Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberal media bias

Liberal Media Bias

I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

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I wanted to follow up on my previous post that alluded to the effort by ABC’s Brian Ross to slander the Tea Party movement in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the effort by liberals to place the blame for President Kennedy’s assassination on the atmosphere of “right-wing hate” that supposedly characterized the city of Dallas. We later learned, of course, that Lee Harvey Oswald was sympathetic not to conservatism but to communism and Castro. That didn’t fit very well into the liberal template, but the left did what it could.

Beyond that historical parallel, the attempted smear by Ross underscores the extraordinary double standard between the media’s coverage of the Tea Party versus that of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The main residual effect of Tea Party rallies is that the grounds on which the rallies were held were usually cleaner after the Tea Party held their event than before they assembled.

For Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, we saw acts of violence and sexual assault; looting, vandalism, and the burning of property; rampant anti-Semitism; defecating on police cars; and all sorts of just plain trashy behavior. Yet the media seemed completely uninterested in the damage inflicted by the Occupy Wall Street movement even as it made up false things about the Tea Party. In fact, much of the coverage of OWS was downright sympathetic.

One can only imagine if the incidents that happened at OWS protests had occurred at Tea Party gatherings. We would have seen wall-to-wall coverage condemning the Tea Party. Yet when it came to the ugly and violent face of OWS, the offenses just weren’t all that troubling.

There’s nothing terribly deep or profound going on here. It is what one imagines it to be. What is happening is captured in the three words that cause many mainstream journalists to recoil but which are nonetheless true. And just what are those three words? Liberal media bias.

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Why Nothing Can Be Done About Shootings

When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

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When Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous speculated about the possibility that the tragedy was the work of a Tea Party member on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday they were probably saying aloud what most of the mainstream liberal media was thinking at the time. ABC has apologized for this irresponsible comment but now that it’s become clear that a mentally disturbed person with no apparent political agenda committed the tragedy, many on the left have fallen back on the trope that more gun control measures might have prevented the crime and are venting their frustration about the fact that the American people have little interest in more gun laws.

It is an article of faith on the left that banning certain types of weapons and making it more difficult to obtain all firearms will deter or prevent crime. The best we can say of this belief is that it is an unproven assumption. True or not, it’s clear the majority of Americans believe that government interference with gun rights scares them more than random acts of violence by the insane. But it is interesting that few seem to be speaking about a far more obvious conclusion that could be drawn from Aurora: the need to focus more attention on treating and preventing mental illness. But the problem with promoting that far more germane and productive line of inquiry is that it serves no one’s political interest.

The impulse to politicize the non-political is not limited to the left. Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said the tragedy was the product of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” No doubt that is something that many who worry about the direction of the country think whenever anything bad happens. Indeed, Gohmert’s statement recalls Newt Gingrich’s belief that Susan Smith’s murder of her two children in 1994 was the result of a sick society that could be cured by more people voting Republican. Liberals rightly mock such claims but that doesn’t stop them from riding their own favorite hobbyhorses when tragedy strikes.

If, as Politico rightly pointed out on Friday, that “nothing can be done” about such events, it is not really because of the power of the National Rifle Association but because the assumption that there is a political answer to every question is a fallacy. Many liberals may believe that it is only the evil gun lobby that enables the insane to do insane things while some conservatives may think it is the breakdown of civilization caused by liberalism. Politics and government are not the solution to everything. Senseless violence is just that. But discussing mental illness does not advance the cause of neither the left nor the right. So we are left after anything terrible happens listening to the same tired clichés about guns and liberals. The best that can be said about all of this is that the American people are far too sensible to be influenced by the sort of vapid commentary that we have been subjected to in the aftermath of Aurora.

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Rushing to Judgment on Aurora

The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

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The nation is united this morning in shock and horror after a gunman’s attack on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 persons dead and wounded at least 38 others. This is a moment to put politics aside to allow the families of the slain to mourn and for the police to do their job. But that hasn’t stopped some in the mainstream media from rushing to judgment about this tragic event even before we know a thing about the shooter. So it was especially distressing to see, as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com noted, that this morning on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” reporter Brian Ross threw out the suggestion that the alleged killer was a member of the Tea Party.

What was the basis for this accusation? The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think that elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. But because it fit in with the mainstream liberal media narrative that has labeled the Tea Party as a violent extremist group, rather than a group of citizen activists who pursue change through democratic means, he felt no compunction about slyly insinuating this choice piece of slander into our national discourse while saying he wasn’t sure if the Tea Partier was guilty. Nor did host George Stephanopolous feel compelled to caution Ross against this statement.

Let’s be clear that at the time of the broadcast as well as at the moment this piece is being written, the motivation for this crime has yet to be discovered. That was also true in January 2011 when a deranged gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But that didn’t stop much of the media from broadcasting incorrect assumptions about the perpetrator being part of the Tea Party or acting out what he thought was its ideology. Indeed, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has continued to feed that libel even though it was almost immediately debunked.

We may expect that no matter what the story about the shooter turns out to be, gun control advocates will exploit this tragedy. We don’t know if restrictions on gun ownership would have made this event less likely, but it is also true that the majority of Americans are not likely to change their minds about maintaining their Second Amendment rights. If the atrocity in Aurora turns out to be motivated by something other than the madness of the killer, it will compound the tragedy. But the effort to push the narrative in that direction on the basis of a name without any research or legwork to back it up is outrageous and, ABC has belatedly apologized for the gaffe on its website. That otherwise respected members of the journalistic establishment have no shame about doing so tells us a lot more about them and liberal media bias than it does about the Aurora killings or violence in general.

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Cronkite and the Roots of Media Bias

An essential element of the mainstream media’s myth about its own impartiality is the notion that before Fox News came along we were living in a golden age of broadcast news reporting. The days when national news was the dominion of three networks and a few major newspapers is portrayed as Eden before the fall, an era when partisanship of the kind that is now both familiar and expected was unknown. A key element to this fairy tale is the idea that the journalistic icons of the time, like CBS’s Walter Cronkite, were Olympian figures who would never stoop to play favorites or inject ideology into the news.

But this view is totally false. As media news analyst Howard Kurtz writes in the Daily Beast, a new biography of Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley spills the beans on the godlike anchorman’s unethical practices, including blatant partisanship that would make the conservative talkers on Fox and the liberals on MSNBC blush. While Kurtz still admires Cronkite in spite of his flaws, the problem here is not just that god had feet of clay after all. It’s that the truth about Cronkite throws the entire narrative of the liberal mainstream media under the bus. It wasn’t Fox that poisoned the well of journalism, as former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently alleged. Fox and other such outlets were brought into existence in an effort to balance a journalistic establishment that was already tilting heavily to the left. The real sin here is not bias or even partisanship but the pretense of fairness that Cronkite exemplified.

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An essential element of the mainstream media’s myth about its own impartiality is the notion that before Fox News came along we were living in a golden age of broadcast news reporting. The days when national news was the dominion of three networks and a few major newspapers is portrayed as Eden before the fall, an era when partisanship of the kind that is now both familiar and expected was unknown. A key element to this fairy tale is the idea that the journalistic icons of the time, like CBS’s Walter Cronkite, were Olympian figures who would never stoop to play favorites or inject ideology into the news.

But this view is totally false. As media news analyst Howard Kurtz writes in the Daily Beast, a new biography of Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley spills the beans on the godlike anchorman’s unethical practices, including blatant partisanship that would make the conservative talkers on Fox and the liberals on MSNBC blush. While Kurtz still admires Cronkite in spite of his flaws, the problem here is not just that god had feet of clay after all. It’s that the truth about Cronkite throws the entire narrative of the liberal mainstream media under the bus. It wasn’t Fox that poisoned the well of journalism, as former New York Times editor Bill Keller recently alleged. Fox and other such outlets were brought into existence in an effort to balance a journalistic establishment that was already tilting heavily to the left. The real sin here is not bias or even partisanship but the pretense of fairness that Cronkite exemplified.

To confront the unvarnished truth about Cronkite is not to entirely discount his value as a television performer. There was much to admire about his news sense, and his on screen persona was a commanding and trusted presence that everyone who appears on television aspires to emulate. But the beloved Cronkite who generations of Americans grew up watching was only part of the picture. What Americans didn’t know about Cronkite gives the lie to the notion that the pre-Fox era was one in which non-partisan fairness ruled the airwaves.

According to Brinkley, Cronkite’s partisanship against Republicans (especially Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon) and in favor of liberal Democrats was so open that it must now seem shocking that he was rarely called out about it. He practically conspired with Bobby Kennedy during the run up to his presidential candidacy and was not too proud to stoop to dirty tricks at the expense of Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat he didn’t like.

Kurtz pardons Cronkite’s agenda-driven approach to the news because some of it was motivated by support for good causes like civil rights. But any biased journalist can make the same excuse. Cronkite’s vaunted independence was also undermined by his coziness with those in power, as long as he liked them and was given access, as was the case with John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Cronkite’s ethical lapses, including conflict of interest on an Olympian scale that involved taking freebies from companies like Pan Am, would be enough to get even the biggest name fired today.

So great is Cronkite’s hold on the imagination of many Americans, it’s not likely that Brinkley’s book will do much to tarnish his reputation. Like Kurtz, many will say his virtues outweighed his faults. Yet this is not the question we should be pondering. Cronkite’s personal standing with the public doesn’t matter anymore. What does matter is the still living myth that mainstream outlets like CBS or the New York Times are the impartial sources of news most unquestioningly believed them to be. It’s not that journalism was once pure but is now sordid; it’s that even the most trusted figures of the past were as crooked in their bias as the worst TV screamers of our own day. As with Cronkite, the real sin is not that his successors are biased, but that they pretend not to be.

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Media Smears Will Impact Romney

Many conservatives are confidently dismissing the impact of the Washington Post’s assault on Mitt Romney’s character in the form of its story on his high school pranks. They believe most Americans can see through the bias of the piece as well as the timing of its publication online yesterday so as to coincide with President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. They hope that along with the nasty attacks on Romney’s religion and the effort to portray him as an aloof rich guy who doesn’t understand Americans, this latest outrageous illustration of the liberal media’s tilt against Republicans will backfire.

They may be right, as it is doubtful that too many voters worried about the country’s sinking economy will regard an investigative piece about what Romney did at school nearly 50 years ago as a reason to re-elect President Obama. Yet Republicans should not underestimate the impact of what is probably only one of the opening salvos in a campaign to delegitimize the GOP standard bearer by Obama’s cheerleaders in the press. The plain fact is that although Mitt Romney has been in the public eye for many years, including a presidential run in 2008, most Americans have probably yet to really understand who he is and what kind of man he is. With the liberal media starting to pile on Romney in the wake of the Post attack, it’s becoming clear that one of the critical aspects of the 2012 election will be whether it will be Romney or his detractors who will have the last word on his image.

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Many conservatives are confidently dismissing the impact of the Washington Post’s assault on Mitt Romney’s character in the form of its story on his high school pranks. They believe most Americans can see through the bias of the piece as well as the timing of its publication online yesterday so as to coincide with President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. They hope that along with the nasty attacks on Romney’s religion and the effort to portray him as an aloof rich guy who doesn’t understand Americans, this latest outrageous illustration of the liberal media’s tilt against Republicans will backfire.

They may be right, as it is doubtful that too many voters worried about the country’s sinking economy will regard an investigative piece about what Romney did at school nearly 50 years ago as a reason to re-elect President Obama. Yet Republicans should not underestimate the impact of what is probably only one of the opening salvos in a campaign to delegitimize the GOP standard bearer by Obama’s cheerleaders in the press. The plain fact is that although Mitt Romney has been in the public eye for many years, including a presidential run in 2008, most Americans have probably yet to really understand who he is and what kind of man he is. With the liberal media starting to pile on Romney in the wake of the Post attack, it’s becoming clear that one of the critical aspects of the 2012 election will be whether it will be Romney or his detractors who will have the last word on his image.

That’s why Romney’s camp should take seriously critiques such as those of Howard Fineman, who wrote today in the Huffington Post to pile on Romney in the wake of the Post attack. Fineman’s attempt to make an issue of Romney’s hazy memory of schoolboy antics is both nasty and weak stuff. But he’s right when he warns that this is exactly the sort of smear that can stick to the candidate because the narrative of his life is not already set in the minds of most Americans.

Along with many others, in my reaction to the Post article, I pointed out the hypocrisy of a newspaper that didn’t put much effort into vetting Barack Obama four years ago subjecting Romney to this kind of scrutiny. In 2008, Republicans spent much of the year being frustrated by the media’s lack of interest in Obama’s unsavory connections in both his political and personal life. But the problem was more than just media bias. Much of the public didn’t seem to care either. That was because Obama’s image as the overachieving, eloquent African-American who was bound to make history had been set in stone early on in the campaign. Once established as a seminal and even historic figure — albeit one who had not done anything of note yet — Obama became virtually untouchable. Nor has his status as being above the normal adversarial scrutiny of the press changed during his years in the White House.

But Romney has no such advantage. The situation is quite to the contrary. If the fact that the next few months will be a virtual open season on the Republican candidate on the part of the national media hasn’t been made clear to the GOP yet, it should be now.

Romney’s personal story is actually quite impressive in that he brings to the table success in the real life world of business rather than being a political lifer. His personal life is also exemplary, something that has forced the left to talk endlessly about his dog Seamus’s ride on the roof of a car and high school pranks.

For much of the primary campaign, Romney’s team concentrated on trying to define his opponents negatively. That worked, but it devoted relatively little time to talking about their man’s strong case for the presidency. That has got to change and change quick if the GOP is to avoid having its standard bearer carpet bombed even before nominating conventions.

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Mainstream Media’s Pose of Fairness is the Real Poison in American Journalism

The New York Times’ former reputation as the nation’s objective newspaper of record was always a façade that covered up a persistent liberal bias that skewed its coverage of both politics and the world. But during the eight years that Bill Keller served as executive editor, the Times accelerated its descent into the partisan and hyper-liberal biased reporting and unbalanced opinion pages that we now take for granted as the paper’s calling card. Keller’s liberal prejudices were never a secret while he was the paper’s editor and in his current guise as a weekly opinion columnist, the last veil has dropped. But even now, he can’t seem to give up the pose of being the professional journalist who is too busy getting the story right to inject his politics into the copy.

This is the principal conceit of his latest column in which he commits the unpardonable sin of trying to shoot a fish in a barrel and missing. By taking aim at Rupert Murdoch — the easiest target in the world this week — Keller only manages to call more attention to his own partisanship and hypocrisy. His point is that Murdoch’s creation Fox News and its conservative bias is “America’s poison,” and claims that for all of its flaws, the mainstream media is still far more fair and balanced than the network that uses that phrase to describe itself. But the idea that Fox is any more biased than the Times, let alone NBC, CNN or NPR — the examples he cites of other more objective outlets — is absurd.

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The New York Times’ former reputation as the nation’s objective newspaper of record was always a façade that covered up a persistent liberal bias that skewed its coverage of both politics and the world. But during the eight years that Bill Keller served as executive editor, the Times accelerated its descent into the partisan and hyper-liberal biased reporting and unbalanced opinion pages that we now take for granted as the paper’s calling card. Keller’s liberal prejudices were never a secret while he was the paper’s editor and in his current guise as a weekly opinion columnist, the last veil has dropped. But even now, he can’t seem to give up the pose of being the professional journalist who is too busy getting the story right to inject his politics into the copy.

This is the principal conceit of his latest column in which he commits the unpardonable sin of trying to shoot a fish in a barrel and missing. By taking aim at Rupert Murdoch — the easiest target in the world this week — Keller only manages to call more attention to his own partisanship and hypocrisy. His point is that Murdoch’s creation Fox News and its conservative bias is “America’s poison,” and claims that for all of its flaws, the mainstream media is still far more fair and balanced than the network that uses that phrase to describe itself. But the idea that Fox is any more biased than the Times, let alone NBC, CNN or NPR — the examples he cites of other more objective outlets — is absurd.

The only evidence he gives for what he considers the obvious superiority of the non-Fox liberal media is that the Times Sunday Magazine once published an even-handed profile of Rush Limbaugh by Zev Chafets. He says such a fair-minded piece about Nancy Pelosi would never have run on Fox. He also thinks it is terrible that Fox News head Roger Ailes didn’t cooperate with a liberal trying to write his biography and that it takes a dim view of employees who leak material in order to embarrass the company.

The problem with this argument is that the Chafets profile is merely the exception that proves the rule at the Times. While there are occasional instances of fairness, they merely highlight the paper’s typical unfairness to anyone or any group that it opposes. The comparison is also ridiculous because most of Fox’s programming is the moral equivalent to the Times’ editorial and op-ed pages. There the analogy between the two is almost exact. Liberal voices are a distinct minority on Fox but no more so than genuine conservatives at the Times.

If anything, a comparison of the airtime that Fox devotes to straight news coverage to the Times’ news pages is actually quite flattering to the former. While Fox’s news hounds may not be perfectly objective one wonders if they have ever committed any journalistic sin so blatant as the Times’ decision just this past Friday to run a front page news feature on racism directed at President Obama in Ohio whose only possible point was to try to rally liberals around the incumbent lest hate triumph. Nor can I recall Fox’s news operation ever doing anything as despicable or lacking in ethics as Keller’s decision to publish a major expose of John McCain’s personal life at the height of the 2008 presidential campaign that lacked any proof of the wrongdoing the piece insinuated.

Even after all these years, Keller and other liberals still don’t understand why Fox is popular. Along with conservative talk radio, it was created to balance the obvious bias of a mainstream media that pretended it had no bias. Audiences despise the pretense and appreciate Fox’s straightforward point of view. That’s why, as I wrote this past week, CNN, whose dishonesty about its liberal bias is as obvious as that of the Times, is the loser in the cable rating wars.

No one should fault Keller for his liberalism. It is his pretense of fairness that is galling. His claims about Fox’s faults can be just as easily directed at the Times. The real poison at the heart of American journalism isn’t Fox, it’s the mainstream media’s false front of objectivity.

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Romney’s Biggest Problems

The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

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The Mitt Romney campaign is gearing up for a general election race in which it will have some clear advantages. The most important is that the economy remains the decisive issue for most of the public. That plays into Romney’s hands, because most Americans rightly perceive the country’s economic health has declined on President Obama’s watch, and because the former Massachusetts governor’s fiscal expertise is his greatest strength. But in spite of that edge, the Romney camp knows the steepest obstacles to a Republican victory are not factors that are susceptible to the candidate’s powers of persuasion.

In the past few weeks, as Romney was wrapping up his party’s nomination, he received a thorough education on his opponent’s most formidable assets: the ability of the mainstream liberal media to set the public agenda on the issues of the day and the power of incumbency. As the bogus theme of a Republican “war on women” as well as the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing demonstrated, President Obama retains the power to put the GOP on the defensive almost at will. This means the true challenges for the Romney campaign will not be whether they can prevent their standard-bearer from committing gaffes, their skill in overcoming problematic issues like RomneyCare or even uniting an obstreperous conservative movement behind his candidacy. It will be in fending off a ferocious assault from a chattering class dominated by the left and avoiding being left on the sidelines as the president effortlessly dominates news cycles.

The so-called war on women theme was thoroughly debunked by Contentions’ Alana Goodman in the latest issue of COMMENTARY. The lesson here is not so much the charge that Romney and the Republicans are attacking women’s rights is wrong as the way the story developed. It shows how quickly a weakness for the president — the way ObamaCare was being used to discriminate against the Catholic Church violated the principle of religious freedom — morphed into a disaster for the right simply because Rush Limbaugh made an offensive quip.

The willingness of a broad consensus of mainstream media outlets to accept the liberal spin of this fake issue should concentrate the minds of both the Romney people and conservatives on their dilemma. Allegations of liberal media bias don’t win elections, but successful counter-attacks against spin offensives will make the difference between victory and defeat for the Republicans. That was demonstrated by the subsequent ability of the conservative blogosphere to turn Obama adviser Hillary Rosen’s attack on Ann Romney into a defeat for the Democrats that had them on the defensive for days.

But a perhaps an even greater problem for Romney is the one that every challenger to a sitting president must learn to live with: the power of incumbency. Being the president as opposed to just running for the presidency carries with it the capacity to make decisions or to create events that can dominate news cycles and reduce even the savviest opposition candidate to a helpless bystander. The president’s trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday is a classic illustration of how even the most hapless of administrations can command the undivided attention of the public. The event, in which the president signed an agreement with the Afghan government, was a skillful way of bringing up the bin Laden killing anniversary without the sort of foolish attacks on Romney that undermined the administration’s obsessive focus on the episode in the last week. Instances of the use of the power of the presidency like this are virtually bulletproof. Nothing Romney could say or do could diminish the impact of the president’s largely unremarkable speech. And even if there were flaws in Obama’s handling of the issue, the bin Laden anniversary helped bring home to the GOP that this wasn’t the best moment to bring them up.

Of course, along with the advantages that come with incumbency are some drawbacks. Obama can play the commander-in-chief any time he wants but along with it comes a measure of accountability. Speeches in front of the troops in a military setting are always political winners. But that also means it is impossible to blame others when things go wrong. If, as appears likely, the virtually non-existent economic recovery continues to falter as gas prices rise this summer, no amount of presidential posturing will enable the president to shift the blame for the state of the nation from his own shoulders.

A pliant and even obsequious media and the power of incumbency should be a foolproof formula for an Obama victory. But they will be of little use if Romney and the GOP persuade Americans they must cut short a failed presidency.

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