MSNBC didn’t run a single negative story on Barack Obama during the final week of the presidential campaign. MSNBC didn’t run a single positive story on Mitt Romney during the final week of the presidential campaign.
Bias? What bias?
A study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that news outlets increased their coverage of the president in the campaign’s final week—and increased the favorability of that coverage. At the same time, the negative tone in stories on the Republican nominee increased sharply. When the going gets tough, Andrea Mitchell, Anderson Cooper, and George Stephanopoulos get going to their favored candidate’s rescue.
During the presidential race’s last week, Obama enjoyed positive reports for 29 percent of stories and negative ones for 19 percent. Pew deemed the remainder neutral or balanced. Mitt Romney endured negative stories for 33 percent of reports and positive ones for 16 percent of reports. In other words, in the immediate lead up to Election Day Obama’s coverage tended to be more positive than negative and Romney’s coverage tended to be more negative than positive.
The Pew analysis follows a Gallup survey from earlier this fall that found the public’s trust in the media at an all-time low. Gallup reported that six in ten Americans put “little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” Since the polling organization began surveying on that issue in the 1990s, Americans have never been more down on the media than now. The current gap between those who trust and don’t trust journalists is the largest “by far,” according to Gallup. The political breakdown among respondents itself supports claims of bias: Most Democrats retain faith in the Fourth Estate to report “fully, accurately, and fairly”; most Republicans do not.
Conditioned by a steady stream of campaign coverage anecdotes, political observers—particularly conservative ones who harbor a grudge against the press—may not find Pew’s findings surprising. This is an administration, after all, that plucked Time magazine’s Washington bureau chief to serve as its mouthpiece. And election season revealed any number of newsmen willing to serve in that role without pay or title. People who matter-of-factly refer to the “lamestream media” didn’t need a study to tell them the Washington press corps roots for the Democrats. But the Pew account nevertheless puts the imprimatur of a respected research organization on a phenomenon ridiculed as more phantom than fact, the sour grapes of ideologues who demand journalistic reinforcement of their beliefs.
This is certainly the outlook of New York Times media writer David Carr. “Many Republicans see bias lurking in every live shot, but the growing hegemony of conservative voices makes manufacturing a partisan conspiracy a practical impossibility,” Carr maintained in an October 1 piece. Though Carr allowed that not everyone crying bias “needs to be fitted for a tinfoil helmet”—a comforting observation, since Gallup contends that most Americans believe that journalists don’t play it fair—he held that “the trope is losing traction, partly because there are many robust champions of the right, which gives conservatives the means to project their message far beyond the choir.” Americans distrust journalists. Journalists, working in a profession known to attract skeptics, ridicule the public’s distrust of them.
Though Candy Crowley’s transformation from moderator to advocate during the second presidential debate may be the most glaring instance of the partiality of a journalist during the race for the White House, it’s not the most egregious malefaction. Like Crowley, so many of the scribes and anchors who succumbed to a crusading style did so in covering the murders of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. When journalists talked about Benghazi, they often did so to dismiss it or simply to reinforce the administration’s tenuous narrative. Time’s Joe Klein opined that the attack on the U.S. consulate “really isn’t an issue.” Thomas Friedman of the New York Times dubbed Libya an “utterly contrived story.” ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos called the Obama administration “relatively transparent” in its handling of the attacks. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews maintained of the killings, “Everybody knows it’s about the video. It’s all about the video.”
Never have so many in a profession that prides itself on speaking truth to power so sucked up to power. For the same reasons they expect blind faith from listeners, watchers, and readers, ideologue journalists display it towards the administration: their ideas are too noble to partake in deception so ignoble. Take it from the press. You can trust them on that. Or not.
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