WashPost's Dramatic Bias By Omission on Behalf of Rick Kaplan, Bill Maher

Does the Washington Post practice bias by omission out of sensitivity to fellow liberals? Open to Friday's Style section, and the bias by omission (and delay) is, at least to a conservative, utterly mind-boggling. As Howard Kurtz covered the story of Rick Kaplan arriving at what seems like his 26th appointment at the top of a liberal network or show, when did Kurtz explain that then-ABC producer Rick Kaplan was an unpaid adviser to Bill Clinton through his first Gennifer Flowers scandal, told him which shows to do and how to be credible? He mentioned in paragraph 16 -- and, um, not at the beginning of paragraph 16 -- Kurtz related "A personal friend of Bill Clinton, he drew some criticism for twice sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom but said it did not affect his journalism." That was it. (Kurtz also never explains Kaplan was his boss at CNN for years.)

But the truly stupendous act of omission was the largest piece on the front of Style, William Booth's big profile of Bill Maher, which does not even mention -- even as the reporter described last Friday's show in detail as he witnessed it live -- Maher's passionate defense of commenters at the Huffington Post who desire Dick Cheney assassinated.

This is additionally amazing considering that Howard Kurtz did a long piece inveighing against Coulter on Tuesday with a headline that suggested she should destroy herself already: "The Long Fuse on Ann Coulter's Bomb." Kurtz never even mentioned how most conservatives demanded the media consider Maher's defense of whack-Cheney wackos as a counter-example of outrageousness. Kurtz did include Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos as a media critic, complaining there's a "double standard" because coverage of Coulter's joke was delayed. Conservative bloggers were quoted -- as long as they were expressing disgust with Coulter.

On Monday, Kurtz was even asked (and accepted) several questions on his weekly online chat about Maher. When asked by a conservative disgusted by Coulter how Maher stacked up next to her, Kurtz pleaded ignorance: "I'm not familiar with that Maher comment or joke."

Yes, and many readers of the Post still aren't familiar with it either.

Kurtz displayed ignorance when a liberal complained a few questions later that Coulter is much more prominent among conservatives than anonymous Huffington Post commenters are among liberals. Kurtz agreed: "Coulter's comments are more telling because a major conservative conference of the Republican Party invited her to speak. Again, I never said that the nutjobs posting Cheney death wishes on the HuffPost were representative of anything other than the fringe, despite what some bloggers may be saying. You can look it up."

He utterly missed the point that Maher had defended the fringe "nutjobs" on his show.

William Booth's article today is headlined "A Real Live Wire: Enjoying a Long Run On HBO, Bill Maher Could Go On Zinging." Booth begins by noting Maher is a "bit of a waif...he looks almost delicate." Booth does mention one Maher gaffe -- without direct quotation -- but typically mangles what happened at ABC and the context of Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's response:

He was fired by ABC after famously saying that the suicide hijackers who hit the twin towers might have been many things but they weren't cowards, an opinion that earned Maher a warning from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that all Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

Actually, Booth omits the idea that Maher attacked American pilots as cowards, and then hailed brave terrorists: "We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away, that’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, not cowardly." And when he said it: September 17, six days after the attacks. Booth makes it sound like ABC fired him the day after Fleischer spoke. Actually, after some ABC affiliates stopping airing the show (including WJLA here in Washington), ABC decided not to renew his contract in June of 2002. There were other controversies besides the brave-al-Qaeda remarks, including his comparison of his dogs to retarded children.

As for Fleischer, I was there in the White House briefing room that day, and the remark is always mangled. Fleischer was asked by Baltimore gadfly Les Kinsolving about Maher, but had also faced questions minutes earlier about Democratic Rep. John Cooksey quipping that airport security should search anyone wearing "a diaper on his head," and Fleischer was counseling people not to be hot-headed: "They're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

Instead of casting Maher as Exhibit A of Bush Hatred, Booth actually let him paint himself as a moderate without an agenda. He quoted Maher saying, "It's not the Bill Maher agenda show. It's not the guest agenda show. The news is the agenda." Conservative criticism appeared in paragraph 15, as Booth explains that Maher is "pro-defense" and voted for Dole in 1996:

Psst. A little secret. A number of Republicans, conservatives and rightward blogger-types dislike Maher, seeing him as a traditional Hollywood liberal and as something of a 51-year-old sybarite -- he drives a Lexus hybrid, has never married, dates fly girls, has no desire for babies (whom he calls "drooling snot wads") and goes to the Playboy Mansion -- a lot a lot.

But Maher is more of the libertarian. He's for the death penalty and animal rights; he'd legalize gambling, prostitution and drugs; he'd shut down the National Endowment for the Arts; he's anti-religion and pro-defense; and he voted for Dole, Nader and Kerry. You know who loves the guy? Maher is a Friend of Bill -- and not Bill Clinton (who has never done the show; neither has his wife, though the bookers have begged). No, he's a friend of Fox's Bill O'Reilly, who has Maher on all the time.

Booth mentioned the subject of Cheney and the Afghan suicide bomber, but only in noting Maher's joke at the show's start:

Then Maher comes out for the opening monologue -- and now he is definitely switched to "on." "Have you heard about this, this week? The Taliban tried to blow up Dick Cheney. Don't worry, he's okay. [Audience goes awww, as if they're disappointed.] No, he was never in danger. At the time of the attack he was safely asleep in his coffin." (Brackets his.)

His summary of the panel discussion where Maher defended the whack-Cheney jokers doesn't even include the topic of Cheney as it's recounted:

To the panel discussion. Opening line from Maher to Barney Frank: "What's the Democratic plan to kill the people who need killing?" The guests are, as Maher promised, frisky and informed, though they do keep overlapping each other's lines. Over the next half-hour, the panel discusses: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whether Jesus is the son of God, the legacy of slavery, the condition of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the treatment of wounded veterans, wasted lives compared with sacrificed lives, and Al Gore's weight. Maher's concluding editorial? On human papillomavirus. The show is remarkable in its heaviness of content.

Actually, the show is remarkable for the number of outrageous celebrity emissions of Bush hatred and the stupidity of American troops, if not its defense of assassination jokes. But it's not as remarkable as the Post utterly ignoring the inconvenient truth of Maher's remarkable incivility.

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