Taranto: ‘Obama Presidency Has Given Liberal Media Bias a New and Dangerous Form’

“Liberal media bias is an old complaint,” the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto noted in his “Best of the Web Today” column this past Monday on responses to the Obama scandals, before warning: “The Obama presidency has given it a new and dangerous form. Never has the prevailing bias of the media been so closely aligned with the ideological aims and political interests of the party in power.”

He recognized “the American media remain free and independent, or you would not be reading this column,” but zinged, “to a large extent they have functioned for the past few years as if they were under state control.”

As an example, he cited a Washington Post article, in which reporters Zachary A. Goldfarb and Kimberly Kindy described as a “good-government group” the left-wing Democracy 21 which pressured the IRS to scrutinize Tea Party groups, without any consideration that the Tea Party groups believe they, too, are working for good government.

Taranto: “Tea Party organizations conceive of themselves as good-government groups, just as Democracy 21 does. The Post accepts the latter characterization, but not the former, unquestioningly.”

An excerpt from Taranto’s May 20 post, “A Crisis of Authority: The deeper meaning of the Obama scandals.”

....Liberal media bias is an old complaint, but the Obama presidency has given it a new and dangerous form. Never has the prevailing bias of the media been so closely aligned with the ideological aims and political interests of the party in power. The American media remain free and independent, or you would not be reading this column. But to a large extent they have functioned for the past few years as if they were under state control.

The problem of media bias runs deep, and it often does not take the form of open partisanship. Here's an example, from a Washington Post story on the IRS scandal:

“Nonprofit groups that do not have to pay taxes are supposed to ensure that political activity is not their primary purpose, so evidence that some of the new organizations seeking tax-exempt status were fronts for campaign organizations drew bipartisan interest. Good-government groups started pressuring the IRS to more closely scrutinize applicants. One such group, Democracy 21, wrote a series of letters to the IRS arguing that many of the groups should not receive favored tax status.

“‘In all of these cases, the groups were claiming (c)(4) status basically for the purpose of hiding their donors,’ said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.”

There’s a whole world of bias in that phrase “good-government groups.” According to the Inspector General’s report, one of the red flags the IRS used to identify dissident organizations for targeting was “education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live.’” Tea Party organizations conceive of themselves as good-government groups, just as Democracy 21 does. The Post accepts the latter characterization, but not the former, unquestioningly.

The description of Democracy 21 as a “good-government group” is especially inapt in this particular story. Wertheimer’s organization wrote letters lobbying the IRS to take action against political groups of whose activities it disapproved. The IRS did Wertheimer’s bidding, and in so doing massively abused its power. The IRS, not Wertheimer, is culpable for the abuse of power. But it is preposterous to label Democracy 21 “a good-government group” in the course of telling how its activities encouraged an abuse of governmental power.

“Good-government group” is a misleading designation for another reason. As we noted last week, Democracy 21 is itself a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) corporation. In lobbying the IRS to investigate nonprofits for engaging in political activity, Democracy 21, a nonprofit, was engaging in political activity....

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center