On the CBS News website Public Eye, newly minted CBS man Jeff Greenfield saw no danger that the 2008 campaign will be drenched with a liberal bias, even though he admits that "most members of the so-called mainstream media, undoubtedly, in the voting booth, vote Democratic." He pulls out a familiar argument: when liberal losers lose, it’s easy to argue that they weren’t beneficiaries of liberal media bias: "But in my view the danger of bias does not lie in political coverage. I mean, ask Al Gore and John Kerry if they were the beneficiary of a poodle press. They were treated very critically – appropriately."
Before we address Gore and Kerry coverage, let’s make an obvious point: the Public Eye site was developed to help undo the damage that CBS’s horrendous and sloppy anti-Bush bias on the "draft dodging" charge in the fall of 2004. Greenfield ought to at least tip his skeptic’s hat toward that example before serving up his pooh-pooh platter.
Now if I was the interviewer instead of the in-house man, Brian Montopoli, I might remind Greenfield of how CBS sounded a lot like a "poodle press" at assorted moments in the 2000 and 2004 races. For example:
"It was the all important and perfectly choreographed first glimpse of the Democratic Party’s new dream team. The Kerry and Edwards families posing for pictures, a nervous first date with the American public....Humor from the boss, humanity from his running mate....Team Kerry touched and tickled their way to Ohio, the first stop in a six-state, five-day swing through battleground states....Both partners in this political marriage hope it’s a winning formula....At the moment, star-struck Democrats are willing to believe." — CBS’s Byron Pitts on the July 7, 2004 Evening News. (For more of Pitts playing the poodle, see here.)
Or remember Dan Rather arguing about Gore's raw deal in Florida?
"Let me come to a point that I have heard some people express, by no means a majority of people I’ve talked to. Some say, listen, quote, ‘Is the fix in in Florida? You’ve got a Republican Governor, you’ve got not just a majority but a dominant Republican state legislature and a Republican Secretary of State.’ And under those circumstances, so the quote goes, there’s no way Al Gore can win this." – Dan Rather about the Florida legislature naming electors, to state Senator Daniel Webster, November 28, 2000 CBS Evening News.
"Do you or do you not believe that the Bush forces are being if not dishonest, at least not all together straightforward, by moving to a transition, by being seen and in effect saying, ‘Look, we won the election, George Bush is the next President and we’re moving to it’?"
– Dan Rather to Al Gore, November 29, 2000 CBS Evening News.
That doesn't even include Rather's memorably pained "as she sees it and she decrees it" narration of Katherine Harris certifying the Florida election results.
The first rebuttal of the idea that Gore and Kerry were covered "very critically" is to review how skeptical CBS News was in evaluating their service in Vietnam. Kerry's drew homage, Gore's was largely ignored. But the one common critical angle both candidates received was of their style, not their substance. Democrat reporters weren't going to say Democrat candidates were out of the mainstream. But they would pass along the notion that their favored candidate was stiff and uncomfortable on the stump. They could see that in both cases, George W. Bush was doing a slightly better job of connecting with voters -- and it frustrated them.
Greenfield did see a bias on cultural matters with the secularism of the media establishment:
I do think when you get into the area of culture, that the press tends to be so lopsided in one direction or the other and you have to be careful. I think coverage of issues like abortion, religion, sex education – it can be tough for the press because so few of the press, relatively few, are deep seated, observant religious people.
Now there are some. More than people might believe. But I think that's an area where the press has to be careful -- be aware that it may not understand the world the way other people do. And they need to bring in other points of view about this. I was very conscious of this when I covered the Southern Baptist Convention 20-something years ago. You can come in with one attitude – here I am a New Yorker, I'm essentially secular – but these people are not backwoods ignorant folk. They are fully functioning in the modern world. They have a religious faith that you need to understand and, I would suggest also, respect. That one I think is probably true. As far as political coverage, I'm sorry, I don't buy it.
Greenfield asserted the arrival of new, younger talent will probably translate into more political diversity in the press corps:
Most members of the so-called mainstream media undoubtedly, in the voting booth, vote Democratic. There's no way out of that, you can't ignore it. There are certain cultural, personal reasons – when I say personal I mean reasons of personality. Reasons of background. Why you go into journalism in the first place. You tend to have attitudes that tend to mark you more as a Democrat than a Republican. You tend to be more secular, you tend to be more skeptical, you tend to be disrespectful of authority. And those things tend – tend – to push to the left of the spectrum.
This is also, by the way, possibly getting less true as we get into the younger generation. The generation raised with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are really getting to the point where they are coming into the profession. And I think you're going to see, and have already seen, a more complicated mix.
I don't see the people at CBS News eagerly signing up reporters with Republican backgrounds (the way some networks sign up the People for the American Way recruits for political reporting.) It could probably be argued that this isn't the 1970s any more, and the new recruits aren't necessarily hoping to impeach the president or bring down "The System" or "The Military-Industrial Complex," and are more concerned about being the next Big Thing. But no Republican candidate in 2008 is going to get anywhere expecting that the so-called mainstream media won't bark like a poodle for the Democrats during the election cycle.