During the 2012 election the New York Times treated Rep. Paul Ryan, currently a reluctant Speaker-elect, as fearsomely conservative. But now the paper is defending him from the "far-right" on Tuesday's front page. Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer filed yet another label-heavy diatribe against Tea Party-style conservatism, "Latest Unease On Right: Ryan Is Too Far Left." The text box: "Conservative figures turn on one formerly their own."
Stenhauer got to the labeling bias right off the bat:
Far-right media figures, relatively small in number but potent in their influence, have embarked on a furious Internet expedition to cover Representative Paul D. Ryan in political silt.
In 2012 when Mitt Romney picked Mr. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, as his running mate, the concern among some in their party was that Mr. Ryan was too conservative, particularly when it came to overhauling social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Now, as he agonizes over whether to answer the appeal of his colleagues to become their next speaker, the far right is trotting out a fresh concern: Mr. Ryan is too far left.
He is being criticized on issues ranging from a 2008 vote to bail out large banks to his longstanding interest in immigration reform to his work on a bipartisan budget measure. On Sunday night, the Drudge Report -- a prime driver of conservative commentary -- dedicated separate headlines to bashing Mr. Ryan on policy positions.
Steinhauer used strong language to condemn conservative radio hosts and news outlets as "far-right":
Even a self-congratulatory book outlining how Mr. Ryan and two other Republican House leaders drafted Tea Party candidates to help them take over the House in 2010 -- “Young Guns” -- is being recast by some as a manual of how to be traitorous to conservatism.
The influence of conservative websites has enraged members who were once considered right of center themselves, and who are desperately trying to keep Mr. Ryan from getting spooked.
To some degree, the attacks on Mr. Ryan, so far an unwilling draft pick by his colleagues to replace Speaker John A. Boehner, reflect criticism of flashes of pragmatism by Mr. Ryan, the architect of his party’s conservative budget dogma.
He was half the brain on a 2013 compromise with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, to funnel more money to the government and avert two years of budget brinkmanship, even though two years earlier, he had refused to sit on the original committee that tried and failed to find a solution to the government’s financial problems.
But the current flak following Mr. Ryan stems from a growing and powerful collection of far-right pundits and news media -- from Mark Levin to Laura Ingraham to the sites RedState and Breitbart and the new Conservative Review -- that have successfully wielded influence over Republican voters and lawmakers in strongly conservative districts.
To compare, it's been several years since the paper used the term "far-left" to describe an American political personality or news outlet – the vast majority of the "far-left" mentions came in the coverage of financial basketcase Greece.
Their bill of particulars against Mr. Ryan have shifted from the national debt and spending to immigration. Lately, they have focused on Mr. Ryan’s enthusiastic support for free trade, traditionally a policy that has gotten broad Republican support but is now being used as a bat against him. Beyond Mr. Ryan, the conservative targets have seemingly shifted from old time establishment lawmakers to a process seemingly more akin to random selection.
While the influence of Fox News on conservative voters has been well documented, “There’s a lot we don’t know about this bumper crop of digital news start-ups of the past five or 10 years, especially ad-supported ones,” said Jesse Holcomb the associate director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “Many aren’t public and don’t produce earnings statements and aren’t required to release information on revenue or profit margins.”
But House Republicans and their staff say millions of Republican primary voters have their opinions shaped by sites like Breitbart.com, which define a version of the conservative position of the moment, then whip their readers into a frenzy, imploring them to oppose anyone who takes a different position.
Mr. Boehner, for instance, once considered unquestionably conservative, was forced out by his right flank. His would-be successor, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, abruptly withdrew from the speaker’s race, also the target of Internet rancor that he was too much like Mr. Boehner.
Steinhauer simply refused to believe Ryan could be outflanked to the right in Congress, given that he was a fan of "increasingly tight block grants" and "drastic cuts in food stamps."
The conservative rap on Mr. Ryan’s fiscal positions is especially curious. As Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan was the author of plans that would convert Medicare into something akin to a voucher plan, where seniors would get government subsidies to purchase private insurance and move away from government-run health care.
He also wanted to turn Medicaid into increasingly tight block grants to state governments, and he also called for drastic cuts in food stamps, Pell grants and many other domestic programs.
Immigration is proving to be an even more ripe area for venomous assessment of Mr. Ryan. He pressed for a vote on an immigration reform bill with his Republican colleagues in 2013, noting that “earned legalization is an issue I think the House can and will deal with” but was rebuffed.
By contrast, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an actual socialist, has never been described as "far-left" by the Times, based on a nytimes.com search. Maggie Haberman came the closest when she wrote October 7 that Sanders may "prove too far left-leaning to capture the nomination" On September 6 the Times noted that Hillary "is not as far left in her positioning as Mr. Sanders, whose views as a self-described democratic socialist could founder in Southern states, some Democrats say."