Politico Accuses the Post and Times of Media Bias: Reporters Detect a Disturbance in the Force

Every once in a while something happens in medialand that stirs up reporters. The most recent example occurred last Thursday when the editors of Politico accused the Washington Post and the New York Times of bias in their coverage of the presidential campaign.

Under a headline that read, “To GOP, blatant bias in vetting,” the authors added their own commentary in ways that suggested that Republican critics of media coverage of the presidential campaign are right.

“Republicans cry ‘bias’ so often,” they wrote, “it feels like a campaign theme.  It is, largely because it fires up conservatives….  But it is also because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh – or Haley Barbour.”

And with that, the dawn came up like thunder among those whose calling it is to resist journalistic apostasy whenever it rears its head. Take, for instance, one Devon Gordon, who writes for GQ (“Look Sharp/Live Smart”). Gordon wrote a piece whose thrust was nicely summed up in its title: “Five Points About Politico’s Hatchet Job on NYT and WaPo.”

Or how about John Cook who, writing in Gawker, began this way: “Megalomaniacal supervillain Jim Vandehei and emotionally hobbled robo-reporter Mike Allen, both of Politico, have penned a rugged endorsement of Mitt Romney’s chief grievance today, agreeing with his advisers that the press corps is busy ‘scaring up stories to undermine the introduction of Mitt Romney to the general election audience.’”

And lest we forget our friends from papers across the pond, there’s the Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman.  Digging deep into his reservoir of profundities, Burkeman relieved himself of this penetrating observation: “This is always the problem with the charge of ‘media bias’: for it to be valid, it would have to be the case that ‘not being biased’ were a viable alternative option, and it isn’t.”

And then there’s the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.  In (at last count) six separate pieces on his blog, Wemple makes points like the following: (1) Politico is jealous that they didn’t develop the Post’s story about Romney’s alleged bullying in high school; (2) Politico itself gave lots of attention to the Post’s bullying story; and (3) Politico’s claim that the Post’s story was overdone fails to acknowledge that “Bullying (a) schoolmate by pinning him down and cutting his hair is not only illegal but hateful, violent and destructive."

And there it is. Never mind the well documented history of Republican unhappiness with the media, or the larger issue of media bias as perceived by about half the people in the country, and what that portends for the future of the commercial media. 

No matter that polling organizations like Harris Interactive and Pew established without any doubt in 2008 that Republicans overwhelmingly thought the media favored Obama over McCain (indeed, the Pew poll found that Democrats and Independents felt that way too), or that a Gallup poll published just last September found that 47% of the people think the media are too liberal (a number that rises to 75% when polling Republicans only), while just 13% think they are too conservative.

It is, apparently, one thing for such data to be reported in the charts and graphs of pollsters, or in the words of known or suspected Republicans, but another thing entirely for a member of the MSM to break ranks and criticize the media along the same lines.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.


The Shrill and the Marginal: The Left’s Criticism of the Media

Readers of this blog know that it’s the personal opinion of the writer that the mainstream media are hurt by the years-long perception, among Republicans and conservatives, that the media are unsympathetic to their views.  Given their large and growing numbers, and the availability of competing sources of news and commentary, this perception seems like both a journalistic and a business problem for the MSM.

This said, we’re always on the lookout for those people who view this matter differently, even where they represent only the most marginal points of view.

Thus it is that we’ve come across a piece in The Nation magazine (than which nothing’s more marginal), by Eric Alterman.  Titled “The Problem of Media Stupidity,” the thrust of the thing is that journalists, unwitting victims of a so-called “cult of balance,” are much too fair to Republicans.

As Alterman so elegantly puts it:

There is a specter haunting America today.  It is the specter of stupidity.  A few months ago, I wrote a column I called “The Problem of Republican Idiots.” Believe me, this problem has not gone away.  No less alarming is that this stupidity is apparently contagious.  The men and women who inhabit the upper reaches of the U.S. media (and pull down the multi-million dollar salaries) appear to believe that to do their jobs properly, they must make themselves behave like idiots in order to be “fair” to the Republicans and their idiot ideas.

In support of this thoughtful view, Alterman cites the progressives’ favorite wordslinger, Paul Krugman, and quotes from an interview David Gregory did with Rick Santelli – seven months ago – on “Meet the Press.”

Santelli’s comments, this one especially, figure large in Alterman’s argument: “If the country is ever attacked as it was in 9/11,” said Santelli, “we all respond with a sense of urgency.  What’s going on on the balance sheets throughout the country is the same type of attack.”

Never mind that Gregory didn’t respond to Santelli, as other guests on the show jumped in with their own observations, it’s Alterman’s opinion that for Gregory even to countenance such a comment without criticism is proof of a kind of intellectual rot among mainstream journalists.  “On America’s most respected television news program,” he wrote, “it is apparently OK to equate a problem with your fiscal balance sheets with terrorist mass murder.  Here again, we see the ‘cult of balance’ destroying the brains of our press corps.”

Given the modest dimensions of his own intellectual attributes, one suspects more people will be struck by the chutzpah of Alterman calling other people idiots than will be put off by Santelli’s remark, in which the CNBC personality was obviously equating not the acts (9/11 and the nation’s balance sheets), but the societal impact of the two, and the need for the kind of urgent action re the latter as was the case with the former.

Still, there remains the larger issue raised by Alterman’s rant: Are the MSM too evenhanded in their treatment of Republican and Democratic policies and politicians?  Do they, as Alterman suggests, show undeserved respect for Republicans?  And if we wanted to test this hypothesis, how would we go about it?

It’s a tricky thing, this business of calling people idiots.  Dostoevsky titled one of his novels The Idiot, though in that case the subject of the pejorative, Prince Myshkin, was likened favorably to Christ, something that is probably not the way Alterman sees Republicans.  Clearer still is that Alterman is no Dostoevsky.

Which is just to say that, as a practical matter, we can’t vet Alterman’s claim just by taking his word for it, any more than we could subject it to the opinions of like-minded leftists, or conservatives for that matter.  This, because whatever “evidence” any of them might conjure up, it’s going to be tainted by their own subjective view of the world, by their ideological IDs, so to speak.

One way, perhaps, of getting around this problem is by looking at whatever evidence there is, anecdotal or scientific, indicating that Republicans themselves feel privileged by the quality of their media coverage, something one would expect to find if Alterman’s claim is true.

Unfortunately for the gentleman’s thesis, Republicans seem not to have gotten the memo. Whether measured by public opinion polls, the public statements of Republican politicians or conservative commentators, or simply by letters to the editor written by Republicans or conservatives, it’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority feel, much to the contrary, that the media are largely in the camp of Democrats and liberals.

Perhaps, though, there’s another way of looking at this matter.  Call it, depending on your own political leanings, either the “democratic way" or the "way of the marketplace.”  I refer to the percentages of people who, as measured over the years by organizations like Gallup, classify themselves as liberals, conservatives, or moderates.  If, one could argue, these statistics show a much larger number of liberals than conservatives, media coverage of Republican policies might fairly be criticized if it could be shown that such coverage was at the expense of the larger number (of readers and viewers) who are liberals.

As it happens, though, the exact opposite is the case.  As shown by a Gallup poll conducted just last month, conservatives outnumber liberals by two-to-one, and in fact outnumber self-described moderates as well. Even more telling, for purposes of assessing Alterman’s accusation, is the poll’s percentage breakdown of those people who call themselves conservative or very conservative, in contrast with those who say they are liberal or very liberal.

Here are the numbers, as broken down by Gallup’s poll of national adults: Conservative, 30%; Very Conservative, 11%; Liberal, 15%; Very Liberal, 6%.  Apart from the much larger numbers of conservatives vs. liberals, the datum that is uniquely relevant to Alterman’s claim is the tiny percentage of people who consider themselves very liberal.

Why is this important?  Because Alterman, like all of the editorial contributors to The Nation, would admit to being “very liberal,” if not further to the left.  And as shown by the Gallup poll results, very few people share his views!

Seen this way, one can confidently say that whether one believes that the media, in a democracy, should proportionately represent the will of the people, or understands the need for the media, as for-profit businesses, to cater to the majority of their viewers and readers, there is as little evidence that they need to veer further to the left as there is that they need to take instruction from Eric Alterman.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Sugar and Spice

Every month or so, poll results that rankle are published by somebody.  A good example of the genre is the Gallup poll, published June 23, wherein it’s revealed that, by a more than two-to-one margin, men (young men especially) would prefer a boy child to a girl.

Gallup put the question this way: Suppose you could have only one child.  Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?  Men as a whole said they would prefer a boy, 49% to 22%, while young men (18 to 29 years old) favored a boy over a girl 54% to 27%!

Not for the first time, such results lead one to ask the question: Are you guys nuts?  Never mind that girls grow up to be women, among the most beautiful things in this world, even before then, as children and babies, girls are among the greatest treasures any man will ever find.

I know this first hand because, as the father of two girls, and the grandfather of four, I’m an expert on little girls (and big girls too).  When my younger daughter was two, and being held by her mother one night, she noticed faintly an image in her mother’s pupils, and told her she had “angels in her eyes.”  With her blond hair and pink nightgown it was an easy mistake to make, but the truth, of course, is that the angel was in her mother’s lap.

For men especially, girls of whatever age can provide a unique kind of refuge – to a calmer, less materialistic, and more nurturing place – that by their nature boys and men would otherwise experience only rarely.

None of this, of course, is to say anything negative about boys.  I have a grandson too. But the poll in question suggests that boys are already held in sufficiently high regard.

Gallup has been asking this question for 70 years, and the results in 2011 are little different from those in 1941, so if you’re a glass half-full kind of person you might be relieved that things haven’t gotten worse over time. But guys, please, if Gallup ever asks you this question, remember what Dave Barry said: “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.”


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

With Friends Like These

Signs of institutional meltdown are everywhere apparent.  Wall Street and Detroit are obvious examples, as are the states of New York and California.  But nowhere is the collapse of standards and credibility more alarming than among journalists and their profession.

Evidence of journalism’s implosion is seen not only in the declining readership and viewership of the MSM, and in public opinion polls, but also in the recent antics of journalists themselves and of those grant-giving foundations that support journalism programs.

A lamentably good example of the latter was provided last week by the Knight Foundation — the largest provider of funding for such programs at universities and nonprofit organizations — and by the Associated Press.

In a release dated June 15, the AP announced that it was launching a project “to distribute watchdog and investigative journalism from nonprofit organizations to its 1,500 member newspapers.”  Two days earlier, the Knight Foundation announced a new $15-million program of grants to several investigative news organizations.  Among them are two that the AP plans to include in its distribution, the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

These two announcements herald the birth of what would have been unthinkable in better times, the spectacle of an established news organization like AP accepting and distributing handouts from third parties.

Such an arrangement is, and would be, objectionable even if the “investigative news” organizations in question possessed the qualities of balance and objectivity.  But these don’t, and you don’t need to be an investigative reporter to figure that out.

Take, for example, the best funded of them, ProPublica.  From their own website comes this revealing statement about their mission: “Our work,” they say, “focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’  We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

What this suggests, of course, is that ProPublica is likely to have little or no interest in some of the worst aspects of public policy in the USA.  Things like the disastrous dependency on government, forged after decades of welfare programs, in America’s inner-city neighborhoods.  Or like the ruinous role played by public employees and their unions on state and municipal finance.  Or the impact on the cost and provision of health care by ambulance-chasing trial lawyers.

Just by their mission statement it’s clear that ProPublica’s heart wouldn’t be in doing these kinds of stories.  But that’s not the only evidence of the organization’s unfitness for the role being given it by the AP.  There’s also the small matter of its founder and largest benefactor.

Billionaire Herbert Sandler and his wife, Marion (they’re always mentioned together because of the role each played in the founding of Golden West Financial), have painted, through their contributions to Democratic and leftist organizations like the Center for American Progress and Acorn, an unmistakable ideological profile, leavened with a fair amount of hypocrisy.

As Jack Shafer of Slate put it, in a piece published shortly after the Sandlers founded ProPublica in 2007: “What do the Sandlers want for their millions?  Perhaps to return us to the days of the partisan press … ProPublica’s Web site vows that its investigations will be conducted in a ‘non-partisan and non-ideological manner, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality.’  But philanthropists, especially those who earned the fortune they’re giving away, tend not to distribute their money with a blind eye to the results.  How happy will they be if ProPublica gores their sacred Democratic cows?  Or takes the ‘wrong’ position on their pet projects: health, the environment, and civil liberties?”

Providing an almost comic dimension to the Sandlers’ ambitions is the fact that earlier this year Time magazine named them to their list of the “25 people responsible for the financial crisis,” and "SNL" did a skit in ’08 in which it was suggested that they should be shot.

Looming over the whole of the Knight/AP exercise is the elephant in the room that is the public’s growing lack of trust in the media.  A piece written last month by Melik Kaylan for Forbes.com summarized that distrust as follows:

“The Reagan years also ushered in the distrust of the Eastern-seaboard intellectual elites.  President Reagan understood and exploited the great divide between the heartland and custodians of news, who were chiefly in New York.  The two sides saw two different Americas.  Journalists and the institutions that formed their ideas saw a country composed largely of wronged minorities with fascinating grievances.  Much of the country saw itself as a unified coherent nation with its traditions under siege from insular power blocs who were back-scratching each other all the way up and down the seaboards.  Out of that disconnect grew the success of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Fox News, the blogosphere and the great decentralizing force of the alternative media."

By an ironic coincidence, on the same day that the AP came out with its announcement, the Gallup organization released the results of a new poll of Americans’ ideological attitudes.  It found that conservatives outnumber liberals by a margin of 2 to 1.  More importantly it revealed that only 5 percent of the people consider themselves "very liberal," a designation that accurately describes the investigative nonprofits the AP and the Knight Foundation have now embraced.

Leave it to them to explain, as the media continue their march toward oblivion, how such a biased and shabby program will improve the public’s trust in the mainstream media or in journalism.