Taking personal responsibility can be tough. Self-reflection is not the fondest of exercises toward self-improvement.
Such is the case with the mainstream media. Each election we routinely hear criticisms about the “biased mainstream media” and how it doesn’t play fair covering the candidates who lean to the right side of the political spectrum. There have even been books written on the topic, including those from the media’s own ilk (i.e. former CBS correspondent Bernie Goldberg). If the critical conservative punditry and one’s own sneaky suspicions weren’t enough, now there is concrete proof that the media “is” biased and has tanked this election to benefit Barack Obama.
The Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report last week. It found that while the media has covered both the Obama and McCain campaigns pretty evenly, the vast majority of “negative” coverage has - no big surprise here - focused on John McCain. The project surmised that “coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable - and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one - the most unfavorable of all four candidates.” McCain coverage was even worse than his much-ballyhooed running mate, Sarah Palin. Ouch!
In addition, polling from Rasmussen over the past few months has consistently shown that a majority of Americans believe reporters give Democrats more favorable coverage than Republicans. If you didn’t already know it: The media’s “love affair” with Mr. Obama is no myth.
It stands to reason (outside of the economic mess and Mr. McCain’s campaign management issues) that the media has shaped voter perception of the candidates by presenting more positive narratives of Mr. Obama and more negative narratives of Mr. McCain. Factor in that Mr. Obama’s television ads are running 5-to-1 to Mr. McCain’s and it is no wonder Mr. Obama is leading the race by every measure.
So, now that this bias has been revealed, we can expect the media’s moment of self-reflection and assessment, right? An examination of where the media went wrong and how it can right itself on the path to true objectivity. Fat chance.
In contrast, reaction to an Orlando TV anchor’s interview of vice presidential candidate Joe Biden is a case in point of what the media does when caught with its hand in the cookie jar - turns against its own. Instead of an introspective analysis, media liberal elites have revolted, bowing to political pressure and campaign spin instead of highlighting excellence in journalism.
Last Thursday, WFTV anchor Barbara West asked Mr. Biden whether he was embarrassed by Mr. Obama’s association with ACORN’s fraudulent signature gathering. “Come on let’s get real,” he scoffed. She then (legitimately) asked Mr. Biden why Mr. Obama’s “we need to spread the wealth” comment to Joe the Plumber isn’t Marxist. To which the campaign had a prime opportunity to explain why it isn’t. (In fact, that is the very question I ponder each time the Obama campaign declares it is not socialist, and because no one in the media has yet to challenge the campaign as to why wealth distribution and socialism are not the same.) Mr. Biden angrily responded to the reporter “Are you joking? Is that a real question?” To which Ms. West replied that it was a real question and waited for his response. And when the veteran anchor asked Mr. Biden about his own recent comments declaring a national crisis in Mr. Obama’s first six months that would test his mettle, Mr. Biden retorted with condescension: “I don’t know who’s writing your questions for you.” Then the campaign’s boycott began. Not only did the Obama campaign cancel the anchor’s scheduled interview with Jill Biden and any other potential interviews with the station, but Mr. Biden also called her questions “ugly.” In lock-step, left-leaning journalists and blogs attacked.
I have spent the better part of my career and adult life working in the media. Back when I took Journalism 101 - these were the kinds of questions that we were essentially required to ask - and politicians getting a crash course in Media 101 training are supposed to expect. Yet many times a campaign will encourage surrogates to conduct local news interviews because they assume those reporters aren’t as well read as national reporters and usually bank on getting softball questions. It’s no wonder Mr. Biden walked away bemused with angst. But to rebuke a seasoned journalist for doing her job is beyond self-serving. That the campaign has the “audacity” to penalize the station for challenging Mr. Biden with the same fervency the majority of the media has grilled Sarah Palin is a woefully transparent double-standard (and Mr. Biden is supposed to be the seasoned politician).
A CNN reporter even recently acknowledged to Mrs. Palin that if she had made the “international crisis” remark Mr. Biden had, he would have “never let her get away with it.” From his lips to our ears.
For all the media’s incessant talk about the Bradley effect and the “6 percent” of racist white people to be blame should Mr. Obama lose the election by a slim margin, there is no talk of what has been routinely raised by conservative pundits (myself included). What percentage of the poll numbers will be attributed to media bias should Mr. McCain lose? Or when will we see an end to media bias in our elections?
We could ask the question, for which there is no probable answer. That would require the media pointing a finger at itself.
Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. twall@washington times.com.