A Liberal Bias? David Brooks Says Aye, While Shields, Ifill, and Schieffer Say Nay

CBS Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer held his fifth Schieffer symposium at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth on Wednesday, and his panel was completely chosen from the set of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: anchor Gwen Ifill and columnists David Brooks and Mark Shields. Associated Press covered it, but not so much on the issue of liberal bias. The headline was "Media panel says constant Obama coverage warranted."The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was more pointed, with a headline asking "Do journalists have a liberal bias?" Reporter Gene Trainor began:

Are the news media biased toward President Barack Obama?David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, said yes before a sold-out crowd of about 700 Wednesday at Texas Christian University. Mark Shields, a nationally syndicated liberal columnist, said no. Brooks said : "I think the press is pro-Obama. Most of my colleagues are extremely committed to the craft of journalism. So I think most of the bias is unconscious — in framing the issues and what gets paid attention to."

But AP also found that "conservative" Brooks had to moderate it, pull it back a little:

Brooks said he believes the press has a subconscious liberal bias, but that "for all the adulation, I think that there's been a level of scrutiny" on the stimulus package and problems with some of his initial Cabinet choices."Most reporters are motivated by a desire to get on page one" and not any political leanings, he said.

Shields tried the usual trope that the media has a bias toward winners – not that media bias can make winners:

"I personally believe that the press has a serious bias when it comes to presidential politics in favor of winners. If you win, you’re a genius. If you lose, you’re somehow inadequate. That’s the bias we have." He noted that four years ago former President George W. Bush’s campaign architect Karl Rove was considered a genius. "I haven’t heard that about him in the last three years."

AP added this quote from Shields about the president: "I don't think he's getting a free ride." Trainor reported the other two panelists were in the usual mode of denial:

Ifill: "Intensity" would be a better word than bias. "I have been around people who always say, 'What do you think is going to happen next?’ They’re so nervous. They’ve counted so much on this presidency. I think sometimes the coverage is being driven by the intensity of voters."Schieffer, a 1959 TCU graduate: Most journalists are focused on getting the story. "We’re never going to do a perfect job. We’re never going to satisfy everybody. I myself think the press has done a pretty good job considering the problems that confront the country.

It shouldn't be too surprising that PBS commentators were going to be weak in general on the media-bias question. AP's story briefly mentioned the minor fracas over Ifill moderating the vice-presidential debate while she was composing her laudatory book about "The Breakthrough" of the Obama age, complete with comfy interviews with Obama aides like David Plouffe. CNBC's Trish Regan was also on the panel, but her remarks were not reported in these stories.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis