"Progressives Believe In Journalism," And Conservatives Don't?

Arrogance: "a feeling or an impression of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptous claims." – Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

The word is well-defined in sentences like these from the liberals:

[T]he right’s sustained accusation of "bias" is both a powerful organizing tool...and an effective way of "working the refs." Knowing that they face constant charges of bias, reporters respond by bending over backward to show how tough they can be on progressives and Democrats. In contrast, when Media Matters for America criticizes the news media, it’s for a simple reason: we want them to do their jobs and do them right.

There may be no more profound difference between the left and the right on media issues than this: progressives believe in journalism.

The author is Paul Waldman of Media Matters for America, a specialist in offering overbearing opinions and presumptous claims. In this case, it's offered on the CBS News website Public Eye.

Conservatives believe in journalism, too. Conservatives believe in journalists doing their jobs right, too. To deny that conservatives believe in these things is to draw conservatives with a crude Crayola. It's an insult not just to conservatives, but to the intelligence of the public in general.

Conservative media critics do not (or should) not accept the idea that media criticism is "working the refs." We reject the idea that the media are the slightest bit interest in officiating politics. They want to be players. They want to make the three-point shot at the buzzer (in the 2004 cycle, that would have been al-Qaqaa or the Rather phony-memo fiasco). If these people were to be seen as referees at an actual sporting event, they’d be chased out of the arena within minutes for their blatant, obvious favoritism toward one team.

This blog doesn’t have room for the many ways this Waldman article can be found objectionable. Let’s just take a few more:

But in recent years the right wing has undertaken an assault not only on what they perceive as coverage unfavorable to their cause, but on the very idea of objective news. Conservatives have become the true post-modernists, arguing that any news presentation that reflects badly on Republicans must have a "liberal bias" – that there are no facts, only their (right) opinion and everyone else’s (wrong) opinion...As Rob Corddry of The Daily Show put it, "From the names of our fallen soldiers to the gradual withdrawal of our allies to the growing insurgency, it’s become all too clear that facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda."

This is just not anywhere close to true. Allow me to quote from MRC guru Brent Baker in our old book How To Identify, Expose & Correct Liberal Media Bias:

Just because a news story portrays a conservative in a negative light does not necessarily make it biased. If a conservative politician is mired in a corruption probe, mentioning this in a news story is hardly a sign of bias. Refer back to the definition of bias by story selection. If a newspaper runs more stories by a conservative in ethics trouble than a liberal holding an equal or more powerful post, then that is bias.

We found this, for example, in comparing coverage of Attorney General Ed Meese and House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989. Or look at today. Stories on the ethics probe of Tom DeLay aren’t biased just because they exist. But in the DeLay case, one contrast is his adversary, county prosecutor Ronnie Earle, has been portrayed as a nonpartisan straight-arrow guy – very differently than the way the media portrayed Clinton prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Baker is more explicit in rejecting "postmodern" takes on truth:

You must step back from your activist conservative standpoint and look at things from a reporter’s perspective...Before assuming the story is biased, ask yourself: ‘Is it true?’ If it is, and you cite it as an example of bias, you’ll only hurt your credibility

Waldman is silly to claim conservatives don’t recognize facts, and sillier to steal comedian’s jokes about the "facts having an anti-Bush agenda." Sectarian violence is a fact in Iraq. So is the fact that most of Iraq is stable. How does the media arrange a hierarchy of facts? A story can be utterly and completely factual and truthful and still be remarkably slanted in favor of one side.

Finally, a colleague was astonished by this paragraph:

But in recent years we’ve seen a press that doesn’t seem to have the courage to call lies by their name. Instead, the most egregious deceptions are presented in "he said/she said" format: the White House says the moon is made of green cheese, Democrats disagree. Who’s right? Who knows? The result is that citizens are supposed to sort through contradictory claims to figure out what’s true, something they have neither the time nor the resources to do.

This objection to the airing of "contradictory claims" is odd coming from someone who's just accused conservatives of believing the news should reflect "their (right) opinion" and not "everyone else’s (wrong) opinion." But worse than that is Waldman’s membership in what we might call the Carole Simpson School of Patronizing Mind-Control Journalism. This school assumes that the everyday voter is far too busy to sort out who’s telling the truth in politics, and they need a politically correct guardian to guide them to the promised land:

 "I won't make any pretense that the American Agenda is totally neutral. We do take a position. And I think the public wants us now to take a position. If you give both sides and `Well, on the one hand this and on the other that' -- I think people kind of really want you to help direct their thinking on some issues." – ABC reporter Carole Simpson on CNBC’s Equal Time, August 9, 1994.

If you want to compare the Media Matters opus for CBS to the MRC opus for CBS, click here. It's an example of MRC's pre-emptive war doctrine. We claimed we're fans of journalism, too, and that "we’re willing to consider that many stories we don’t like, like the Cheney frenzy this week, are undeniably news."

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