If there’s one thing most Americans can agree on in these otherwise-divided days, it’s this: The news media is biased.
A storm of media coverage accompanied Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s ascension to the GOP presidential ticket — and a storm of GOP outrage about that coverage quickly followed. The New York Times and MSNBC were singled out for particular scorn by conservatives, and the anger proved an effective rallying point for Republicans.
But liberals have complaints of their own. They say the press has handled McCain with kid gloves. They suspect Washington reporters would rather attend cocktail parties with politicians rather than investigate corruption or challenge obvious lies. And don’t even get them started on Fox News.
Are the good old days of a fair and objective press over? What’s the line between fair and unfair when covering a candidate? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
How can you tell it’s an election year? When Republicans mention The New York Times more often than the name of their own candidate. Media-bashing is a favorite old sport of the GOP, and it’s effective. Even when it’s unwarranted.
Yes, there have been excesses in the coverage of Sarah Palin. We didn’t need to know about her daughter’s pregnancy. But Americans deserve to know about her record — as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska — and her views. In fact, reputable news outlets have spent comparatively little time on the pregnancy and lots on Palin’s record. To listen to John McCain’s campaign, though, you’d think the opposite was true.
This time, it is readily apparent that the exercise in media-bashing was a dodge. Sarah Palin took nearly two weeks before she granted her first interview, to ABC’s Charlie Gibson. Given her thin resume, it certainly looked like she was hiding from tough questions. And that should raise concerns: If Sarah Palin can’t handle MSNBC, how can we expect her to handle Iran? Foreign leaders won’t give her a half-month of prep time to deal with an international crisis.
Of course, that’s probably also the media’s fault.
Liberals and conservatives can agree that the presidential election campaign has been too light on issues and too heavy on personality. Just because the candidates and their spin doctors may want it that way doesn’t mean the media should oblige. But when it comes to the reporting on Sarah Palin, the press has much to answer for.
"When there is no news, send rumors," a Chicago newspaper editor instructed his correspondents during the Civil War. Without question, quackish 19th century yellow-journalism principles drove the Palin coverage these past few weeks. Mainstream publications such as Time magazine and the Boston Herald reported that Palin, as mayor of Wasilla, tried to ban books from the city library and pushed abstinence-only education. In fact, Palin banned nothing and is on record supporting contraception. How could reporters get those facts completely wrong? They relied exclusively on Palin rivals and opponents as their sources.
Instead of scrutinizing Palin’s record dispassionately, the press has scoured and searched for any and all signs of scandal and corruption. Exposing Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was shameful. Reporting that Gov. Palin received a per diem allowance working from home in Wasilla as though it was improper was simply laughable. The more the press tries to portray Palin as a Dick Cheney or a Dan Quayle in a skirt (all depending on the hour of the day), the more buffoonish the media appears.
The media complained bitterly when speakers at the Republican National Convention treated the press as the propaganda arm of the Obama campaign. They protest too much.
Perhaps if the media were a bit more honest about their biases and treated their subjects fairly, the public would hold them in slightly less contempt than they do used car salesman and nine-tenths of Congress. Just a thought.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)