In my latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), James Carville and Paul Begala talk about media bias.
They dispute that the media have a liberal bias, for they note that the media were particularly hard on Bill Clinton during the 1992 election and also during Clinton’s Presidency, and on Al Gore during the 2000 election. Meanwhile, the media failed to cover some of George W. Bush’s indiscretions: for example, Governor George W. Bush denied under oath that he had “discussed a funeral home investigation…with the head of the state agency charged with investigating funeral homes or with representatives of the funeral home corporation under investigation”, and yet his appointee to the agency and the funeral home company’s CEO and lobbyist contradicted his testimony.
What are the media’s motivations? Carville and Begala highlight a few. They believe that, although the mainstream media consist of a large number of people who voted for Clinton, the media still relish the prospect of taking down a President, in this case, Bill Clinton. Moreover, Carville and Begala cite a study by Professor David Croteau that shows that, while many in the media are socially liberal (i.e., pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights), they are economically conservative. Plus, there’s the personal factor: there were many in the media who personally liked George W. Bush, but they did not particularly care for Vice-President Gore.
Carville and Begala argue that the Right exploits the charge of liberal media bias to get the sort of coverage that it desires, as journalists bend over backwards to avoid accusations of unfairness and seek out conservative voices. Carville and Begala also note an example of how, in this Internet age, one can distort the truth and the distortion spreads throughout the media like wildfire. Essentially, it was alleged that John Kerry initially supported President Bush’s outsourcing of the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden to Afghan warlords, based on something that Kerry said to Larry King about a whole other issue: whether or not we should smoke Osama Bin-Laden out of his cave. But the distortion was picked up by Chris Wallace, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer, who presented it as truth. And Carville and Begala discuss how George W. Bush’s campaign and Administration played hardball with the media by punishing those who didn’t report things as Bush wished, by denying them exposure to Bush and the Administration, by giving a story to a competitor, etc. (Newt Gingrich made a similar point about President Barack Obama—-see my post here.)
Carville and Begala offer ideas on how Democrats can cope with the media. One way is to be aggressive in attacking Republican indiscretions and policy-proposals, which will get the media’s attention because the media love to cover a fight. Another way is to make use of local media outlets. According to Carville and Begala, a number of Democrats seek the favor of the New York Times while ignoring local media outlets, but Bill Clinton in 1992 did not go that route, for Clinton appeared on a number of local stations.
What is my stance on the media? I used to think that the media were liberal, and, to be honest, as I look back, I believe that this viewpoint on my part made me aware that there is such a thing as bias and that I can’t necessarily accept everything that I read and hear at face value. At the same time, this viewpoint allowed me to dismiss anything inconvenient to my Republican worldview as something made up by the “liberal” media, and so my view that the media are liberal made me critical and un-critical, at the same time.
Nowadays, I don’t dismiss that the mainstream media at times convey liberal views. But I can’t accept that as the full story because the media did attack Bill Clinton, and leftists would argue that the media pulled their punches during the George W. Bush Administration. The media are often after acclaim and a story and are not always pursuing an ideological agenda. Or maybe, as Carville and Begala contend, there are a variety of factors: perhaps the media only went so far in attacking Bush because they still wanted exposure to the Bush White House.
One thing that I thought about in my latest reading of Carville and Begala was my perception of George W. Bush. Why did I like him and vote for him in 2004? One reason was that I was a conservative, and I also was being a contrarian against the liberal environment where I was, which disdained and despised Bush. But I also thought that Bush came across as a meek, humble, and friendly man, one who, like Ronald Reagan, did not have to be President in order to be happy. Perhaps there was something to that narrative, but that has to be balanced out with the times that people say that Bush has played serious hardball in order to advance his interests. Such stories don’t make Bush look particularly meek, humble, friendly, or apathetic about having power!