Remember the big stories in the national media when George W. Bush waited four days to tour New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit? Here’s a pop quiz: How long did it take President Obama to visit the Gulf coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil leak began?
The answer is 13 days. Here is how The Washington Post described that visit:
"He flew in and out of New Orleans on May 2, drove two hours to a Coast Guard station and got a briefing before taking a quick helicopter tour. He did not even see the oil slick."
Mark Knoller of CBS News reported last week that in the first 39 days after each respective catastrophe, Obama visited the Gulf coast twice; Bush visited New Orleans seven times. But remember, this is not Obama’s Katrina!
Now imagine if President Bush, five weeks into one of the largest oil leaks in U.S. history, and without ever having seen the slick, jetted across the country to headline a $17,600 per-person fund-raiser at the home of an oil-fortune heir. How do you think the national press would have treated that? Bush didn’t do that, which is why you didn’t hear about it. President Obama did — which is why you didn’t hear about it.
The media covered Obama’s trip to San Francisco to raise money for Barbara Boxer. Some news outlets even reported that Obama spoke at a private reception at the home of Democratic Party donor Gordon Getty. But few reported that Getty is the heir to the Getty Oil fortune. For instance, the New York Times reports on Obama’s trip never identified Getty as an oil heir. Do you think that would have been omitted had Bush been Getty’s guest?
What if, hours after the head of the U.S. Minerals Management Service left her job over Washington’s mishandling of that giant oil spill, President Bush held a press conference (his first in months) and, when asked about that agency head, could not say whether she had resigned or been fired? What if, hours later, the White House stated that the President knew all along that she had been dismissed, but that story was contradicted by the Cabinet secretary — the one who supposedly did the dismissing — having said that morning during a congressional hearing that she’d resigned voluntarily?
That happened in the Obama administration last week. Where are the outraged cries of incompetence and dishonesty?
Can you imagine the charges of buffoonery that would pour forth from New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, if the George W. Bush administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a state law that had been signed into law by one of Bush’s own cabinet secretaries?
Well, last week the Obama administration did exactly that. The Department of Justice asked the court to overturn a 2007 Arizona immigration law that punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signed the bill into law when she was Arizona governor.
All of these events were reported in the mainstream media. But they were not reported in the same way they would have been had a Republican been president. The point of this criticism is not to say that Bush was great and Obama stinks. Bush was not a great president. The point is to illustrate the double standard most of the media have.
Media bias exhibits itself in the subtle favoring of liberal politicians and ideas. The same rules don’t apply to the left and the right. The left is presumed to have good intentions, the right bad. So when Bush took four days to get to New Orleans after Katrina hit, it was evidence of racism, elitism, a general lack of concern for the little people. But when it took Obama three times as long to visit the Gulf Coast, there was silence.
When a left-wing administration makes mistakes or contradicts itself, that is simply human nature. When a right-of-center administration does, it is incompetence or duplicity. Or both.
At least some on the left are calling out Obama for his inattentiveness to the Gulf oil spill. That’s no substitute for the press setting the national narrative by holding him to the same standards to which it held Bush. But it’s a start.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Follow him on twitter @Drewhampshire.