The Washington Post Even Tilts the Obits: 'Visionary Scientist' vs. 'Fiscal Fascist'

The obituary pages of Wednesday’s Washington Post displayed a very obvious bias in labeling two political figures. On page B7, the Post honored radical-left ecologist Barry Commoner. The Post’s Matt Schudel began: “Barry Commoner, a visionary scientist and author who helped launch the environmental movement in the United States and whose ideas influenced public thinking about nuclear testing, energy consumption, and recycling, died Sept. 30 at a hospital in New York.”

There was no ideological labeling in the piece. Younger Americans would remember Commoner as the radical who ran for president in 1980 with a radio ad with an actor saying “Bulls--t! Carter, Reagan and Anderson, it's all bulls--t!" That candidacy drew one sentence. Then consider how they “honored” conservative former Arizona congressman Sam Steiger on page B8:

Sam Steiger, an Arizona Republican and self-described “fiscal fascist” who amassed a staunchly conservative voting record during five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and who drew attention for his sharp tongue and sharkskin boots and for shooting two burros, died. Sept. 26 near Prescott, Ariz.”

The Post’s Stephanie Dazio added that Steiger "boasted of voting against pro-environmental legislation. He established a voting record that garnered him lower ratings from liberal organizations than Sen. Barry Goldwater, his fellow Arizona Republican who had run for president in 1964 on a hard-right platform."

Schudel's Commoner obituary went straight to Ralph Nader to explain how Commoner was brilliant and the greatest environmentalist ever:

Along with “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson, Sierra Club leader David Brower and scientist-author Aldo Leopold, Dr. Commoner is considered one of the primary founders of the modern environmental movement.

Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover in 1970, saying he “has probably done more than any other U.S. scientist to speak out and awaken a sense of urgency about the declining quality of life.”

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader unequivocally describes Dr. Commoner as “the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century.”

“Nobody did what he did,” Nader said Tuesday in an interview. “He was a scientist, a best-selling author, a brilliant writer whose books are still read today. He ran for president. There was a tremendous variety to his efforts. When I say he’s the greatest environmentalist, it isn’t even close.”

A longtime professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Commoner was one of the country’s most visible public intellectuals during the 1960s and 1970s. His books sold hundreds of thousands of copies, he often appeared on television talk shows, and listeners flocked to his lectures throughout the country.

The New York Times obit for Commoner was also positive, titled “Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard.” Daniel Lewis began: “Barry Commoner, a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s political cause, died on Sunday in Manhattan.”

But at least the Times obit admitted “he came armed with a combination of scientific expertise and leftist zeal....Having been grounded, as an undergraduate, in Marxist theory, he saw his main target as capitalist ‘systems of production’ in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation that emphasized profits and technological progress with little regard for consequences”.

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