes, that really happened.

And that sort of thing has been rampant in recent months -- or, actually, just within the past week.

Consider a story by The Associated Press's Laurie Kellman that ran in Wednesday morning papers, about how both parties are stepping up efforts to appeal to unmarried women voters. Here is how the final sentence (in my paper at least) read: "Democrats have been trumpeting a 'Republican war on women,' a phrase coined because of GOP objections to birth control access."

Come again? The sentence didn't say "a phrase coined because Democrats say GOP positions will lead to less access to birth control." No, it reported as fact that Republicans actually object to birth control access. And that, of course, is to frame the issue exactly as the Democrats frame it, in the guise of stating a (supposed) fact.

Conservatives, of course, contend that there is a huge difference between not forcing churches to pay for other people's abortifacients and restricting access to birth control, which is inexpensive and readily available elsewhere. To ascribe to them, as a fact, a motive they claim to utterly reject is to completely and deliberately bias the news against them. Plus, of course, Republicans say the issue isn't about contraception anyway, but instead about religious freedom.

This isn't a small matter. To state as fact one side of a political dispute, while not even crediting the other side's contentions, is the antithesis of objective journalism.

Consider an almost perfectly analogous situation: Sarah Palin's description of Obamacare as having the effect of forming "death panels." All throughout the brouhaha over that issue, the AP belittled the Palin position, and continues to do so almost up to this day (as this piece at NewsBusters makes clear).

If AP had written that Palin story in completely neutral fashion at the time, it would have written (in exact parallel to Wednesday's story on single women voters) that "Republicans have been trumpeting what former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called 'death panels' because Republicans say Obama's policies will lead to rationing of medical care." Now that phraseology would have been fair to all sides.

If AP had written to bias it in favor of Republicans the same way Wednesday's story took Democrats' side, it would have been "Republicans have been trumpeting Obamacare's threat of 'death panels,' a phrase coined because of Democratic support for rationing health care."

Instead, we get the editorializing within the relevant sentence that the death panel phrase is "now widely debunked." Worse, at the time the AP actually went out of its way to "fact-check" the "death panel" phrase -- even though Palin herself used it only figuratively, within quotation marks -- just to make sure the public knew how off-base Palin had been.

So where is the AP fact check showing the considerable remaining "access" to contraception even if Republicans had their way and the status quo ante (the exact situation that applied before the brand new Obama regulations were implemented) were re-established?

Even worse, as Monica Crowley noted on Thursday, AP can't even write about a unanimous House rejection of Obama's budget without editorializing in the lead paragraph that the very act of actually holding a vote on the president's proposal (oh -- the horror!) was "forced by GOP lawmakers to embarrass Democrats."

Sorry to keep bashing AP, but its Will Weissert filed a story a week ago that was outrageously sloppy, if in that case not necessarily stemming from bias. Here's how he started the story: "Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Thursday said Republicans should give President Barack Obama another term if Santorum isn't the GOP nominee…." Of course, Santorum had said no such thing, even though at least it is fair to say he left himself open to the interpretation that he was suggesting such a thing. Even then, though, to state as a blanket fact that Santorum said Obama would be preferable to any Republican but Santorum himself was outrageous -- especially since the Santorum campaign that very evening clarified his remarks. Weissert's story did not even bother noting the clarification, a failure that directly lent itself to sensationalist headlines like the one in my paper that read: "Santorum: Take Obama over Romney."

Balderdash.

Of course the establishment media has been awful for a long time. Allen Drury skewered its leftist biases more than 50 years ago in Advise and Consent. In 1992 the elder Bush's campaign put out a bumper sticker saying: "Annoy the media: Vote Bush." And our good friends at NewsBusters/Media Research Center and Accuracy in Media (among others) have been documenting media perfidy for years, and the MRC's annual media bias awards are always a hoot.

Yet at least most reporters once took their "adversarial" role seriously enough that they gave the prior Democratic president, Bill Clinton, a fair amount of grief (not enough, but still a noticeable amount) when he strayed in numerous ways. They certainly didn't pander much in the late 1970s to Jimmy Carter. But now they have become such lapdogs for President Obama that it's a wonder they don't fetch his slippers and newspaper for him when he wakes up.

The bigger problem, though, isn't the obviously and/or flamboyantly outlandish statements by reporters in supposedly straight-news roles; the bigger problem occurs in the constant shadings of a subtler character, such as the one that began this column making it sound oh-so-matter-of-factly as if Republicans seek to restrict "access" to birth control. Witness the Washington Post's main story Thursday summing up the end of the Supreme Court's Obamacare hearings, beginning by describing the conservative justices' being "at least open" to declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional and then immediately reporting that "much can happen between now and the expected ruling this summer, and a far more moderate tone may emerge [emphasis mine]."

Note how the idea of being "open" to jettisoning the mandate is juxtaposed against the idea of a "moderate tone" -- as if moderation is equivalent to supporting the mandate, which makes striking it down, by logical extension, extreme.

Actually, that exchange was in the second and third paragraph of the article. The first paragraph is even worse. It would be "the conservative majority," according to this supposedly unbiased news story, that "may be on the brink of a redefinition of the federal government's power."

Oh, really? And all along we were under the impression that the court was deciding if President Obama and Congress had tried to "redefine" federal power. Even the most ideological of liberals have acknowledged that the mandate is an "unprecedented" use of power; that isn't even in dispute. The only question was whether the unprecedented use of power is or isn't allowable under the Constitution -- but, either way, the redefinition of power, if it exists at all, is coming from the left, not from the high court's conservatives.

The Post's account is absurdly tendentious. The tone continued throughout the story: If the high court rules the mandate unconstitutional, it would be "insert[ing] itself into a partisan battle." (Somehow, I doubt the Post reported that the court "inserted itself" into the dispute over the Texas anti-sodomy law, and its potential repercussions for homosexual "marriage," in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas. Likewise, was it "inserting itself" into the Kelo case about property rights?)

Every day, in newspapers and news broadcasts across the country, the examples abound of this sort of casual shading of news. The trend is despicable.

It's not as if it is impossible for a person with strong views to keep those views out of reporting. There are neutral approaches, and standards of reporting, that are not tremendously difficult to abide. As just one example, when the inimitable David Rogers was covering Capitol Hill for the Wall Street Journal, those of us who worked as Republican press staffers were rather sure, from friendly interactions with him, that his personal opinions listed leftward. But not once, in my years up there, do I remember ever seeing a trace of bias in the reports Rogers produced. Thorough, knowledgeable, detailed, balanced, and fair: Those were the inevitable insignia of a David Rogers news story.

No good reason exists for other reporters to fail to do the same. Instead, we get Republicans portrayed as "objecting" to birth control access merely by virtue of wanting the keep the law the same as it always has been. Instead, we get conservative justices portrayed as trying to redefine federal power.

Instead, we get dreadfully dishonest dreck.

One wonders how some of these reporters and editors even live with their own professional consciences, if they possess consciences at all.

 

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.