Thursday's "Good Morning America" featured a group of liberals talking about whether the press favored one liberal over another liberal and several leftist journalists were cited as proof. Specifically, co-host Diane Sawyer continued the program's self flagellation over whether the media is biased in favor of Barack Obama and against Hillary Clinton.
The ABC anchor discussed the issue with Arianna Huffington, editor of the extremely liberal Huffington Post web page. But, in a perfect example of actual bias, the GMA host never mentioned either Ms. Huffington or her site's leftist affiliation. Instead, Sawyer breathlessly worried about the Clinton campaign's charges that the media have been unfair. In an intro, she fretted, "And we turn the tables on ourselves. Have all of us in the media used boxing gloves on Clinton and kid gloves on Obama? Have we been unfair?" Co-host Robin Roberts also teased the segment as a brave example of self examination: "The media. Too tough on Clinton? Not tough enough on Obama? We'll take up that debate."
This type of introspection is not something that "Good Morning America" engages in when a Republican or conservative makes a charge of media bias. But, in reference to Clinton's public complaint about the press during Tuesday's debate, Sawyer wondered, "Is it possible that what she says is true?"
In fact, the entire discussion, which stretched over two segments, was a conversation by liberals and about liberals. In addition to Huffington, Sawyer read from a column by New York Times writer Paul Krugman in which he complained that statements "by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, are treated as proof of evil intent." Sawyer also featured a clip of lefty comedian Jon Stewart.
ABC correspondent Chris Connelly spun press favoritism of Senator Obama as nothing more than Obama appealing "to the media's eternal thirst for the new and the now, while Clinton has been poured over for some 16 years." He did allow, in more than a slight understatement, that "during Bill Clinton's 1992 run, some felt the press used contrasting words and images to favor him over President Bush."
Long time ABC journalist Sam Donaldson also appeared in the second segment, along with Huffington. He saw the media's coverage as a way of making up for previous soft reporting on the Clintons. "I think there's been a feeling that the Clintons may have gotten away with a lot of stuff over a good number of years and we're not going to let her get away with something now if it deserves being recorded and talked about," Donaldson claimed.
In reality, many journalists have been both pro-Obama and pro-Clinton. Just last week, Sawyer herself soothingly suggested Clinton could still accomplish all her goals even without winning the White House. ABC reporter David Wright, during a February 20th segment for "Nightline," rhapsodized that Obama rallies are like Springsteen concerts, but free.
A transcript of the first February 28 segment, which aired at 7:10am, and a portion of the second, follow:
DIANE SAWYER: And we turn the tables on ourselves. Have all of us in the media used boxing gloves on Clinton and kid gloves on Obama? Have we been unfair?
ROBERTS: But a little bit later, we're going to talk about ourselves. The media. Too tough on Clinton? Not tough enough on Obama? We'll take up that debate.
DIANE SAWYER: We turn now to back to the race to '08 and Senator Hillary Clinton's accusation that the media have been tough on her while giving her rival, Senator Barack Obama, a free pass. Is it possible that what she says is true? Well, we asked Chris Connelly, who covers media and culture for ABC to take an objective look at the accusation by the Clinton campaign.
CHRIS CONNELLY: You know things have changed when during a debate, Hillary Clinton shouts out a "Saturday Night Live" stretch with approval.
[Clip from Saturday Night Live]
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE "REPORTER:" Senator Obama, are you comfortable? Is there anything we can get for you?
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow.
CONNELLY: Initial reaction in the press to her gibe was decidedly mixed. But, her campaign might argue, that's the point.
BILL CLINTON: The media likes him. You know, we went through 15 debates when the central logic of his campaign was never tested.
CONNELLY: In a February 7th poll, 31 percent of Democrats surveyed said the media had been too tough on Clinton. Only eight percent thought the same about the coverage of Obama.
TOM ROSENSTIEL (Dir. Project For Excellence in Journalism): Were Hillary Clinton winning primaries, we wouldn't be talking about a media bias toward Barack Obama.
CONNELLY: It's been suggested that Obama appeals to the media's eternal thirst for the new and the now, while Clinton has been poured over for some 16 years. But there are others who say the Clinton's campaign criticism of the media are standard operating procedure for a candidacy in crisis.
ROSENSTIEL: Blaming the media is one of the inevitable steps on the 12 step program to losing.
CONNELLY: Even away from the campaign trail, the dichotomy is on display. Consider these two spreads in the celebrity magazine US Weekly. Barack Obama chuckles at his youth and his pop culture picks. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton cheerfully acknowledges her fashion mistakes. Ironically, during Bill Clinton's 1992 run, some felt the press used contrasting words and images to favor him over President Bush. If they're searching for a new rallying cry, perhaps the Clinton can campaign can return to that same "Saturday Night Live" and host Tina Fey. In praise of that word that word, the "B" word, so often used to disparage successful women.
TINA FEY: [Profanity deleted] gets stuff done! [Profanity deleted] is the new black!
CONNELLY: For "Good Morning America," I'm Chris Connelly, ABC News.
SAWYER: All right. Let's see what we have to say about ourselves. Joining us now from Washington is ABC's Sam Donaldson. And from Chicago, Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post website. And it's great to have you both with us. Okay. Sam. True, not true? Media softer on Obama than on Clinton?
SAM DONALDSON: Certainly been uneven coverage, Diane. And, I think, Chris pointed out one of the reasons, we're always looking that new non-politician politician. Second, Obama is a compelling, interesting charismatic figure. And, third, I think there's been a feeling that the Clintons may have gotten away with a lot of stuff over a good number of years and we're not going to let her get away with something now if it deserves being recorded and talked about.
SAWYER: So, Arianna, Sam says it's pretty much true, whatever the reasons and motives. What do you say?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I say, untrue, Diane. Just imagine if the roles were reversed. Just imagine if it was Hillary Clinton who had won straight 11 victories, who had the lead in delegates, the lead in the popular vote. The media would be saying that Barack Obama should leave the stage and let her focus on John McCain. There is no truth at all except for the fact this is a journalism 101 story. Obama is the one who came from behind, 20 points behind and now he's ahead. That's the story of the media are following. They're not creating it.
SAWYER: Yes, but, Arianna. Let me just, let me bring to the table what some of the columnists have been saying. And there are a number of them, including Democratic columnists, or those who lean that way. They say statements "by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, are treated as proof of evil intent." [Graphic of Paul Krugman column onscreen.] And then there was Jon Stewart who weighed in about the treatment of Barack Obama.
JON STEWART: Choir of angels. It can only mean one thing. Barack Obama did something. Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God! Oh, my God, oh, my God!
SAWYER: So, Arianna, a number of people in the media have been saying the media is doing this.
HUFFINGTON: Well, of course satirists are going to satirize what's happening. I think, Hillary Clinton did not do herself any good by showing that kind of bitterness during the debate, by bringing up "Saturday Night Live," by pointing out in a sarcastic, peevish way the fact she was dissatisfied with the media. We don't like people who don't deal with adversity well.
Update 16:54 | Matthew Sheffield. Ace correctly points out the extreme absurdity of the media's position here:
Think about it: the media is willing to entertain the possibility that it is actually institutionally racist against blacks while it angrily and arrogantly dismisses the possibility it may be slightly liberal and hence anti-conservative.
Me thinks the lady doth protest too much, eh? One would think the racist charge would be the one dismissed out of hand, so incendiary it is; and yet they're actually willing to ponder whether they are, in effect, effete Klansmen in the service of the Greater New York Metro Area Kleagle.
Yet that possibility they're willing to discuss openly, while it's simply ludicrous that they might be somewhat predisposed to one party's politics than the other.