Frequent commenter and left-leaning warrior Ampersand delivers a typically provocative and well-stated comment touching on many matters. Here is his
Comment of the Day, on the post “The Right Thing In Spite Of Themselves: CNN And NBC Abandon Their Hillary Projects,” and yes, I’ll have some comment of my own afterwards:
“Especially in primary debates, I’d like to see more partisanship. Why shouldn’t candidates in the GOP primaries face questions from solidly right-wing partisans? Why shouldn’t the Democrats have to face questions from solidly left-wing partisans? There are a couple of reasons I’d like to see this.
“One, primary voters are typically more partisan than average voters. Their views should be represented. Rush is more likely to ask questions that genuinely reflect the concerns of tea party voters than some empty suit from CNN is. Ditto for Melissa Harris Perry (say) and progressives.
“Two, I’m sick of right-wingers whining about media bias every time their candidates prove to be idiots. It is NOT biased or ‘gotcha’ to ask what magazines a candidate reads; and if a candidate can’t think fast enough on her feet to answer that question, it’s NOT the media’s fault. I’d really like to see your people being asked questions only by people with impeccable right-wing credentials, so that when some of your candidates inevitably give bad answers, you’ll be forced to actually accept some actual responsibility, rather than whining and blaming everything on the “biased’ media.
“Hey, remember when we were told that Obama being ahead in the polls was just another example of left-wing media bias, and fair and objective polling would show that Romney was winning? But if we compare the final polling numbers to the actual election outcome, we find that the polls were biased in Romney’s favor. This is an objective test case for right-wing claims of media bias – and it showed that the claims of bias, for this specific story at least, were absolutely unfair and untrue. Of course, being proven objectively wrong by facts probably won’t change anyone’s views.”
“After the first debate, the media spent nearly ten days in a row going over Obama’s failure again and again. That’s fair enough – it was a legitimate news story, and Obama had the bad luck not to have any other big news stories come along to take the front spot. It’s also the closest that Romney came to winning the election. Why did the media do that, if its goal was to elect Obama?”
“Basically, any news that is reported that doesn’t reflect well on Romney was taken as proof of left-wing media bias. In contrast, news that was reported but reflected poorly on Obama was never taken as proof of anything. That’s an obvious double-standard. In the one case we can objectively measure – the polling – what right-wingers claimed was left-wing bias was, if anything, biased in Romney’s favor. So the claim that the right wing is just poor helpless victims of a biased media, and nothing bad that happens is ever the fault of (say) poor candidates or poor election strategy or simply of unpopular policy views, doesn’t seem to hold much water.”
It’s me again.
I agree with the comment’s assertion that there is nothing wrong with extreme partisans asking questions in candidate debates, and some benefits of having them. Still, encouraging biases is never a good idea, practically or ethically. I could make an equally sound argument that having hostile partisans ask the questions in a party debate would be most valuable: let’s hear the tough questions, not watch soft-balls float up to the plate.
The real problem lies in finding objective moderators if the pool is the mainstream media and Fox. Having Gwen Ifill as a moderator in the 2008 Vice presidential debate was indefensible, as was allowing George Stephanopoulos to lob questions at Hillary Clinton in one of the 2008 Democratic candidate debates. Candy Crowley’s natural bias may have tilted the election results by protecting President Obama from his Benghazi deceits in the last debate with Romney. In the past two debate cycles, I thought Martha Raddatz and Jim Lehrer were effectively fair, but I also believe GOP suspicions that their candidates always have the deck stacked against them is valid and demonstrably justifiable.
It remains astounding to me that intelligent, analytical, fair observers like Ampersand—and as often as I disagree with him, he is all of these—can continue to deny the blatant liberal bias in the media. Every bit of data, experience, observation and analysis supports that conclusion. Look at the disparate treatment of Obama’s IRS scandal and Nixon’s; look at the media’s abandonment of objective reporting in the post-Sandy Hook gun debate and the current government shutdown; look at “60 Minutes'” Scott Pelley’s admission that the President likes being interviewed on the show because he knows interviewers will be easy on him; read the recent biography of Walter Cronkite; check any of the independent studies of how the media slanted its support for President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns; check out the New York Times’s flip-flops when President Obama’s policies have mirrored President Bush’s. Check how often misbehaving Democrats are cited without the media noting their party affiliations, in contrast to when the miscreants are Republicans. Compare the number of liberals vs. conservative columnists in the major dailies; think about the surveys that consistently show that upward of 80% of all journalists vote Democratic. Every now and then, a journalist with integrity, like CNN’s Jake Tapper, will even admit the leftward bias of his profession. It is obvious, it is wrong, it is dangerous to democracy, and yet the company line among progressives is that the accusation is manufactured. I don’t understand it.
Ampersand is quite correct, however, that Republicans use this as an excuse for their own incompetence routinely and far too often. It is important to flag the bias, and to make efforts to get the journalistic establishment to be professional and address it. True, the persistent denial is infuriating. Nonetheless, good candidates, coherent policies and smart campaigns will overcome whatever influence the media has. Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush were all elected twice despite mainstream media bias against them. Mitt Romney didn’t lose because of the media—he lost because Republicans and conservatives couldn’t turn out their voters. John McCain didn’t lose because of media bias, though the bias was palpable: he was a terrible candidate, the economy was collapsing under a Republican administration, and his party had proven itself to be more crooked than Lombard Street: almost anyone would have beaten him…and almost anyone did.