Media Bias–A Quick View

The framing and shading of the news in ways unflattering to the Bush administration is nearly a daily occurrence. Some of the more shocking instances have been recapped in earlier posts today, but I’ll sum up.

  • Bergergate–Sandy Berger, former Clinton NSA–steals classified documents relating to the Clinton adminstration’s record on terror. Not just any documents, but documents vital to what was then a current investigation about 9/11. Berger claims that he ‘knowingly’ placed written notes from the files in his pants and socks–glad that was intentional. But that he ‘unknowingly’ removed a classified leather portfolio. There is a brief JD investigation, a little muted criticism in the press, and then it simply fades away. Would a Republican NSA been given such an easy pass by the media? No chance in hell, or in Washington D.C. If that was James Baker or Condeleeza Rice they might well have ended up behind bars. This was no benign tomfoolery, it was an effort to whitewash and conceal crucial information about what the Clinton admin knew in 1999. Some of those docs were never recovered. And the media has hardly uttered a peep since.
  • Wilsongate–world traveler and sometimes ambassador Joseph Wilson gets his prettified fake-tanned face all over TV with indignant claims that (a) Bush lied with the infamous ’16 words’ about Iraq attempting to purchase yellowcake from Niger (Wilson, you see, had tea with gentlemen in Niger who assured him this was not the case) and (b) some bastard in the White House had leaked his wife’s name because she had allegedly put him forward to the assignment to Nigeria, which she absolutely never did. The media LOVED it. They could not STOP themselves from talking about it. It was all Joe Wilson, all the time. Well when it turns out–twice-confirmed in independent bi-partisan government reports in the UK and the US–that (a) Saddam DID try to buy yellowcake from Niger and (b) Valerie Plame DID put her husband’s name forward, there is hardly a squeak of repentance in the media. After weeks of feeding off of Wilson’s self-serving lies, leveling all kinds of speculative, unfounded criticism at the Bush admin as a result his misrepresentations, going into wild hand-wringing antics over how this all demonstrated that the Bush people were in a rush to go to war…nothing. And to this day, almost no one that doesn’t pay very close attention to the news knows the truth–that SH did try to buy that yellowcake. That the ’16 words’ were not a lie, but were apparently based on sound intelligence.
  • The release of the Duelfer Report–the Duelfer Report makes some truly momentous conclusions. It establishes that the UN Oil for Food program was corrupt to the core, it implicates key French and Russian powerbrokers as bribe-takers in the whole scheme and it puts forward–as its central finding–evidence that Saddam was just waiting for the opportunity to fire up his WMD programs again once he could end sanctions and get inspectors out. So what does the mainstream media–almost uniformly–decide to tell us? NO WMD IN IRAQ! NO WMD IN IRAQ! Which is a little like printing a headline reading KENNEDY ASSASINATED sometime in the middle of 1965. This was not news. But it was all that could be found in the Report that was genuinely damaging to the Bush people, so it was fronted as if it were news. Meanwhile, very significant findings were pushed to the back pages.
  • The Al Qaqsaa Cache–Now this last week, the NYT and CBS were apparently vying over who got to distort an 18-month old story first. The NYT studiously, obviously deliberately, crafted its story to avoid saying when it was actually discovered that these materials where missing. Which was, as it turns out, the day after the war, when the first US soldiers to get to the site noted that everything was gone. Who could have removed 400 tons of explosives while SH was still nominally in power? Hint: not a couple of ‘thieves and looters’ with pickup trucks in the dead of the night. They were removed with heavy machinery, under orders from someone close to Hussein. It’s the only way it could have happened. No matter–the NYT (with many copycats in the media) presents it as a case of gross negligence and failed post-war planning. But when NBC (constrained by its knowledge that it was on the record actually reporting FROM an emptied Al Qaqsaa on April 11, 2003) calls their bluff, the LA Times is the only major news outlet that ran the story to come out and correct their error. And all of the damage done to the Bush campaign in the meantime? Just like with Joseph Wilson and the 16 words, most Americans are unaware that the record ever was corrected.

These are not isolated cases. They are simply the higher-profile samples of what is a fixed and constantly reoccurring pattern. As I said in an earlier post, the liberal predisposition of an overwhelming majority of media people is long-established. Political scientists have pretty-well stopped fighting about it. The question is primarily whether that very definite preference filters into their work. This pattern is evidence that it does. And it does consistently. And the distortions, the conscious acts of framing, the editorial twists, are usually deliberate.


  1. Looking forward to seeing the Utah Democrat Stuart.

    Er, left-wing media? Hmmmm, let’s have a roll call of all those commie bastards then…

    Shall I go on?

    Bill Kristol blew the whistle:

    “I admit it — the liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.”
    – William Kristol, in the New Yorker

    The media were <>so<> kind to Clinton, weren’t they?

    Now, if you want to talk about <>real<> left-wing media, let’s discuss the BBC, whose reporting during the Iraq war was shameful.


  2. Yes, WOULD you go on? Because I think you’re about out of names, and let’s have a look at those names.

    Hannity–Sean Hannity is a very average mind whose views are always presented in an editorial forum where everyone KNOWS he is the stupid conservative guy. Not a valid example.

    Limbaugh–Not valid. We have been talking about MAINTSTREAM media here. And again, everyone that listens to Limbaugh knows exactly where he stands.

    Blitzer–Come on, Ronan. Wolf Blitzer is the furthest thing from a conservative on the media map. Evidence, however, that you were running out of names–maybe being British you associate anything with the letters ‘B L I T Z’ with reactionary militarism.

    O’Reilly–Not a true conservative by any stretch, but again, an editorialist, with personal views.

    The most insidious work of the liberal media is accomplished not through spokespeople but WHAT they choose to present as news, and HOW they spin that information. You haven’t provided any plausible explanation for the very obvious cases of liberal bias above. It’s the newcasters with the serious faces and the “this is the unvarnished news” voices, who tilt the picture. It is the people you never meet that draft headlines and place stories in the nations’ major newspapers.

    Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, and even O’Reilly aren’t even a part of this conversation. People know them and have compartments for them. But they don’t have names, personalities or biases to attach to the black and white print that shows up on the front page.


  3. There’s a political truism in Britain that it doesn’t matter a fig if the broadsheet newspapers endorse you, to win you need the tabloids to rouse some hysteria.

    Whoever wins next week, I suspect, will be the candidate who generates the most noise. Print media is not going to decide it, nor is network news.

    It is a fact that traditional media is in decline. < HREF="">Pew<> found thay 42 percent of Americans get campaign information from local news, 35 percent from nightly news, 31 percent from newspapers, and 10 percent from newsmagazines.

    Cable news networks are regularly consulted by 38 percent of Americans. So local, national, and cable news are about the same. Which is the “noisiest”, the most likely to sway Joe Bloggs of the “American street” who doesn’t read the NY Times or pay attention to Peter Jennings? Cable. And which is the most popular? Fox.

    Don’t tell me Fox ain’t conservative.

    Of course, my thesis here is based on British observation. I stand corrected if American politics works differently.

    P.S. Matthews? Hume? And others, who whilst not blatantly right wing are not lefties either. And that was Stuart’s point: mass media is Left. I just don’t think it is.


  4. Chris Matthews is the former Chief of Staff for Tip O’Neill–Democratic Speaker of the House, a real gentleman, but a definite partisan. Matthews is a registered Democrat and usually a fair moderator, but definitely has partisan leanings.

    Brit Hume is just the Fox News guy. Almost everyone you named here is from Fox.

    Whether or not you believe the mass media (in America) is liberal–80% of journalists, print and TV, voted for George McGovern in 1972. The ratio has never changed significantly in the thirty years since. You have to ask yourself–do you really believe that this overwhelming majority of self-identified liberals and Democrats are capable of totally isolating their personal views and deep political feelings from their daily work?

    Don’t know about you, but I think its nearly impossible. I don’t think anyone in our postmodern generation thinks that the kind of objective disassociation from personal views can really be achieved. And as I’ve demonstrated with the cases above, it is happening all the time.

    I’ll pay Ronan fifty dollars if he can find me a single example of a bias running the other way–a blatant media misrepresentation (where three or more media outlets worked the same deception) of facts or framing of a report in a way that would be helpful to the Bush administration. Find me one. I’ve given you four Ronan, and I haven’t even dropped the bucket in the well.


  5. Kerry’s “Global Test”. It was an unfortunate phrase only because it was so easy to take out of context. But Kerry <>clearly<> was not giving-up America’s right to defend itself. Here’s what he said (and we’ve been here before):

    “No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and <>nor would I<>, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America”.

    He then went on to suggest that before you go to war you have to pass a certain standard – a “universal” standard. Not universal/global as in France and the UN (read a dictionary, look it up). In context with his quote above, the meaning is clear.

    But, helping Bush in his need for simple soundbites, the media did exactly what Karen Hughes would have wanted: it took “global test”, ignored the context, and turned Kerry into an appeaser.

    The Washington Post, NBC, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN, FOX News all followed the Bush interpretation.

    I can provide references; please ready the cheque.


  6. Wow– the media distort things in favor of Bush? Never!

    Certainly in the 2000 they were far too hard on Bush, while giving Gore a free pass! That’s why nobody thinks that Gore actually said “I invented the internet”! In fact, that line never comes up anymore.

    That’s why Bush’s lies during the 2000 debates were regularly challenged! That’s why Bush and members of his adminsitration can cite contradictary reasons for his tax cuts and have them exposed for the lies that they are! It’s why allegations against Bush for cocaine use were a main point of contention during the 2000 election.

    It’s why Clinton’s ‘Whitewater’ scandal was a fringe issue limited to tabloids like the National Enquirer and Weekely world Sun. No main-stream liberal papers pumped up that non-issue!

    That’s why Kerry suffers almost no effect from flip-flopping charges, and why Bush gets really hard questions about Iraq and the economy. The main-stream press never parrots RNC talking points, like Kerry=France, or Kerry=Jane Fonda. They always want to get to meatier issues, like how each candidate’s health care plan will work, or positions on the environment.

    Yes– our press is way liberal. People like Rush (the most listened to syndicated show on radio) are fringe. In fact, talk radio is a format that regularly loses money, and features largely liberal blow-hards who never tell the truth about Bush. The number of people who listen to such “news” sources is small, and limited to mostly non-voters. Plus, fact-checking organizations reguarly note lies or distortions from such shows, so people have a better understanding of the issues. And Fox News– even though it’s the most popular cable news channel– has no effect on voters.

    Yes, our media are too liberal. I long for the day when the Conservative movement will finally be able to get its point across without those damned liberals slanting everything.


  7. Sorry, RJ. You’ll have to provide me more context than that to earn your fifty (AUS) dollars. But I don’t think I could conclusively accept that JK did not mean what it sounded like given how scarily consistent it is with his long-established record.

    To wit:
    1. In an early congressional campaign Kerry announced that US troops should only be deployed anywhere in the world with a UN directive.

    2. In 1994 he refused Bill Clinton’s wish to intervene in Bosnia without UN support. As The Washington Post recalled last week, discussing the possibility of US troops being killed in Bosnia in 1994, he said: “If you mean dying in the course of the United Nations effort, yes, it is worth that. If you mean dying American troops unilaterally going in with some false presumption the answer is unequivocally no.”

    Given the complete consistency of the notion of a ‘global test’ and Kerry’s career-long views of the primacy of the UN, I can’t accept that this is an unfair representation of his position. It certainly doesn’t measure up to the kind of deliberate glosses put on inaccurate reports of the sort I just posted.


  8. Lancer–

    Sorry, but that last post was all over the place. You will notice that I provided four focused examples of media bias in action, while you launched a scattershot alleging media bias on a range of issues where I would love to see you prove it.

    1. Are you seriously going to try denying that Kerry is a chronic flip-flopper? A close friend of mine is running Kerry’s campaign in Nevada. He shakes his head and concedes this point. I am amazed that you would raise this given that I can give you a dozen blatant flips and flops off the top of my head–start by watching the doc at, and you will find a John Kerry more passionate about removing Saddam Hussein, and more certain of WMD than GWB ever was.
    2. You can’t throw out something like ‘Bush’s lies in the 2000 debate’ and leave it unsubstantiated.
    3. Whitewater?!? You really want to pull that out? That wasn’t that fringe at all. Those were serious charges that resulted in close friends of the Clintons being indicted.
    4. Why are you even bringing up Rush? He’s an editorialist, not a part of this conversation. If their political position is openly declared they cannot be accused of misrepresenting the news to unsuspecting viewers. This conversation is about MAINSTREAM MEDIA WHO POSE AS OBJECTIVE NEWS HANDS. No one else.
    5. And I have to say that I just think its hilarious that you think more attention should have been paid to the Bush cocaine charges. Where was the evidence that should have been examined? And if there was evidence, what would it have meant?
    6. And please, I’m begging you, show me a single instance of a mainstream (i.e. nominally objective) news source presenting anything as “Kerry=France” or “Kerry=Jane Fonda”. Show me one. If you can’t, stop throwing it around.

    Somehow you managed to write all of that up without providing a single concrete example (but plent of vague or easily debunked examples).


  9. Hi Stuart,

    You’re right. I threw around a bunch of accusations without citing examples. In order to get to come concrete examples I’m going to have to do a blog post with links, etc., and not just a comment. That will come in the next few days (again delaying the sports post I want to do!).

    But in brief, I do think that the Bush accusations of Kerry’s “flip-flops” have stuck more because our media are too lazy to do fact-checking than because the charges themselves have merit. The $87 billion thing is a fabulous example. Were our media really liberal, that line would have been addressed a long time ago. Same with Gore saying “I invented the internet.” He never said it, but our main stream press corps still repeats this line as though he did.

    Bush in 2000 routinely lied about his plans in interviews and debates, but few in the press bothered to check them. Thus, we’re left with the idea that it was Gore who had “fuzzy math” when in fact Gore’s numbers were the right ones. I’ll document this.

    Examples of the media slipping in references to Kerry and France are common, and I’ll show them, too.

    But let me say this (in advance of my eventual post): my contention is not that our media are liberal or conservative (though individual journalists or, in the case of Fox News, outlets may be). Instead, I will argue that they are lazy and incompetent. Thus, interesting stories that should get attention (e.g. the UN oil-for-food problems) aren’t, while non-issues (e.g. the lies about Berger’s socks, or Gore and the internet) are trumpeted.

    There probably was a time when the main stream media sources were slanted far to the left. But that was probably before I was born (or a kid and didn’t care). Since the mid 1980s, I think this has stopped being the case.

    We deserve a competent press corps who will work hard to expose truths and hold candidates (from all sides!) accountable for lies and distortions. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to pick good leaders. As it is, we’re served largely by a bunch of lazy people too busy to check the facts and too happy to parrot talking points (Bush is dumb! Gore is boring! Kerry flip-flops!), rather than do to any real work.


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