"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

U.S. Media's Election Coverage—Biased, Sure, But Why?

It's Election Day, as you've probably heard, incessantly. The race for control of the U.S. House and Senate, between two political parties representing different sets of powerful, elite fatcats, is a close one, and hence the press coverage has been intense and hysterical.

Given that the story is the potential displacement of the Somewhat Left party (the Republicans) by the Rabidly Left party (the Democrats), Republican partisans have identified an excessive glee among the press, who are widely and accurately documented to be composed almost entirely of leftists, in documenting every misstep and failure of Republican politicians and candidates, and giving Derms a free ride even when they make entirely outrageous statements.

There have indeed been plenty of both—Republican idiocies and Democratic demogoguery—to go around, but it appears reasonable to observe that the preponderance of coverage has criticized the Republicans more strongly than it has done to the Democrats.

That, however, does not necessarily indicate a manifestation of widespread liberal bias among the press, argues Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. Kurtz says what the press really want not is not a leftist government but an interesting one:

After six years of almost uninterrupted GOP control of Washington, divided government would produce what reporters like best: conflict. A spate of investigations and subpoenas of the Bush White House, led by such new committee chairmen as John Dingell, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank and Charlie Rangel, would liven things up for the capital's chroniclers. Even the mundane prospect of the Democrats being able to bring their preferred legislation to the floor -- though most bills might never make it past the president's veto pen -- would give journalists a new script. Divided government may or may not be good for the country, but it's great for the Fourth Estate.

In retrospect, the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994 was a godsend for journalism. The rise of Newt Gingrich, the government shutdowns, the Whitewater investigations, the Monica investigations, the overwhelmingly party-line vote to impeach Bill Clinton, all fueled thousands of stories about scandal and showdowns that boosted ratings and book sales.

One-party rule is, let's face it, rather predictable, especially with a Republican Congress that has basically gotten out of the oversight business during the Bush presidency. . . .

There surely may be some instances of liberal bias. Maybe the press made too much of Sen. George Allen's "macaca" moment, or wallowed too long in the finger-pointing fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal. At the same time, the press can't very well ignore the rising death toll in Iraq, which is also being cast as bad news for President Bush and his party.
I think that Kurtz is correct to observe that the press are indeed gleeful about the possibility of having new stories to write if the Democrats should take one or both Houses of Congress.

Nonetheless, it appears to me that this cannot be the press's ultimate motivation for skewing coverage to favor the Democrats. If the past six years have been anything, they have certainly been interesting. There has been plenty to write about. Yes, with the Democrats out of power there has been no great flood of horrendously asinine congressional investigations into allegations of perfidy in the executive branch, but the press have taken care of that themselves, after all.

Whereas the big congressional scandal hearing was a ridiculous investigation of the Major League Baseball steroid situation, nothing came of the allegations about the Bush administration illegally identifying a CIA agent to the public. That is a good thing, actually, because the allegations were entirely false. The revelation was in fact done by an opponent of the Bush administration. Congressional hearings headed by the President's enemies would not have changed that fact, but they would surely have destroyed the people falsely accused, as they almost did anyway thanks to the press's outrageously biased and out-of-control coverage of that entirely trivial matter.

The press have thoroughly taken on the adversary party role during the past four years, and they have done their level best to try and to convict the Republican Party of incompetence and malfeasance. (The Republicans, for their part, have done all they could to provide plenty of indications of each.)

The press haven't simply been searching for a more interesting story. They have indeed been trying to influence events and move the country further to the left. That is their right and prerogative in a society with a free press, but it is important that we not pretend that things are other than as they are.

The media's treatment of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress has been justified by the mistakes and misjudgments of each, but the press's treatment of the party currently in power and the runup to today's elections has indeed been motivated by a desire that the Democrats would win in order to institute a leftist government of the sort that the press overwhelmingly favor personally.

From Karnick on Culture.

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