Thursday, September 04, 2008

accusations of liberal media bias a tired shibboleth

Allow me to say that I have grown weary of hearing about liberal media bias every time Sarah Palin comes across poorly in the press.

This has come up most recently in a political discussion on a religion and humor forum I frequent. An acquaintance of mine known as RBP recently complained that the coverage of former Democratic candidate Jon Edwards' affair in the press was delayed and sorely lacking, Coverage of the teenage pregnancy of Bristol Palin, the daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has been extensive and immediate. It's a double standard obviously. (You may read RBP's comments here, if you like, along with the entire discussion.)

Now I will grant that the coverage of Bristol Palin's teen pregnancy has been overdone. She's not running for vice president; her mother is. But not newsworthy? Sarah Palin has been running in part on her supposedly superior family values, including an opposition to safe sex education, which does lead to a reduction to teen pregnancy. The contrast is worth noting.

As for Edwards, I don't know how much the news media knew before he finally admitted to the extramarital affair, but let's be fair. Saying that legitimate news media failed to cover something reported in The National Enquirer is rather like taking them to task for failing to cover Bat Boy.

Edwards is a public person, but at the time the Enquirer broke the news, he was not a presidential candidate nor even particularly clearly a favorite for vice president. I'm not sure what public good was neglected in this case. And again, The Enquirer is hardly a font of credible journalism. Perhaps the respectable news media should be all over the impending Bush divorce that the tabloids have been reporting?

Let's look at other high-level affairs and how the news media have covered them.

Not that many years ago the press dug into the story of Clinton's affair with such thoroughness that not only were there stories on how many news outlets were covering Zippergate, there were news stories about many news outlers were covering the coverage of Zippergate. Was that a liberal bias at work, or a conservative bias? Or was it merely pandering to the baser appetites of the public for salacious details about our leaders?

For that matter, John Kerry didn't even have an affair in 2004, but the media still dug into the private life of one of his campaign staffers and made her life a living hell.

Gary Bauer took the unusual step of holding a news conference during Primary 2000 to announce that he wasn't having an affair with his staffers, and was pretty much given a free pass. I mean, really, there's not much of a better way to draw attention to a potential impropriety than to insist that it's not what people think, especially when no one publicly is thinking it.

From I have been told by other journalists, the word around Washington, D.C., during the presidency of George H.W. Bush is that he also was having an affair. I recall no coverage of this at the time. Further liberal bias at work?

I know that "liberal media bias" is an important shibboleth within conservative culture, but let's be fair. Repeat it enough, start assuming it from the get-go, and dang if you won't find boatloads of evidence of it. The New York Times could say that President Bush walks on water, and the response would be "Those dirty liberals are suggesting Bush thinks he's above the law of gravity!"

There are plenty of other reasonable explanations why the Edwards affair wasn't aired immediately, and the Palin situation was. Let's be reasonable, and stop blaming news we don't like on a liberal media bias.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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