The midterm elections are still months away, but the New York Times is in full campaign mode.
One of the outstanding questions of the 2010 political season is whether Tea Party candidates can translate their grassroots appeal into Election Day success. But that’s not the kind of question that seems to inform the _Times_’ slanted coverage of Tea Party candidates, whom the paper is prepared to write off as a lost cause.
A particularly glaring example of the _Times_’ penchant for dumping on Tea Party candidates was its “reporting” – the term must be used loosely – this week on Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite seeking to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. Polls actually show Angle in a statistical dead heat with the embattled Reid – some surveys even show Angle up by a few percentage points – but one would scarcely guess it from the _Times_’ coverage, where the Angle campaign is cast as a scrambling wreck-in-progress and Angle herself is dismissed as a gaff-prone political novice who has ruined her chances to win with a series of ill-judged and extreme comments.
To be sure, Angle, who went from relative unknown to winning the Republican nomination in the span of just three months, is a newcomer on the big political stage, with all the attendant turbulence of her rapid ascent. But the image of Angle as an incompetent who risks throwing away a close race is singularly misleading. To make that case, the Times had to rely solely on sources with an anti-Angle ax to grind. Among those quoted in the Times’ story were Danny Tarkanian, a Republican who lost to Angle in the primary; Jon Ralston, a political columnist for the Las Vegas Sun who has called Angle’s campaign “nothing short of a disaster”; and Harry Reid himself. Not one of these sources, it goes nearly without saying, could be considered an objective observer of Angle’s campaign.
Even discounting the transparent biases of the Times’ sources, all of the charges leveled against Angle – from her alleged shambles of a campaign to her tendency to make alienating comments – can be directed with equal or greater justice at Harry Reid. It was only last week, for instance, that Reid professed his astonishment that “anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican,” a more than slightly offensive statement that would have come as a surprise to Hispanic Republicans like Brian Sandoval, who just happens to lead Reid’s son Rory in Nevada’s gubernatorial race. Even that was mild in comparison with Reid’s dubious 2007 insight, later proven embarrassingly premature, that the Iraq war was “lost.”
Yet comparing campaign minutia misses the more significant context in which the Nevada race is taking place – and which the Times seems determined to ignore. Political innocence may explain some of the difficulties of the Angle campaign, but it is no excuse for the four-term incumbent Reid. The mere fact that a Democratic veteran like Reid is tied or even trailing a political newcomer like Angle is a devastating indictment of both Reid himself and the national Democratic leadership in Congress, which on everything from health care reform to the $862 billion economic stimulus package presided over one of the most unpopular legislative programs in recent history. By any reasonable standard, it is Reid, not Angle, that is facing the real political crisis.
What Reid has going for him, of course, is that he is a Democrat. And in a year in which Democratic incumbents are an endangered species, the Times is plainly its doing part to keep the current liberal majority in power. Compare the sorry treatment that the Times’ Magazine accorded Angle’s campaign with its preposterously puffed-up profile just a few days later of Democrat Joe Sestak, who not coincidentally is trailing another Tea Party-connected candidate, Pat Toomey, in the Pennsylvania Senate race.
A conventional left-liberal, Sestak curiously emerges from the Times profile as a study in political independence – an ideological non-conformist who finds himself at odds with the Democratic leadership. “Culturally, he remains an alien to the party,” reporter Michael Sokolove writes. In truth, Sestak has departed from the Democratic agenda in only one way: He thinks that the Democrats have not squandered enough taxpayer money in the last two years, and urges them to spend another $200 billion for a new round of economic “stimulus.” The idea that Sestak is in any way “alien” to his party is absurd. He wants the Democrats not only to press on with their radical legislative agenda, but to make it even more ambitious going forward.
With the Times busily gushing over Sestak’s manufactured maverick-streak, it has been left to conservative bloggers to uncover the kind of incriminating details that the paper works overtime to uncover about Tea Party candidates. That includes examining his connections to radical groups like Citizens for Global Solutions and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. As far as the Times is concerned, however, such news is not fit to print.
More than an abdication of responsible journalism, the Times’ slavishly pro-Democratic election coverage is also a disservice to its readers. Bolstered by a popular backlash against the Democrats’ legislative overreach, Republicans that once would have been mere sacrificial lambs are now formidable challengers to Democratic incumbents in heavily Democratic states. The political tectonic plates are shifting. But if change does come to Washington this November, the _Times_’ readers will never have seen it coming.