Salon columnist Max Blumenthal continues to get flak for his slanderous, factually-challenged hit piece on conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe last week. The column, premised on a host of omissions and baseless assumptions, contended that O'Keefe's is a racist.
Blumenthal's latest critic is Columbia Journalism Review, Old Media's paragon of journalistic elitism. CJR has requested that he correct but one of the many errors that comprise his column.
But CJR really has a problem, it seems, that Blumenthal has given ammunition to critics who claim Old Media is rife with liberal bias. CJR contributor Greg Marx lamented that Blumenthal and other quasi-journalists, in ignoring facts to support their agendas,give "ready-made ammunition for that broader campaign."
Breitbart, O’Keefe, and their circle have been able to build an audience in part by exploiting the idea that “the mainstream media”—a term that has been stretched beyond all utility, but by which they often seem to mean any outlet without an avowedly right-wing perspective—does not apply the rules consistently, and can not be expected to treat conservatives fairly. It’s a strategy that doesn’t just acknowledge but enthusiastically embraces the splintering of the audience—and with it, the shrinking of the public’s trust in media—along ideological lines. And an error of this sort does more than provide O’Keefe with a defense, by allowing him to shift the focus to a point that was not proven. It also, for every minute that it’s out there, provides ready-made ammunition for that broader campaign—and for the idea that the media is motivated by ideological biases and personal vendettas, unconstrained by norms that ensure fairness and accuracy.
Breitbart, O'Keefe, NewsBusters, the Media Research Center, and every other organization, news outlet, and individual dedicated to exposing liberal bias in the news media have found success not because they splinter news consumers upon ideological lines and then cater to the right.
They are, on the contrary, responding to a widespread perception among Americans of all political stripes that journalists and the Old Media generally are overwhelmingly liberal. They are not creating this perception, nor are they "exploiting" it; they are exposing it, in spite of the incessant denials from Old Media vanguards like CJR.
In fact, a Gallup poll released last month found that 64 percent of Americans believe the news media did a "fair" or "poor" job as a watchdog during the first year of the Obama Administration. This is far from the first poll to have shown that the media has largely been in the tank for President Obama, and out to get conservative Republicans.
According to a Rasmussen poll released last month, the majority of the American electorate believes "the average reporter is more liberal than they are."
A Rasmussen poll from September 2008 found that "[s]even out of 10 voters (69%) remain convinced that reporters try to help the candidate they want to win, and this year by a nearly five-to-one margin voters believe they are trying to help Barack Obama." A Sacred Heart poll a year later found that almost 90 percent believed journalists actively worked to elect Obama.
Another Rasmussen poll taken the same month found that by more than a 10-to-1 margin, Americans believed reporters were trying to hurt Sarah Palin rather than help her. A Fox News poll shows 61 percent believe the press treated her unfairly.
A Fox News poll in July 2008 found that more than two-thirds of Americans believed journalists wanted Obama to win the election. Only 11 percent of respondents said they felt that the media had been a neutral force during the campaign, and by a 7-to-1 margin, they said that journalists had favored Obama rather than McCain.
These poll results should not be all that surprising, given that survey after survey since the 1960s has found that journalists are, by and large, liberal. They are only human, and while some are able to conceal their biases, and insulate their reporting from personal preference, most seem either unable or unwilling to do so.
So Breitbart and O'Keefe, along with all others who work to combat the liberal favoritism rampant in the news media, are actually responding to popular dissatisfaction with the decidedly liberal press. They are objecting not to the presence but to the overwhelming dominance of liberalism in the newsroom.
This is the bigger stakes here: the press’s ability to make a claim for the public’s trust. Part of the way to do that is to make the case, aggressively, for good journalism. But an equally important step is for the press to live up to its own high standards, to demonstrate what good journalism demands.
The overwhelming evidence indicates that large swaths of the public have already given up their trust in the news media precisely due to its inability to live up to its own standards.
Ironically, given that he went on to dismiss the notion of a broad liberal bias in the media, Marx suggested that Blumenthal's ends--depicting O'Keefe as a racist--were just fine, while his means were objectionable.
"Blumenthal did have a real story on his hands," Marx wrote "[T]here has existed among young conservative activists a subculture in which it was considered daring to dabble in extremist politics." Yes, those darned young conservative activists just won't stop dabbling in extremism (why can't they be more like those young liberal activists? Lord knows there's not an extremist among them).
Yes, Blumenthal offered further confirmation that some journalists--a minority, but they are there--will simply ignore the facts to pursue political agendas as they see fit. That Blumenthal is biased goes without saying. It was his utter disregard for standard of truth that was stunning. As CJR put it, "Blumenthal’s article undermined the credibility of its broader argument."
But he is not the first by a long-shot to disregard that high standard of objectivity that journalists hold so dear. The American people realize that the standard is routinely violated, as do O'Keefe and Breitbart.