What’s the matter with the news media
Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.
Ever wonder how Obama gets away with it?
The President has weathered enough scandals to bring down any other president five times over. From Fast and Furious to “green energy” scams to Benghazi, from his admission that his autobiography was fiction to his hysterical attacks on Republicans for the “sequester” that was his own idea, he has given the media material for a thousand exposes, a thousand “Saturday Night Live” skits making him look like some combination of fool and con man.
Yet… nothing. When, during the recent campaign, leftists called the Obama administration “scandal-free,” they were correct, at least in the sense that the media refused to make an issue of outrages that should have been scandals.
When Reagan was president, little if anything scandalous stuck to him, but that was because he was a fundamentally decent guy and people knew it, and the so-called scandals of his administration were mostly fake. (Reagan funded the pro-American side in Nicaragua against the Communists who wanted to kill us! Gasp! Impeach him now!) But why do the media treat Obama so gingerly?
Part of it is rooted in the fact that Obama staffers are smarter and tougher than the reporters who cover. The Obama people are true believers, as committed to their leader and their cause as any religious cult you’ve ever heard of. And part of it is fear; reporters know that getting on the wrong side of the Obama White House means getting on the wrong side of their bosses, and that gets you a one-way ticket to covering snow-machine races in Alaska.
There’s a pretty good account of how this works in a recent issue of Politico. a story entitled “Obama the Puppet Master.” The Politico piece downplays the role of ideology, though. It pooh-poohs conservatives’ concept of an ideological palace guard protecting Obama, wrongly so.
The fact is that most reporters who cover politics, especially in Washington, are left-wingers. I’ve been working in this town as a journalist, often as a press secretary, for more than 30 years. On occasion, I’ve come across conservatives, moderates, and JFK-type mainstream liberals among members of the news media. Except for the few who are known as “opinion journalists,” they hide as far back in the closet as they can get. More than once, I’ve heard something like, “You know, I’m pro-life. But if you tell anyone, and it gets back to my bosses, I’ll be fired in a second.” Back in the 1990s, when I was reporting on the emergence of the Internet for such outlets as CNET’s News.com, I would get invited to left-wing fundraisers and strategy sessions because, well, it was just assumed that, as a Washington journalist, I was a left-winger myself. (That’s how, in 1996, I got an invitation to a semi-official Democratic fundraiser at the Chicago home of terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. I wrote an expose, blowing my cover.)
Often, journalists will say that it doesn’t matter whether their profession is dominated by the Left. It’s said that writers, editors, and producers can be Progressives and big fans of the President yet maintain their objectivity. After all, they just report the truth. The personal political philosophy of a journalist has no more effect on his or her work than on, say, the effort of a scientist to determine the speed of light in a vacuum. Facts is facts.
But to report on taxes or healthcare or national security is not like counting the clicks on a Geiger counter or calculating the distance from the center of the earth to the surface of the moon. Journalism is inherently subjective; a journalist’s approach to a story invariably reflects his or her opinions.
No one would accept the claim of a Ku Klux Klansman, in line for a judgeship, that he is able to apply the civil rights laws objectively without regard to his personal opinions. Yet the argument is advanced by members of the media that a reporter can cover Barack Obama and his opposition fairly even if he thinks that Obama is the smartest president ever (swoon!) and that conservatives, Tea Partiers, and even Mitt Romney Republicans are fascist, neo-Confederate, war-mongering plutocrats.
Worse than the personal bias of any given Washington reporter is this: A Washington reporter is surrounded by people who agree with him, and have the same sort of background. When former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press” complains that the Republican Party is full of “rednecks” and an MSNBC reporter suggests that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is unqualified to talk about domestic violence because of his “dripping Virginia drawl,” there is no one around them to point out their bigotry.
Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek from 2006 to 2010, wrote in 2011 that, “This year, as the 2012 presidential campaign gets under way, two powerful forces will intersect: the commemorations of the Civil War and the opposition to President Obama’s policies. As groups in the South reenact historical moments – the Sons of Confederate Veterans in South Carolina has already held a ‘Secession Ball’ – the rhetoric of resistance to Washington will inevitably resonate. While politicians and citizens continue to debate the size and shape of our government, Confederate symbols and the language of ‘states’ rights’ will be in the air.” Yep, that’s what people like Meacham think of people like you.
Southerners, practicing Catholics, working class and small business class people, people who own guns for self-defense, and women, Latinos, and African-Americans who align themselves with Republicans—those are just a few of the groups that are The Other, the object of hatred and bigotry in newsrooms from which people of their ilk are excluded. They are the people the President has ridiculed, those who “think they’re smart” and “think they work hard,” who “get bitter” and “cling to their guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” (Now those ignorant Bitter Clingers are clinging to their football and their Jumbo sodas and their too-expensive-for-Obamacare breast cancer drugs. How dare they!)
When it comes to ideology, newsrooms are nothing like America.
Fewer than 10 percent of American adults are Progressives (i.e., people on the Left who are opposed to the concept of individual rights). About 20 percent of Americans call themselves “liberals,” a term that includes Progressives as well as traditional JFK-type liberals. Some 40-45 percent call themselves “conservatives.” In the average of the last four state-by-state studies conducted by the Gallup organization, conservatives outnumbered liberals in every state in America except Massachusetts (where it was a tie).
Yet there’s probably not a large or medium-sized newsroom in the country where conservatives outnumber liberals, or where a significant number of reporters have views in line with the Tea Party. Since the days when I was a reporter, diversity, except in the most shallow sense, has almost vanished from the nation’s newsrooms.
When I was young, most cities and many towns had at least two newspapers that served to act as a check on each other. If there was a strike at the local steel mill, the Daily Democrat would blame it on money-grubbing capitalists and the Daily Republican would blame it on radical out-of-town labor agitators. A reader could pick the paper that reflected his own philosophy – or he could read both papers and figure out what was really happening.
Today, just as diversity has disappeared within individual newsrooms, it has disappeared among the different media organizations. In city after city, the Daily Democrat and the Daily Republican have been replaced by the liberal or Progressive Daily Democrat-Republican, and, regarding controversial matters, the broadcast media mainly repeat what they see in the single local paper and limit their local coverage to “action news” such as train wrecks, house fires, and the weather. At the national level, the folks who put together the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs take their cues from, and base their assignments on, that morning’s New York Times.
All that wouldn’t matter as much as it does, if journalists kept their opinions out of their work. There was a time when they at least tried to do so. Then there was time when they inserted their opinions subtly, but sought nonetheless to maintain the appearance of objectivity. Nowadays, they don’t even bother.
It was 25 years ago that editors of Time magazine began to encourage their reporters to inject personal opinions into their stories, and some seven years ago that Newsweek turned itself into a leftwing opinion magazine like The Nation but with more pictures. (Newsweek proclaimed on a 2009 cover that WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW, then ridiculed as “conspiracist kooks” people who consider President Obama a socialist. Not surprisingly, the magazine went belly-up at the end of 2012.) In the past two decades, there has been an open movement to twist journalism into a bizarro form known as “civic journalism” or “public journalism,” in which the lines between reporting and advocacy are hidden. Today, it’s seriously suggested by leading lights of the journalistic profession that newspapers become wards of the government like PBS and NPR.
As the journalism profession has corrupted itself beyond recognition, the Obama administration has sought to control the media in dozens of ways ranging from restricting Talk Radio, to using taxpayers’ money to bail out friendly media conglomerates, to naming anti-Free Speech zealots to such positions as Regulatory Czar and member of the Supreme Court. If you want to study the ways in which the Obama people manipulate the media, the techniques mentioned in the Politico article are just the beginning.
Control of the media is critical to the Left’s prospects for success for an obvious reason: They can’t win a fair fight. Like an Al Franken during an election recount or certain Soviet-bloc Olympians during the Cold War, they win only if the referees are in their pockets.