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Media Bias in the Age of Obama

The soft and at times obsequious interview Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” did with Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) has received a lot of justifiable criticism. (Conor Friedersdorf demolishes Kroft in this piece.) Mr. Kroft didn’t help himself when he told CNN’s Piers Morgan that one of the reasons the president turns to Kroft so often is that he doesn’t use “gotcha questions” on Mr. Obama–the kind that “60 Minutes” routinely used against President Bush and other Republicans like Representative Eric Cantor.

But Mr. Kroft, as embarrassing as his interview was, is merely symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.

To say that the elite media has a liberal bias is similar to declaring that the sun rises in the east. But it’s never been this transparent, the infatuation never this deep, the advocacy this passionate. We are now seeing shows like “60 Minutes”–once a fearless giant in journalism–give interviews that you would expect to see on Entertainment Tonight or state-run television. We’re at the point when we have to count on tough interviews coming from news outlets like Univision. There are of course exceptions to this–journalists who are both tough-minded and fair-minded. But among the most significant political developments of our time is how many members of the press have become partisans in ways we’ve never before seen.

What explains this?

A combination of factors, I think. One is the rise of Fox News. For decades progressives had a monopoly on news, which meant they were content to slant the news but not routinely cross the line into advocacy. But now that Fox News has offered not only a different perspective, but a popular one, journalists may feel they must, in order to compensate for their loss of influence, increase their liberal advocacy.

A second factor is Barack Obama. He is liberal, Ivy League, and a person of color. That is simply too powerful of a combination for the elite media to resist. (If Obama were conservative, Ivy League, and a person of color, he would be a marked man, as Clarence Thomas has been.) Mr. Obama touches the media’s erogenous zone in ways that no other president, even JFK, ever has. One gets to sense that journalists not only like Mr. Obama; they are in awe of him. They want to impress him and please him and are afraid of being rebuked by him. (It is very much how my 3rd grade son views his teacher.) Being a bright fellow, Mr. Obama understands this, which is why from time to time he transitions from being president to being media critic. He issues marching orders to the elite media–and a stunningly high number of journalists salute and do as they are told.

A third factor is that more and more “objective” journalists seem to feel that liberalism is synonymous with social justice and they want to be in the midst of the fight to advance it. Hence we see people like Bob Schieffer and Tom Brokaw–who once upon a time would have actually tried to keep their biases reasonably in check–frame the issue over gun control as if we’re in Selma in 1965. It’s all rather silly–efforts to manufacture melodrama usually are–but I suppose there’s something emotionally satisfying about trying to recapture, over and over again, the moral moment that was the civil rights era.

All of this helps explain why Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high in 2012, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

There is some rough justice, I suppose, in members of the press being the architects in their own profession’s destruction. It will be interesting to see how much worse things will get, and what will finally emerge from the wreckage. 


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