Conservatives spend a lot of time whining about what many see as the partisan bias of what we like to call the “mainstream media,” but few grasp just how far ideologically committed journalists might be willing to go to help those they admire.
The recent New York Times Benghazi investigation is a case in point. To defend President Obama and perhaps just as importantly, to clean up after Hillary Clinton, the newspaper announced results of an investigation exonerating both that wouldn’t pass the giggle test.
Reporters can be wrong. They are human and only see what they see. They can misread motives, get their facts wrong and can be misled by those on whom they report.
Sometimes, however, some of them allow their biases to control their view of the world and their reporting, and find themselves ignoring facts that don’t comport with their perspective, rejecting criticism of politicians they admire and disregarding evidence that contradicts the narrative their political soul mates are trying to peddle.
We’ve seen more than a little of this since Barack Obama’s election. The press corps cheered him on as he campaigned first against Bill Clinton’s wife and then against Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2008 and helped him demonize Mitt Romney four years later.
They were invested. Barbara Walters said recently that her disappointment in some of his failures stems from the fact that she and others saw him as a political “messiah.” When you can describe a politician as the messiah, it is safe to say that you are in the tank. It hasn’t been easy, but they have persevered.
Many of them continue defending his mistakes, attacking the motives and character of his critics and hoping against hope that he will somehow recover the momentum to initiate the “change” they so fervently hoped for when he first appeared on the scene.
In today’s world, most of these reporters are Democrats or at least vote as Democrats, but some of them are far more. They are committed leftists who are about as happy with President Obama as Ted Cruz is with Mitch McConnell. Theirs is an ideological agenda more than a partisan one.
This is nothing new. There have always been reporters “in the tank” for one cause or another, and they have usually been given cover by colleagues who may not share their view of what they should be willing to do for the cause but, nevertheless, see them as friends and allies in their common desire to “change” the world.
The most notorious of these has to have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who served as The New York Times‘ bureau chief in Moscow as Josef Stalin was consolidating power, eliminating his enemies and beginning the task of remaking his country. Walter Duranty defended Stalin as a great leader and argued that the Soviet Union was well on its way to becoming the utopia communists and leftists envisioned.
Beginning in 1932, however, word began leaking out that Stalin had instituted a program to subdue the Ukraine by confiscating food and making sure that the grains produced there were shipped elsewhere in the Soviet Union. History tells us that in 1932 and 1933, at least 7 million Ukrainians starved to death on Stalin’s orders, but at the time, there was real doubt as to whether anything untoward was happening in the Ukraine.
Stalin’s defenders, led by Duranty, denied there was anything serious going on, attacked those who suggested Stalin might be something other than the great, compassionate leader portrayed in his New York Times articles, and spent an inordinate amount of time debunking reports of forced starvation in the Ukraine. As a result, many in the United States and internationally who accepted the word of The New York Times as gospel simply dismissed the rumors.
Duranty hadn’t been duped. He simply allowed his admiration of Stalin to trump his obligations as a journalist. John Chamberlain, who at the time was the paper’s book-review editor, was in an elevator with Duranty and another New York Times reporter sometime in 1932.
Duranty told them cavalierly that Stalin’s policies had already killed some 3 million Ukrainians — something he had denied in print. When Chamberlain later quoted Duranty in a review of an early book on the emerging Soviet Gulag, however, Duranty denied ever having made the remark and called Chamberlain a liar.
Chamberlain was on the verge of being fired, but his job was saved when the other reporter in the elevator that day stepped forward. It later turned out that Duranty had also secretly informed the British Foreign Office that millions were starving in the Ukraine even as he was denying in print that any such thing was happening.