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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, November 17, 2008

There they go again

The Washington Post's Howie Kurtz catalogs the media's effort to chronicle Obamania with a headline that is sure to re-open the "liberal media bias" argument that has been simmering a back burner since Nov. 4 after being a full boil during the last few months.

Some of the material is quadrennial tradition -- Newsweek's detailed look into both campaigns for example. Other examples reflect the fact the White House's new residents will include two little girls and a puppy. That's manna from heaven for People and its competitors.

Even the New York Post gets into the act with a BAM-A-LOT headline.

Are the media simply reporting on (and trying to financially capitalize) on what clearly appears to be a wave of emotion -- and yes, change -- or is this, as some have already suggested, just the latest manifestation of liberal media bias now that "their" guy has won?

I have two words for those who think reporters are immediately in the tank for a Democratic president: Bill Clinton.

It take a pretty short memory to forget the pitched battle between the 42nd president and the media. That battle included the "liberal" New York Times leading the way on investigations into Clinton's dealing in Arkansas and into various White House-based "gates" that came up empty until Clinton tripped over his tongue in hiding a sexual affair, not a financial one.

Liberal media bias is one of the oldest and most effective canards in the conservative playbook. Polls show reporters do tend to skew to the left, but a look at how reporters work reveals a simple truth: they are biased against authority.

Reporters love to challenge the ruling authority and poke holes in its mantle. That was clearly on display during the Clinton years. And there is little doubt in my mind that the relationship between Barack Obama and the press corps will not be as easygoing as these initial stories and books chronicling his historic win.

For starters, Obama has displayed a reluctance to engage. The news conferences became fewer and farther between during the campaign and even the casual encounters seemed tightly controlled.

The president-elect has stayed largely out of sight since his victory -- one short press conference and one 60 Minutes interview that was more revealing from a personality standpoint than from a policy one.

Tightly controlled access is the one sure fire way to get the press corps riled up and ready to go to the mattresses. It doesn't matter whether the politician is liberal or conservative.

So keep the $72 million in taxpayer dollars wasted -- and whole forests killed -- in the pursuit of Bill Clinton before you swallow the liberal media bias canard. But also keep in mind the strongest bleating on the subject is likely to come from GOP-TV, er, the Fox News Channel, whose president, Roger Ailes, cut his media teeth as a campaign advisor to Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

I report. You decide.

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Anonymous Joel Patterson said...

"Reporters love to challenge the ruling authority and poke holes in its mantle."

The New York Times held back the illegal wiretapping story because the President asked them to.

And as Eric Boehlert pointed out in Lap Dogs, after the Iraq War lost popularity, Chris Matthews asked Jim Lehrer if the press hadn't been critical enough before the war...

Lehrer: I do. The word "occupation," keep in mind, Chris, was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was "liberation." So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.
Matthews: Because?
Lehrer: Because it just didn't occur to us. We weren't smart enough to do it. I agree. I think it was a dereliction of our--in retrospective.

The press didn't love to poke at Bush's authority until after the public quit loving Bush. I gotta say, Jim Lehrer saying "we weren't smart enough" is about as convincing as Alberto Gonzales' "I don't recall." It's true the press went froth-at-the-mouth crazy trying poke holes in Bill Clinton's authority, but they went out of their way to defer to the authority of George W. Bush.

BTW, this is the source of much of Jon Stewart's popularity (and his Peabody)... a late nite host on the comedy channel had the smarts and guts to do what most national journalists didn't.

November 20, 2008 8:52 PM  

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