Everyone talks as if there is a common understanding of what "bias" looks like. Take the example of Obama's alleged association with William Ayers. This issue puzzled me. I heard from conservative pundits that there was something nefarious afoot here and the MSM was not reporting it. All right, I thought. Let Fox News-- biased the other way-- report it. So I went to Fox News, and Charles Krauthammer, and George Will, and the others, and waited to be enlightened with information the MSM had ignored or concealed. What was that information? What new evidence of a covert relationship did they have? What shocking story did they have to tell?
Well, it turns out that the shocking story they had to tell was that the MSM didn't find anything particular sinister about Obama's relationship with Ayers. They met a few times and Ayers, who lives openly in Chicago and, in fact, was voted "citizen of the year" by the City of Chicago for his extensive work promoting educational programs. Here's CNN's take on the issue.
The "bias" here is expressed as the conclusion drawn by responsible journalists that the Ayer's story has no real significance or relevance to Obama's candidacy. They worked together on two boards of charitable organizations that were clearly active promoting progressive social causes. They probably served together on a panel addressing juvenile justice issues. The odd thing is that one might reasonably argue that Obama's association with this community activist has flattering implications. Think about it. Ayers was a radical in the 60's, but he grew up, he matured, and learned to work within the "system". He clearly is dedicated to working with disadvantaged youth in the City of the Chicago. How awful is it that Obama, a community organizer, would end up working with him on several worthy projects?
Now the pundits over at Fox News seem to perceive something dangerous in this activity. But that's not because biased MSM reporters ignored important details. It's because they don't share the same extremist values of the conservative pundits who find the very idea of "progress" hysterically frightening because it applies to the lives of working Americans instead of the portfolios of investors.
So what the hell is going on here, with this "bias" argument? Is this all there is? Is this typical of the conservative arguments against Obama? Now I understand what they mean by "bias".
It should surprise no one that at least some Republicans are immediately presenting the bullshit argument that somehow Obama didn't really win a mandate. When Republicans win the election by concealing their real policies of shifting wealth from working people to investors, it's because voters want them to govern. When Democrats win by campaigning on policies that benefit the middle classes--as Obama clearly did--, the voters were "deceived or misguided". So John Boehner wants you to believe. That justifies the Republicans in Congress being as obstructionist as possible. Precisely the kind of politics the voters rejected by choosing Obama.
If Obama wanted to get his way more efficiently, he could just do what Bush did to get his way on Iraq: lie through his teeth.
Is it true?
And if it's true, does it matter?
1. If it matters, how come Bush was able to win two elections without the slightest assistance from the MSM? How come McCain didn't complain about bias when he was the media's darling? And how dare the MSM disapprove of John Hagee anyway, or Gordon Liddy, or James Dobson, just because they are crypto-fascists?
The fact is that even if there was a conspiracy, it couldn't work: the internet has made it impossible for anyone to effectively suppress news. If a story really was suppressed-- that would become the story, as it often does, when you see even liberal columnists bemoan the alleged bias of the media. (They somberly note that more favorable stories have appeared about Obama than about McCain. But what if Obama is the better candidate?)
In short, McCain says it's snowing and Obama says it's raining and the media is biased if they look outside. [With thanks to Campbell Brown, CNN Editor, in Time Magazine this week.]
2. What about Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, ABC, and all the other conservative outlets? I could almost buy the bias argument without choking if any of these whiners would actually think to mention that Fox News is at least as biased-- and, more reasonably, actually far more biased-- than CBS or the New York Times. We often accuse our enemies of the flaw we most recognize in ourselves.
3. If the MSM really unfairly ignored the William Ayers story, then Fox News would most certainly have uncovered any relevant facts. But Fox News and conservative columnists kept ranting about William Ayers without providing the slightest evidence of anything about the matter that was relevant to the election. What Fox News did do was give air time to some of the most poorly documented and scurrilous stories circulating among the fanatical fringes. Obviously, they can safely assume that most of their loyal readers and listeners don't read very widely.
4. Nobody tied Sarah Palin to a chair and forced her to provide Katie Couric with inane answers to sensible questions. Nobody forced her to chat for six minutes with a bad imitator of French President Sarkozy. Nobody forced her to identify white rural citizens as "real" Americans.
5. Did the MSM largely ignore Biden's gaffes? I don't know of any gaffe by Biden that would have caused anyone to doubt his knowledge, abilities, or competence. Even his comment about Obama being tested by America's enemies soon after taking office wasn't even really all that controversial-- does McCain really believe he won't be?
6. Would you really go to Fox for actual news over the New York Times, Washington Post, or L.A. Times? Okay-- the Wall Street Journal and Globe & Mail-- conservative papers-- provide a fair bit of real journalism. But then, you don't hear their columnists ranting on and on about liberal bias. The most conservative columnists, like the most conservative politicians who never seem to actually serve in any wars (McCain is the exception), never actually seem to do any reporting-- just opinions.
7. As even many conservative columnists agree, Obama ran an absolutely superb campaign, perhaps one of the best in recent history. He was supremely well-organized and efficient, and he raised enormous sums of money. He was consistent and prudent and unflappable. The MSM accurately reported. That's not bias: that's journalism.
8. The conservative press assumes that all Americans share their anguish that Obama doesn't seem very eager to blow things up, bomb foreign cities, or spend trillions on obsolete, ineffective weapons systems. How dare he. They are even more astonished that any sane person would have the slightest concern for the environment at a time when Wall Street Investors actually have to bear some risk for their investments.