Why the Liberal Media Myth Persists - Part 3
In Part 1, I pointed out that, apart from the role played by the right-wing media (including columnists/bloggers), the liberal media myth persists largely because of the role currently played by four groups of people: academics, politicians on the left, influential left-leaning opinion columnists/talking heads in mainstream media (especially those who take journalism seriously), and honest front-line reporters and their editors in the mainstream media. Part 2 discussed the role of academics. In this part, I discuss the role of politicians on the left.
In the United States, if you exclude the American people as a group, politicians on the left are the ones impacted the most by the liberal media myth. Yet, these pols do the least to dispel this myth rather than aggressively taking on the media (even by proxy, something the Republicans have brilliantly perfected over the decades). This clearly ranks second only to The Universe in the list of Top 10 Mysteries Ever Known to Mankind. Indeed, for anyone who is beyond kindergarten, the usual behavior of Democratic leaders and their spokespersons in front of a media clearly biased against them more often than not, ought to be beyond rational comprehension. As I said shortly after Election 2004, referring to Democratic supporters:
Many Democrats (even in CA) are not aware of what was really done to Clinton and Gore, and just barely aware of what was being done to Kerry mainly because they were much more tuned in to this election. "The Hunting of the President" is a revelation to almost EVERY Democrat I have met (if this does not reflect a major failure of the Democratic party I don't know what does). Many people express complete skepticism when told that the media is not liberal (politically speaking) or that it treats Republican politicians much better that Democrats - and these are supporters of the Democratic party! You can imagine the reactions from Independents and Republicans.
I should point out that this is not just a matter of the liberal media myth impacting Democrats. This is a more pervasive problem, in terms of how the media unjustifiably spins many issues in favor of the GOP (nowhere is this more apparent than in the media's fables about Bush and the GOP being "strong" on national security). I don't think readers of this blog need much explanation on this matter. So, what I'm going to do is simply provide a couple of examples from Campaign 2004 to show how leading Democrats displayed a surprising inability to take on the anti-Democrat media bias, head on, despite the opportunity having been dropped on their lap.
Let's take the example of Carl Make-Sh**-Up Cameron of Faux News, via Media Matters:
On President George W. Bush's second Inauguration Day, FOX News managing editor and chief Washington correspondent Brit Hume announced that FOX News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes had promoted Carl Cameron from chief political correspondent to chief White House correspondent [eRiposte emphasis] and Jim Angle from senior White House correspondent to chief Washington correspondent. Media Matters for America has documented numerous instances of inaccurate, incomplete, and distorted reporting by both Cameron and Angle. For example:
Carl Cameron has:
- fabricated statements from Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race as part of a "parody" of the Democratic candidate; he included them in an October 1 "Trail Tales" report on the FOX News website. The article was removed soon afterwards, but an archived version is available here;
- falsely claimed that in a September 20, 2004, speech, Kerry referred to Bush as a "warmonger who wants a perpetual state of war around the world"; and
Can you imagine Republicans letting CBS get away with promoting Mary Mapes or Dan Rather if they had attributed fabricated quotes to George Bush? Not in a thousand years.
A second example relates to the infamous Kerry vote (or lack thereof) on the $87B war spending Bill.
The facts were simple, as illustrated by Bob Somerby here:
Russert started by quoting Zell Miller. Here was the Top Cop’s first question:RUSSERT: Zell Miller was just on. Let me show you what he had to say about your candidate, John Kerry. “I think John Kerry made the right decision when he voted to authorize the war in Iraq. But then he went out on the campaign trail and started spending too much time with Howard Dean. And he came back to Washington and voted against the $87 billion the troops need for protective armor, combat pay, and better health care. That's the worst kind of indecisiveness, and the wrong leadership at this critical moment in history.”
Biden’s response was self-serving and weak, as we’ll see. But he did begin to sketch the history of Kerry’s much-ballyhooed vote—a vote they love to spin on Nantucket. No, this isn’t a very good answer. But it does lay out some basic facts:BIDEN (continuing directly): Well, the irony is that what Zell may not have remembered, but I'm sure he'll remember when he hears me say it, is that there was an attempt to break out that $87 billion. I voted for the $87 billion. I got in trouble with the Democrats immediately saying I would support it. But I understood their point. They said, “Look, let’s take the $67 billion for the troops, the body and armor, etc.”...We said, John Kerry said and a number of others said, “Let’s take the $67 billion and have two votes. Vote immediately for the $67 billion for the troops. The remaining $20 billion roughly, because we don’t trust these guys that they’re going to be able to manage it very well, let's attach conditions to it.” They had $30,000 for pickup trucks, for example, in this thing. And so that was the big debate.Biden’s narration laid out some key facts. Kerry wanted to vote immediately for the $67 billion that would go to the troops. But he wanted a separate vote on the extra $20 billion—the money for reconstruction projects. Later, Biden returned to that unspent money—the $18 billion for reconstruction that ended up getting passed. “The bottom line was, I happen to disagree with the vote. But the irony of all ironies is that [Kerry] was more right about their ineptitude in how to deal with it than I was.” Throughout this session, Biden seemed more eager to cover his own kiester than to speak on behalf of Kerry. But even Biden noted the “irony:” as it turns out, Kerry was rightin his concern about that extra 20 billion. “Kerry was more right than I was,” Biden finally said of that vote.
When faced with having to vote for that [20 billion] that was going to be mismanaged, they thought—they decided not to vote for it. Now, I didn't vote that way, but there is merit to their position. Of the $18 billion, Tim, we voted to reconstruct Iraq, that our military says they badly needed to help them secure order in Iraq, only $450 million have been spent so far. That’s incredible mismanagement. And we voted that money last October.
...Biden noted the obvious fact—Kerry was never against the money that would have gone to the troops. But before we return to Russert’s performance, let’s note what was wrong with Biden’s answer. Biden gave some basic facts, but totally missed the larger picture. If he wanted to speak for his man, here’s what he should have said:BIDEN (AMENDED ANSWER): Look, Tim, this whole thing is a phony. The troops were always going to be funded. No one was ever against doing that. But there were fights and legitimate questions about the way we were going to do it. Look, at one point, George Bush said he would veto the $87 billion if it contained a provision he didn’t approve of! Nothing wrong with that—that’s how bills get shaped. But Kerry had legitimate objections to the form of the bill that we passed—and here’s what those objections were. By the way, he turned out to be right...
But uh-oh! This amended statement would have forced Joe to be a bit tough on Russert’s position—and major pols don’t like to go there. So viewers never heard Biden say how fake and phony this whole issue is.
No, it isn’t Russert’s fault that Democrats cover their asses this way—that Biden promoted his own interests first, and then, as an afterthought, spoke up for Kerry. But Russert can be blamed for the questions he asks, and for the issues he fails to bring up. To state the obvious, Russert knows what Biden knows—that this “issue” is a Big Total Phony. After all, we know from his book, Big Russ & Me, that Russert is always prepared:RUSSERT (page 147): [T]he key to success is preparation. In journalism, it’s absolutely critical. Like everyone else, I have days when things go well, and days when they don’t. But one mistake I have never made is to show up unprepared for an interview.So yes—Russert knows that Bush said he would veto the $87 billion. And he knows that Kerry had valid reasons for opposing the form of the bill that passed. But there’s something else the great bulldog knows—he knows that he shouldn’t mention these facts. Back on the island, his rich, inane colleagues had fallen in love with this dumb, inane story. Why should Russert oppose all the squires? Why should he work for the people?
In fact Kerry's advisor did take on this same crap on CNN with Wolf Blitzer as Somerby noted:
PLETKA: Susan, that is punishing our soldiers.
RICE: Excuse me. Excuse me. Talking about politics here, it was President Bush who threatened to veto the $87 billion resolution when it didn't suit his needs either.
In short, Bush fought against—and threatened to veto—a form of the bill which he opposed. Kerry voted against a different form of the bill—a form which he disfavored. None of this is worth discussing. But note what happened when Rice made this point. To all appearances, Blitzer didn’t have any idea that Bush had threatened a veto:BLITZER: In almost every speech the president makes, Susan, he makes that specific point, that—that he voted for the war, that he voted against—for the $87 billion, then he voted against the $87 billion. He says it's not as complicated as John Kerry wants it to be.Amazing, isn’t it? Completely amazing! There was nothing wrong with Bush’s veto threat. There was nothing wrong with Kerry’s “no” vote. But there is something wrong with Bush’s clowning, in which he says there was “nothing complicated” about the funding votes in question.
RICE: All right. Wolf, have you asked the president why he threatened to veto the $87 billion for political reasons?
BLITZER: Well, we're out of time. But do you remember the president threatening to veto the $87 billion appropriations if he didn't get some—some provision that he wanted?
PLETKA: Let me be honest. I can't answer that. I have no recollection of it whatsoever. But let me tell you—
RICE: Go check on it. We'll see.
Got that? OK, now let's see how spectacularly bad then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's subsequent handling of this issue was on Meet The Press (bold text is my emphasis):
MR. THUNE: Didn't Senator Kerry vote against $87 million for aid to the troops?
SEN. DASCHLE: He did. I disagree with that. And when I was over there, that was one of the most important things we could do is to send the message, I think, that these members of the Guard and reserves, our active duty personnel, need the support need the equipment they've got to have. And I think that's something that this administration, frankly, has failed to do in addition to listening to their military commanders. If they'd have listened to the military commanders going in, we would have had a plan now. But to subject these people to the tremendous pressures they're feeling, to ask these thousand people to put their lives on the line as they did and lost, to see those 7,000 wounded, and then not to have a plan and not to listen to your military commanders is just a big mistake.
This is how Democrats kill themselves in the Press and abandon opportunity after opportunity to call out the media for what it is, to correct it, to use these examples to point out how there is a conservative tilt in the media, and to emphasize that there is no liberal bias. And the example above is just the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg, as I like to say.
I will discuss how to address this when I talk about media reform.