It has long been an article of faith on the right that the mainstream media is “liberal” and biased in favor of the Democratic Party. At the same time, the GOP has been attacking alleged liberal press bias since the Nixon Administration. During the early 1970s, Spiro Agnew attacked the press as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” The attacks from the right have only continued and escalated since then. But is the press in the pocket of the Democratic Party? I say let’s take a look at the record going back to 1992.
Beginning with the election campaign of 1992 and throughout the Clinton Administration, the GOP pushed out a phony narrative of Clinton scandals. We heard all about Whitewater, the travel office firings, the Rose law firm files, FBI files, Vince Foster and Monica Lewinsky. The GOP couldn’t have successfully pushed out these phony scandals without a big assist from the mainstream media. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post wasted a lot of space pursuing these false allegations.
The press continued to adopt partisan GOP talking points during the 2000 election cycle. According to a study by Eric Alterman: “More than 1,000 cases of press coverage of Gore and Bush found that Gore was portrayed more often in significantly negative terms: “scandal-tainted” and as a “liar” or “exaggerator.”
Perhaps the apogee of the GOP lies about Al Gore adopted by the press was that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. That allegation was fact checked and Gore never said anything like this. Instead, Gore correctly maintained that he sponsored legislation that led to the development of the internet.
At the same time in 2000, the press gave George W. Bush a free pass. His failed and checkered business career was never properly scrutinized. Moreover, the press accepted at face value Bush’s false claim that most of his tax cuts were going to the middle class.
This pattern of deference to Bush continued during his first term. In the run up to the Iraq War in 2002–03, the mainstream press acted as stenographers for the Bush Administration’s phony claims that Iraq had a fearsome arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Bush’s apologists have since contended that the U.S. intelligence agencies simply made a series of honest mistakes. The reality is that according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2008: “The Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
The biggest press failure during the Obama Administration was when it sided with Congressional Republicans in 2011–12 in demanding that deficit reduction be the nation’s highest priority even though unemployment was still high. There were numerous prominent economists during Obama’s first term who (correctly) contended that we needed more economic stimulus, rather than austerity. As Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote during Obama’s first term, for some reason “the usual rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit; the wisdom and virtue of deficit warriors were simply taken for granted.”
The mainstream press again badly failed the American people during the 2016 election cycle. (Are we beginning to see a pattern?) According to Media Quant, a media tracking firm, the mainstream press gave Donald Trump $5 billion in free media during that election cycle.
At the same time, the “liberal” mainstream media obsessed on the Clinton email server story. According to Columbia Journalism Review: “In just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all the policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” Oddly enough, the mainstream press has failed to spend much time discussing the Trump Administration’s extensive use of private email accounts to conduct official business.
Recent events indicate that the mainstream press is repeating its 2016 malpractice. The “liberal” media has given inordinate attention to poorly documented allegations of sexual misconduct made by Tara Reade against Joe Biden while simultaneously ignoring the twenty five credible allegations of sexual assault made by Donald Trump’s victims.
What would explain the media’s apparent bias in favor of the Republicans and their candidates? One would be that the press has been bullied and intimidated by the GOP for decades and they’re simply afraid of them. As a result, in order to show “balance,” the press bends over backwards to bash the Democrats. Appeasing the GOP will never buy the press any peace — the GOP will continue to attack them. The GOP is simply very good at playing the refs.
The other explanation I’ve seen comes from former Reagan economic adviser, Bruce Bartlett. This former Reaganite- and now progressive - has argued that most reporters in the elite media fancy themselves as libertarians. That way they can claim they are “non-partisan” while they advocate for GOP economic policies of low taxes for the rich and austerity for the middle class and the poor.
We Democrats can’t count on the press to act as neutral fact finders during this election cycle. We need to act as fact checkers ourselves. If the press is wrong or lying, please post about it on your social media accounts and email it out to your friends. While you’re at it, please play the refs. Send emails or tweets to reporters who adopt phony Republican talking points. Or post a reply on Facebook to their bogus stories.
It’s all hands on deck for the 2020 election cycle. The outcome of this election is literally a matter of life or death. Volunteer and/or contribute to your favorite candidates. We are the true majority in the country. Let’s leave all out on the field! On to victory in November!