Thursday, December 24, 2009

Auld Lang Syne: Farewell to another decade of "liberal media bias"

by Eric Boehlert

It might seem futile to try to select just two quotes from the previous decade and single them out as bookends to illustrate how the political press so often malfunctioned over the last 10 years. But if pressed, I know which duo I'd nominate in hopes of highlighting the absurdity behind the never-ending right-wing claim about supposed "liberal media bias."

Y'know, the same "liberal media" that over the previous decade unleashed its venom on Al Gore, morphed into George Bush's lapdog cheerleaders, and created unfair double standards for covering the new Democratic president, Barack Obama.

The first quote I'd nominate actually comes from very late 1999, but the implication was pure 2000 and the decade that followed. The passage appeared in a Time report about the unfolding Democratic primary battle and came just as the Beltway press was unveiling its unapologetic War on Gore, as The Daily Howler might put it.

The orgy of resentment that erupted toward Gore during the 2000 campaign season was likely unprecedented in American politics, as media elites did very little to hide their disdain for Gore. For years, they mocked him, bad-mouthed him, and made up nasty stories about him. (Hint: Inventing the Internet.) Acting as a conduit for the RNC, the press actively tried to delegitimize the Democratic Party nominee for president. And the chronically caustic and unfair press coverage cost Gore the election in the historically close 2000 campaign.

Which brings me to Quote of the Decade No. 1, courtesy Time's Eric Pooley and his New Hampshire primary dispatch: [emphasis added]:

[T]he 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by it. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.

If readers needed confirmation regarding the open contempt for Gore, blogger Mickey Kaus soon traveled to New Hampshire and announced the consensus among journalists: "They hate Gore. They really do think he's a liar. And a phony."

My second Quote of the Decade nominee arrived 110 months later and via NBC's Chuck Todd. It was uncorked inside the new Obama White House press room, on January 23, 2009. The topic on the table was the administration's proposed economic stimulus package and whether the White House, which was hoping for a bipartisan effort on the legislation, would be disappointed if the bill passed with little or no Republican support. And that's when Todd asked Robert Gibbs the following:

Would [the President] veto a bill if it didn't have Republican support?

That's right. Just days into the new presidency, Todd wanted to know if Obama would go ahead and take the unprecedented action of vetoing his own legislation designed to immediately jump-start the faltering economy because not enough members of the opposition party supported the stimulus bill.

If nothing else, Todd's absurd query highlighted the unheard-of double standard the press constructed for the new Democratic president. Namely, when addressing the issue of bipartisanship (i.e. "involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties") the press decided to hold only one of the political parties accountable: the Democrats. Bipartisanship was now something Democrats had to bring to fruition.

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