Ex-NYT’s Steve Roberts: Tea Party ‘Didn’t Win, You Only Won a Couple of Seats,’ No Liberal Media Bias

  Appearing as a guest on Sunday’s Reliable Sources on CNN, Steve Roberts - who has worked for both the New York Times and U.S. News and World Report - after conceding that the Tea Party movement is important, dismissively asserted that the movement "didn’t win. You only won a couple of seats." Roberts:

I think that they are an important part of the American landscape. Now I don't think they're as important as they think they are. I mean, you had people coming into Washington this week and saying, wait, we won. No, you didn't win. You won a couple of seats, and you got to deal with everybody else.

After host Howard Kurtz wondered "did the media kind of turn on" President Obama and claimed that the media had not spent enough time giving credit to Obama for his recent legislative successes, leading to guest Thomas Frank of Harper’s to bring up complaints against Obama by disaffected liberals, Roberts asserted that there is no liberal media bias:

Well, this is a very odd conversation to be having, that somehow he's disappointed the liberals when the conventional wisdom around Washington for years has been that the press is all liberal and they're too, and they coddle Democrats. The truth is that what the press does is they are always in favor of a good story and against who's ever in power. That's the way news rooms work in this city. And it worked against Obama, for Obama when he was a candidate. It worked against him once he became President.

Roberts later voiced his disagreement with 9/11 families and other opponents of the Ground Zero mosque:

The families of 9/11, I have enormous sympathy for them, but they're not the only American voice. And the voice here that somehow the memory of their loved ones was desecrated by a, this mosque is run by people who are exponents of interfaith tolerance. They're the best of breed. They're exactly what we want in the Islamic community in America.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Sunday, December 26, Reliable Sources on CNN:

HOWARD KURTZ: Steve Roberts, I look back at the rise of the Tea Party and all those Republican incumbents getting knocked off in primaries. I always felt like the media were a step behind.

STEVE ROBERTS, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Well, I think one of the reasons they were a step behind is they didn’t fully understand the media architecture, that people communicated horizontally, not vertically. They should have understood it because Obama utilized that new media architecture very effectively. The Tea Party really borrowed very heavily from Barack Obama’s template, and they didn’t see, I think, the ability of non-elite, non-organizations to organize, to connect, to stimulate a grassroots activity. I think that’s one of the things they missed.

KURTZ: And, by the way, CNN has gotten some heat for agreeing to co-sponsor a GOP presidential race next year with the Tea Party Express, one of these groups. Does that concern you at all, that partnership?

ROBERTS: No, because I think that they are an important part of the American landscape. Now I don’t think they’re as important as they think they are. I mean, you had people coming into Washington this week and saying, wait, we won. No, you didn’t win. You won a couple of seats, and you got to deal with everybody else.

KURTZ: More than a couple.

...

KURTZ: When you look back, Amy Holmes, at Obama over the last year, he had a tough year; no question about it, the successes since the shellacking aside. Did the media kind of turn on him as his poll numbers sunk, and the coverage got more negative?

AMY HOLMES, FORMER USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Indeed they did. And actually, listening to this conversation, I was thinking one of the big pieces of this is how the media follows the polls. And if the President is up, his coverage tends to be more positive. If the President’s numbers are down, then the President, or sorry, the press becomes a lot more aggressive in asking him to explain himself. Also, Barack Obama’s year was such a mixed bag. He had huge legislative successes. He did pass Obamacare, after all, even though it was on a purely partisan basis. But we also saw Obamacare sinking in popularity, and, of course, the shellacking at the mid-term. But when you went through that preview, or sorry, intro of back and forth and back and forth, it was like watching a tennis game. And so much of it was it seems the press’s herd mentality in following one story sort of lurching from week to week. And now they’re back in love.

KURTZ: But on these legislative victories, Thomas Frank, and I don’t know if they’re back in love, but certainly the President getting better press in the last few weeks as he’s piled up some victories in this lame duck session, but the passage of health care, the passage of financial reform, it always seemed to me that when it finally happened, it became a one-day story, and the press didn’t really give the President credit for what he had accomplished, whether you happen to agree with those legislative proposals or not.

THOMAS FRANK, HARPER’S MAGAZINE: Whether they gave him credit or not? Look, I’m one of the, I guess I’d be one of the people that turned on Obama pretty early, although that’s a harsh way to put it. I mean, I had a lot of, you know-

KURTZ: Hope.

FRANK: I had a lot of hope for the guy way back when. And he has been a sort of, an off and on disappointment to me, you know, speaking as the sort of the big liberal at the table. He has been a big disappointment for me over the course of the last couple of years. And, you know, but none of this has been a surprise.

KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) -been a disappointment, but to talk about the way you would write about him, or the way your friends on the left would write about him. Big disappointment who nevertheless got a lot of stuff done- (INAUDIBLE)

FRANK: That’s true. He, look what he just did the other day. I mean, it’s a great accomplishment. He did get something done with health care. I mean, it was the constant selling out earlier in the process, remember, negotiating with the R’s, and then the R’s walked away from the table.

LAURA ASHBURN: I’ve said this in the past on this show, is that he had these wonderful legislative victories for the liberals. And yet the White House doesn’t say, hey, look, hey, look what we did. And it gets lost.

ROBERTS: Well, this is a very odd conversation to be having, that somehow he’s disappointed the liberals when the conventional wisdom around Washington for years has been that the press is all liberal and they’re too, and they coddle Democrats. The truth is that what the press does is they are always in favor of a good story and against who’s ever in power. That’s the way news rooms work in this city. And it worked against Obama, for Obama when he was a candidate. It worked against him once he became President.

...

ROBERTS: That was one of the great failures of the press in this campaign. They paid attention to Christine O’Donnell and Paladino and Sharron Angle. Sharron Angle, the only one who had a chance to win of those three.

...

ROBERTS: And the fact is that there were far more important people running, far more serious people running. ... This is political coverage filtered through Entertainment Tonight.

...

ROBERTS: I think that one of the failings was, was to allow, talk about victimization. I mean, the families of 9/11, I have enormous sympathy for them, but they’re not the only American voice. And the voice here that somehow the memory of their loved ones was desecrated by a, this mosque is run by people who are exponents of interfaith tolerance. They’re the best of breed. They’re exactly what we want in the Islamic community in America.

...

ROBERTS: That’s not the, that’s not the real problem with, as it was with Sanchez. Juan Williams, the real problem there was there was an inherent contradiction between his two roles on these two different outlets. He was an analyst on NPR. He was an opinionator on Fox. NPR has been increasingly unhappy with the conflict for years. I think they handled it badly, but they allowed the problem to fester, and it finally blew up in their face.

...

ROBERTS: Juan has, you know, been hired and gotten a very lucrative contract at Fox. But there is an issue there. And TV often does not do a very good job of labeling what you’re getting. Part of the problem is deception here. On NPR, he was an analyst. And he was paid to do a certain role. If you go on Bill O’Reilly, and you get pushed as we all do when we go on these shows, to be more and more opinionated, more and more sensational, more and more out there, then you got to pay a price at NPR. And I think that’s what happened.