One gets tired of saying so, but the mainstream media (MSM) are increasingly acting not just unwittingly, but deliberately, as the front men for the American left.
By “front man,” I mean the generally accepted connotation for that phrase, as given by WordNet: “a person used as a cover for some questionable activity.”
Ask just about anybody at random (I did so), and the answer will be the same: The expression has a negative connotation. In effect, it means the person in question is knowingly carrying out a fraud of some sort.
Now look at the headline of the lead story on the front page of the Feb. 7 Washington Post: “General Is Front Man For Bush’s Iraq Plan.” Subhead: “Petraeus Making Hard Sell to Congress.”
Not a bit of bias there, right? No attempt to cast aspersions on the general’s character at all. A slanted storyline from the Post? Perish the thought.
The story itself, by the estimable Peter Baker, was a reasonably balanced account of how Gen. Petraeus is increasingly being called upon, because of Petraeus’ own sterling reputation, to defend Bush’s troop surge. And yes, Baker did begin paragraph 10 thusly: “Instead, Petraeus has become the front man of sorts.” But the “of sorts” itself was an indication that the phrase was used in a certain context — a context which in and of itself did not call the general’s integrity into question.
In isolation, the apparently pejorative headline then could be written off as an example of sloppiness by a headline writer. But the slanted headline did not occur in isolation. It came within a week of the Post headline that all but yelled that Republicans had blocked debate in the Senate in Iraq. Supposedly, they did so by refusing to vote for cloture on a move by Democratic Leader Harry Reid that would have excluded a popular Republican alternative from being considered.
Memo to Post: If you vote against cloture, you are by very definition voting to extend debate, not block it. Of course, when Democrats were breaking 214 years of precedent by voting against cloture on a series of Bush’s judicial nominees, all the papers back then credited the Democrats with extending a debate that Republicans wanted to — you guessed it — block.
So no matter whether Republicans are against cloture or for it, and no matter what the actual definition of the word, it is the Republicans who get accused of stifling debate.
In the days that followed, Post news story after news story and column after column repeated the lie that the Republicans had blocked debate. Think about it: Reid, not Republicans, would not even allow a proposal to be discussed on the floor of the Senate. How, again, was it Reid who was painted as the champion of debate?
Post reporter Shailagh Murray might somehow plead confusion on Senate procedure. But in her front-page story on Feb. 8, she veered into what can only be described as deliberate dishonesty, a la Maureen Dowd, by monkeying around with a quote.
Consider the actual testimony the previous day by Gen. Peter Pace: “There’s also no doubt in my mind that just like we look out to our potential enemies to see division in their ranks and take comfort from division in their ranks, that others, who don’t have a clue how democracy works, who are our enemies, would seek to take comfort from their misunderstanding of the dialogue in this country.”
Note that the main point is that American enemies in Iraq are heartened by the tenor of the debate here in the United States.
Now see how Murray splices several quotes and badly inverts the one about a “clue” in a way that makes not having a clue the main point rather than the explanation of why the enemies are heartened. From Murray: “‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in Washington strengthens our democracy. Period.’ Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He added that potential enemies may take some comfort from the rancor but said they “don’t have a clue how democracy works.'”
Despite Murray’s portrayal of the testimony, Pace wasn’t dismissing the enemies’ comfort because they didn’t have a clue, he was explaining that because they don’t have a clue, they gain a boost in morale that is dangerous to American troops.
The real testimony gave succor to Bush’s backers in the Senate. Murray’s story made it sound just the opposite.
Let’s consider another example. The MSM reporting on the trial of former vice-presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby has been so one-sided as to defy belief. Blogs providing a play-by-play of the proceedings almost universally paint a picture of witnesses who first seem to bolster the prosecution by contradicting Libby’s claims, but who then are embarrassed in cross-examination by Libby lawyer Theodore Wells. But almost every MSM story features only the prosecution’s storyline in both headlines and lead paragraphs, with the cross-examinations either buried in the bowels of the article or not even mentioned at all.
Examples are numerous.
In the Feb. 7 edition, the Post‘s story on the case — listed as “National News,” rather than identified as “analysis” — included this bit of editorializing: “The sound of Libby’s clear, measured voice in the tapes buttresses the prosecution’s case in two significant ways.”
In violation of the old, now-abandoned first rule for straight news reporters — “attribution, attribution, attribution” — the judgment in favor of the prosecution is not attributed to anybody.
For a more vivid example of how the Post coverage of the trial is slanted, consider its Jan. 31 headline, above the story covering the testimony of former New York Times reporter Judy Miller: “Reporter’s Account Hurts Libby’s Defense.”
That might be fine for an opinion column, but it’s absurd to make such a proclamation as if it is an inarguable fact. Proof that it was a mere matter of opinion lies in the sub-headline of the column that same day by National Review‘s Byron York: “The former Times reporter has a tough day on the witness stand.” A good summary line from York’s column: “On it went. By the end of the day, [the defense attorney] had planted an entire field’s worth of seeds of doubt. Miller’s memory was faulty. She gave conflicting accounts of events. She had talked to other people about Joseph Wilson and his wife, but she couldn’t remember anything about it.”
The point is not that York’s assessment of the case is better than the Post‘s. The point is that York’s is appropriately presented as opinion, whereas the Post screams its opinion as if it is fact. And, of course, the Post‘s version of what is fact skews predictably against the conservatives.
Even worse, though, is that these “newspapers of record” continue to peddle absolute falsehoods as part of the basic background of the trial. Consider the Feb. 8 Post story by Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein. It reports that when Ambassador Joe Wilson went to investigate allegations that Iraq had tried to buy “yellowcake” uranium from Niger, “Wilson found no evidence of the activity.”
That’s as wrong as wrong can be. Yes, Wilson himself later said that he found no evidence. But the Post itself last summer reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded “that Wilson’s report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts.” (The committee’s report is incontrovertible: The official summation of Wilson’s trip concluded that it was likely that Iraq had indeed been seeking, even if not actually purchasing, yellowcake.)
And all these examples, remember, come from the Washington Post. But the Post is a paragon of virtue compared to the New York Times. And the Times provides the news-wire service that fills the news columns of hundreds and hundreds of papers nationwide.
What we face is not merely a crisis of bias. It’s a crisis of integrity. And when these MSM outlets arrogantly refuse to police themselves, they deserve to lose their audience, their advertising and all respect.
And eventually, they’ll find it hard to put a good front on that reality.