NYT's Top Book Critic Again Mocks Notion of Liberal Media Bias

November 11th, 2005 12:10 PM
The Times' top book critic again denies that there's liberal bias in the media.

This morning, Michiko Kakutani hails the anti-Bush book "Attack the Messenger" by Craig Crawford, a columnist for Congressional Quarterly, under the headline "Bushes' War Against Media."

Notice the plural "Bushes." Apparently, only Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. went to war on the media, not Bill Clinton. Then again, given that 89% of the White House press corps voted for Clinton in 1992, perhaps didn't have as much reason to attack the press.

Kakutani writes: "Mr. Crawford's book serves as a useful introduction to the issue at hand, providing a persuasive, if incomplete, sketch of how the current White House, with assists from its two predecessors and a changing media landscape, has worked to undermine the mainstream press. Although the news media now enjoy higher approval ratings than President Bush, Mr. Crawford notes that the media's standing with the public has fallen sharply from its high during the Watergate era."

Among the developments that have hurt the media? "The nation's post-9/11 mood, which was exploited by the current administration to depict any questioning of the war against Iraq as a sign of disloyalty and lack of patriotism."

That's a moldy old charge by the Times, which the paper has yet to back up with actual examples.

Of course, Rush Limbaugh is an accomplice to the apparent crime of criticizing the mainstream press: "In addition, they allow themselves, on occasion, to be distracted from covering the news made by politicians and government officials to engage in cannibalistic navel-gazing -- a phenomenon fueled by Internet bloggers, cable news pundits and talk radio partisans like Rush Limbaugh, who are intent on promoting themselves at the expense of the mainstream media."

What really inflames Kakutani is the accusation of liberal media bias: "Indeed, one of the favorite mantras of the current Bush White House and its conservative allies is that the media suffer from a 'liberal bias' -- a constantly repeated accusation designed to drill this notion into the public consciousness while putting the press on the defensive. Recent history flies in the face of this assertion. Fox News established itself as the dominant cable news network last year, while Mr. Limbaugh and other conservative voices continue to dominate talk radio. To the dismay of Democrats, the media vigorously pursued stories about Mr. Clinton relating to impeachment charges and the Whitewater scandal. And the press's failure to more aggressively question prewar allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was in large measure a result of its overreliance on sources aligned with the administration."

It's the same argument she used against former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer for daring to call the press liberal in his memoirs: "Fleischer also stays on message when it comes to griping about the media, echoing other administration members' frequently repeated accusations that the press is guilty of negativity, liberal bias and an obsession with conflict. In presenting his complaints about the media, Mr. Fleischer is highly selective in his citation of examples, often ignoring facts that might undermine his thesis or underscore the flip side of his assertions."

For more instances of bias in the New York Times, visit TimesWatch.