The Washington Post is dragging out one of the oldest and phoniest arguments against the charge of liberal bias, an argument that has all the freshness of four-month-old milk. To sum up in a headline: “The media’s biggest bias isn’t partisan — it’s for a juicy story.”
If this claim hadn’t been completely obliterated by every juicy thing Bill Clinton did with women he hadn’t married, we can apply it to nearly every Obama scandal – especially when journalists try to claim Obama has been “scandal-free.”
Callum Borchers, the media reporter of the Post political team at "The Fix," starts on promising territory, in a sense. He thinks some people are exaggerating the political strength of Bernie Sanders because they want a “compelling narrative.” Sanders might have peaked in Iowa and New Hampshire – perhaps.
As Borchers acknowledges, Sanders has long complained of being marginalized by the press, and he was – when reporters look at polls showing Hillary up by 50 points, they wonder why bother covering an alternative. But in the same way, journalists (especially on television) have tended to marginalize anyone on the Republican side who wasn’t in second place to Trump or was related to former presidents.
This is a time in the Democratic primaries where a Democratic media might seem a tad more fair and balanced – that time before the front-runner becomes the obvious victor – and they wonder whether their candidate will be able to withstand Republican attacks. You could hear it all over Chuck Todd’s question to Hillary in the last MSNBC debate, if she could “reassure these Democrats that somehow the e-mail issue isn't going to blow up your candidacy if you're the nominee?”
Democrats think of the media as brutally tough during a Gennifer Flowers scandal or a Jeremiah Wright scandal, even when the number and tone of stories don’t suggest brutality, just an admission of a troublesome reality.
But then Borchers goes wandering into the case for a conservative bias in the media, even from The New York Times.
Believe it or not, there's also a coherent case for an anti-liberal bias in the mainstream media. In December, the Times reported that San Bernardino, Calif., shooter Tashfeen Malik had "talked openly on social media" about violent jihad and that the Obama administration's immigrant-screening process had missed it. The report quickly became a favorite Republican talking point, but six days after publication, the Times had to correct the story. It turned out that Malik had not expressed her radical sentiments "openly" but rather in private messages, making them considerably less obvious to screeners.
The Times attributed the error to poor handling of anonymous sources, but media critic (and graduate school professor to yours truly) Dan Kennedy offered another explanation: "Say what? The liberal mainstream media has it in for liberal politicians? The answer to that question, I would argue, is an unambiguous 'yes.' There are few things more comforting to journalists — constantly under attack for their alleged liberal bias — than to make life miserable for their supposed allies on the left. Not only do they think it might give their critics pause, but it also feeds into their own sense of even-handedness."
This certainly was a story that resonated among Republicans that didn't get it right. But when a story resonates among Democrats and doesn't get it right? In reality, the Times is much more horrified when it gets a Republican-pleasing story wrong. When it's brutal against a Republican -- say, for example, the McCain-likes-Vicki Iseman junk -- none of their friends will really find much of a journalistic fault.
Borchers and his Eric-Altermanesque professor should avoid trying too strenuously to assert an "anti-liberal," anti-Muslim bias in the New York Times. It suggests one doesn't read the Times regularly.
He's following up on the big dog at "The Fix," Chris Cillizza, lamely claiming the media isn't pro-Hillary.