The mainstream media’s liberal bias long ago ceased to be a matter of debate. Other than the conservative strongholds of talk radio and Fox News, few pundits even bother to argue anymore that the overwhelming majority of their platforms tilt to the left. But that still doesn’t stop some of them from trying to deny the obvious. A prime example comes today from the normally sober Howard Kurtz, who writes in the Daily Beast to claim that President Obama has received more unfavorable press coverage than the Republican candidates during the recent GOP nomination contest.
Kurtz bases his assertion on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that analyzed the positive and negative treatment of the president and the candidates in the press during the last few months. But the main takeaway from their data is not so much that the press was filled with Obama-bashing — a result that was generated mostly by the fact that all the GOP candidates were critical of the president — but that his normally adoring press corps covered him more like a candidate than a commander-in-chief. That might have more to do with the fact that Obama has been spent more time in the last year playing the partisan than governing. A more insightful conclusion about the press and Obama came from an unlikely source — Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times – who wrote yesterday to call out his own paper for their fawning and biased coverage of the president.
Brisbane is, for once, spot on in his analysis of the Times’ embarrassingly obvious tilt toward President Obama:
Many critics view the Times as constitutionally unable to address the election in an unbiased fashion. Like a lot of America, it basked a bit in the warm glow of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. The company published a book about the country’s first African-American president, “Obama: The Historic Journey.” The Times also published a lengthy portrait of him in its Times Topics section on NYTimes.com, yet there’s nothing of the kind about George W. Bush or his father.
According to a study by the media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, the Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
Brisbane deserves some credit for pointing out that the Times’s bias issues stem not only from a skewed news section and unbalanced opinion pages but also from liberal feature writers who work in criticisms of the right into extraneous topics. He says these problems can be overcome, however, if the paper’s reporters provide hard-nosed coverage of Obama’s campaign, his promises and record. But given the Times’s predilection during the past year for attack pieces on Republicans and puffery about Obama, it requires an Olympic-style leap of faith to believe that the imbalance can be redressed by a decision to finally tell us “who is the real Barack Obama.”
As for the Pew Study that Kurtz referenced, it provides little reason for Democrats to complain. It is true that the absence of a Democratic primary battle gave the stage to Republicans who used it to compete with each other to see who could come across as the most heated opponent of the president. But the GOP candidates each got a great deal of negative coverage, the only exception being Ron Paul, who, though deserving of a scrutiny for his extremism, was mostly ignored. Mitt Romney fared well at times but mostly as a result of his primary victories, not due to any admiration or positive coverage of his positions on the issues. If, as Pew states, the president was covered more as a candidate than as a decision-maker, then it is because of how he conducted himself.
Brisbane’s comments about the Times could be applied to much of the media’s treatment of the president and the campaign. There is little doubt that the Obama-Romney contest will be largely colored by the predilection of the press to lionize the president as a historic figure while treating Romney as a figure of scorn. Given the willingness of many Americans to disdain the liberal bias of the press, such coverage won’t decide the outcome. But it is a fact that Romney will have to live with and overcome if he is to defeat an incumbent who, despite a poor record, is still being given the Camelot treatment from his cheerleaders at the Times and the rest of the press corps.