Dear Ms. Manners: How long is it appropriate to wait before attempting to rewrite history?
Â -Wounded in Washington
Barack Obama won the presidency because the media have a liberal crush on him. Poor John McCain never had a chance.
That’s the conclusion of many in the media (and, oddly, of Howard Kurtz, media watchdog for the Washington Post). To be fair, Kurtz and others usually don’t come right out and say, “Biased coverage delivered the White House to Barack Obama.” Kurtz, for one, just parrots the conclusions of particular studies, which rate and compare the news coverage of McCain and Obama.
For example, “Obama had a 2-to-1 lead in evaluations of the candidates’ policies and proposals.”
The implication of these stories is that the media were unfair to McCain and infatuated with Obama.
The assumption — never admitted, or even stated — is that the media should cover both candidates equally positively and equally negatively. By this logic, if CBS is going to criticize one of McCain’s policies, they should attack one of Obama’s, and vice-versa.
Think about what this would mean.
It would mean that a network’s analysis of a candidate shouldn’t be based on what that candidate has actually said or done, but on what the network has already said about the other candidate. If MSNBC’s Chris Matthews praised Obama’s energy policy, he should praise McCain’s energy policy too, or even the score in some other way — by lying and saying his choice of running mate showed courage and good judgment, for instance.
“…McCain could have proposed a tax cut on Hummers, and criticism of this too would have been unfair…”
When gas prices were skyrocketing and John McCain proposed a “gas tax holiday,” the media did what they’re supposed to — they interviewed economists, energy analysts, environmentalists, conservatives, and so on, and reported what they said. And most of these sources happened to be critical, saying it seemed like a political maneuver inconsistent with McCain’s past positions on energy, that it would be expensive and counter-productive, that it wouldn’t reduce fuel prices much, and so on.
(They also interviewed those who thought it was a swell idea, and if anything, gave these voices more airtime than their numbers warranted.)
But criticism of McCain’s gas tax holiday would count as unfairly negative coverage to Kurtz’s crowd. McCain could have proposed a tax cut on Hummers, and criticism of this too would have been unfair, unless they pretended Obama’s plan was equally dumb.
On the other side of the coin, in this la-la land of identical grading, the positive coverage Obama received was also unfair. (I’ll put aside, for now, all the negative coverage Obama did get, for the sins of others like Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.) To some, who may have progressed past overt racism to a more masked kind, Obama’s success is evidence of some sort of “affirmative action” rather than anything he himself has achieved. At best, they’ll grant that he ran a good campaign — i.e, he was tactically shrewd. But they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the intellect, composure, reason, and moderation that the majority of voters saw in Obama. (And which reporters were simply reflecting in their coverage.)
So when the economic crisis set in and Obama rose in the polls (largely due to McCain’s demonstrated incompetence about — and admitted ignorance of — all things economic), what should reporters have done, according to this equal-grading rule?
After reporting Obama’s eight-point average lead in the polls and the fact that voters trusted him on the economy, were they obliged to say something positive about McCain? Should they have said that the majority of voters also trust McCain to do a better job on the economy? Should they have found and reported some positive numbers for McCain, too, just to be sporting?Â Should they have reported that a hundred percent of the McCain household trusts John McCain to end the banking crisis?
If the media gave equal grades to everyone, they’d utterly fail in their job to report what’s happening. Imagine if they actually operated like Kurtz et al. want them to.
After the Bay of Pigs debacle, they’d have had to find a line of commentators and analysts to say with a straight face that Kennedy made the right call, despite the invasion’s failure.
And in their coverage of global warming, they’d have to give equal time to the miniscule percentage of scientists who deny that it’s happening or say humans have nothing to do with it.
Oh wait, they do give equal time to the global warming deniers. Media — especially TV news outlets — consistently cave to those who demand equal time for Exxon-supported scientists who conclude whatever Exxon wants them to. The result has been eight years of official government inaction and negligence over one of the biggest threats of our time.
And when it came to the Iraq war, and voters were divided, when “equal time” to war boosters and war critics would actually have been appropriate, the war skeptics got the short end of the stick, getting airtime far shorter than their numbers deserved. And now the media pretend these war opponents never existed in the first place, repeating the mantra of the war backers: “we all got it wrong.”
If there’s a bias in the media, it’s not towards blacks or Democrats (just ask Al Sharpton or Jeremiah Wright). It’s towards the interests of those who pay the bills — the advertisers and the corporate values they reflect, and the readers and viewers, who are more likely to stay tuned if sex or scandal is involved, whichever party is to blame.
Yeah, the media should be more objective, but they won’t get there by pretending everything’s equally good or equally bad.Let’s not be too gullible about these feigned concerns over fairness. Imagine for a second that the tables were turned.
If McCain had lived up to his reputation for being politically independent and had won the voters’ confidence in his fitness to be President, and it was Obama who couldn’t speak knowledgeably about the economy and who whipped up the extreme elements of his party, commentators like Howard Kurtz wouldn’t be crying foul. They’d be saying in all earnest that McCain won because of his experience and his ability to appeal to moderates and independents. And they’d write off anyone who blamed Obama’s defeat on media bias as sore losers.
It’s not about a new-found concern over media objectivity. It’s about finding someone to blame for McCain’s loss, someone outside the party that held the White House, governed badly, and then lost it.
Dear Wounded in Washington,
It’s never too soon to start re-writing history.