The Washington Post’s front-page Obama story on Friday includes a glaring error. Reporters Krissah Thompson and Cheryl Thompson began with a reference to Barack Obama’s first speech before the "nation’s oldest civil rights organization."
This is a standard claim in stories on the NAACP, but it’s untrue – the NAACP just turned 100, but the National Rifle Association was founded in 1871. This is only true if "civil rights group" can only be used as an honorific synonym for "black interest group." If the election of Obama ends one era of the "civil rights" struggle, can reporters stop using the "civil rights" tag just for black groups?
The Friday story by Thompson and Thompson never defined the NAACP as a liberal group or part of the Democratic base, even as the NAACP lobbies for Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation. This is also typical. In a 1994 study of 2,707 NAACP news stories in national newspapers, we found eight liberal labels, or in 0.3 percent of stories.
The Post story featured no one who’s critical of the NAACP, or who would suggest they do not represent all blacks. The story does carry a sympathetic aura of panic that the NAACP "grapples with relevancy in an age that has been described as post-racial." It praised the "towering figures" of the NAACP like W.E.B. du Bois, but ignored more recent NAACP leaders like Benjamin Chavis, who was forced out in 1994 after he used NAACP money to settle a sexual-harassment charge against him.
The same favorable treatment – no labels, no scandals, no critics – unfurled in a Sunday piece by Krissah Thompson. (She also filed a piece on the NAACP's actual anniversary in February, with no labels or critics, but which mentioned the Chavis scandal in passing.)
The lack of labels seem especially egregious when the Post reports who was the Obama dinner’s guest of honor:
Julian Bond, the longtime chairman of the NAACP and the dinner's guest of honor, said after Obama's speech, "Whenever any president's aims align with ours, we have been eager to help them achieve their aim. Curiously, a great many of President Obama's goals align with ours, probably more than any other president. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that our mutual goals become successful."
Bond has swung wildly at the "radical right," but somehow he’s not at the helm of a liberal group. As Brent Bozell summarized in 2000:
NAACP leader Julian Bond has charged that Republican congressional leaders are "become the running dogs of the wacky radical right" and are contributing to a situation where "white supremacy" is "everywhere in America."
Then there was Bond’s inflammatory proclamation on CNN that he "wholeheartedly believes" Camille Cosby’s charge that "America taught our son's killer to hate African-Americans," which smears more than Republicans. [Ennis Cosby was killed by a white Ukrainian immigrant in 1997.]
There’s Bond’s declaration that the Reagan presidency marked a time when the Republicans were "a crazed swarm of right-wing locusts" waging an "assault on the rule of law" intended "to subvert, ignore, defy and destroy the laws that require an America which is bias-free."
The Washington Post is certainly not "bias-free" when it comes to the NAACP.