Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Peter Daou Headshot

A Challenge to Rightwing Bloggers Who Blame the Media for the Cheney Mess

Posted: Updated:

Prove it. One of the great absurdities of our time is the persistent notion that the traditional media skews left. Reporters buy into it, Democratic strategists and leaders buy into it, and rank and file rightwingers live by it. As I've written previously, the right controls all branches of government, talk radio is dominated by rightwing voices, there's a cable channel devoted to the rightwing perspective (and two others racing to do the same), there's a herd of rightwing pundits spewing anti-left venom across editorial pages, radio, television, the internet, etc., Bush's press conferences are cloying jokefests, and "neutral" journalists echo deep-seated pro-GOP myths.


Despite the glaringly obvious fact that major media narratives favor the right, we get bloggers like this, this, and this attacking the "MSM" for hyping the Cheney hunting scandal. Rather than waste cyber-ink explaining why it's a big deal that the Vice President of the United States shot a man in the face and heart and went to bed without letting the American people know about it, let me share a question I asked of a blogger at Real Clear Politics who questioned my premise about the pro-Bush press:

I know the assertion that [supposedly neutral or liberal] reporters favor rightwing narratives blows your mind; after all, the liberal media fiction is hard-wired into the right's political nervous system. But why should I believe your foregone conclusion that these people are left-leaning? Just because you say it with such conviction? Give me concrete examples of bias, not of negative coverage. (How can there not be negative coverage of the mess in Iraq? Or Katrina? Or the Plame outing? Or the NSA fiasco? Or do you want our media to simply fawn over the government? Is anything less than total pro-Bush propaganda considered media bias?)

This ties in - albeit tangentially - to a recent post by Glenn Greenwald about the Bush-cultism masquerading as conservatism on rightwing blogs. Glenn unmasks the ideological lie at the core of rightwing blogging. Similarly, digging beneath the surface of the anti-media stance of these bloggers reveals a philosophically bankrupt and logically fallacious position. If the definition of media bias is anything critical of the administration, then these bloggers must be advocating for a servile, state-run press. Which, ironically, seems to be where we're heading.

Of course, reporters take some comfort in being attacked from both sides, believing that it somehow justifies their actions and nullifies the complaints.

So here's my challenge to rightwing bloggers who assail the media for liberal bias (and to journalists who think it's all a he-said-she-said pissing match): Back up your claims. With concrete examples of bias. And without the tautological crutch that any story critical of the administration is proof of liberal bias.

I'll back up mine:

++ ISSUE: Cheney shooting incident --- NARRATIVE: Bush and Cheney are infallible --- EXAMPLE: ABC News covered the Cheney hunting incident by downplaying the significance of the weapon itself. ABC reported that "the vice president accidentally shot prominent Texas lawyer Harry Whittington with a pellet gun while hunting for quail." Cheney used a shotgun, not a pellet gun. ABC later altered the story to read, "a shotgun loaded with birdshot." (Which is why we maintain screenshots of all print stories we reference.) This exemplifies a common tendency of the media, namely, to play defense for Bush and his team, downplaying negative news or polls.

++ ISSUE: Cheney shooting incident --- NARRATIVE: Bush strong, Dems weak --- EXAMPLE: CNN's Bruce Morton used the VP's shooting to repeat the tired GOP spin that Republicans are tougher than Democrats, and specifically tougher than war hero John Kerry. Morton commented that Bush and Cheney are avid hunters, and contrasted the observation with 2004 Bush campaign talking points by saying Sen. John Kerry "spent time posing with guns" two years ago, and that "voters probably saw more of him pursuing exotic sports, windsurfing and so on." The truth is Kerry has been hunting since the age of 12. As Media Matters points out, "Morton's jab echoed language Cheney used during the 2004 campaign to attack Kerry as effete and elitist."

++ ISSUE: Cheney shooting incident --- NARRATIVE: Bush and Cheney are infallible --- EXAMPLE: Jane Hamsher notes that CBS News ran a provocative news item on Monday, explaining that "Texas authorities are complaining that the Secret Service barred them from speaking to Cheney after the incident." For reasons that are still unexplained, CBS has scrubbed the report from its website without explanation.

++ ISSUE: Cheney shooting incident --- NARRATIVE: Bush and Cheney are infallible --- EXAMPLE: Shortly after the incident first made national news, MSNBC's Chris Matthews repeated White House spin without hesitation: "I can understand that in the urgency of the moment that the Vice President's concern was life and death and not [public relations]." The reality is, Cheney was deeply concerned about public relations and managed the controversy personally, overriding the suggestions of White House staff who urged public disclosure.

++ ISSUE: Cheney shooting incident --- NARRATIVE: Bush and Cheney are infallible --- EXAMPLE: NBC News quoted ranch owner Katharine Armstrong as saying Cheney's pre-hunt picnic may have included "a beer or two." The MSNBC website has since been scrubbed to remove the quote with no explanation for readers.

++ ISSUE: Abramoff scandal --- NARRATIVE: Dems do bad things too --- EXAMPLE: The Associated Press continues to help the Republicans' drive to make the Abramoff scandal bi-partisan with additional reporting that plays up a dubious link between the disgraced GOP lobbyist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Despite widespread debunking of the original report, the AP ran a follow-up piece that suggests "further confirmation of such a link but, in fact, casts additional doubt on whether such a link exists."

++ ISSUE: Presidential politics/Hillary Clinton --- NARRATIVE: Dems are "angry" --- EXAMPLE: The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller pushed Ken Mehlman's latest meme -- Hillary is "angry" -- during an interview with DNC Chair Howard Dean. Bumiller asked Dean (twice) about Mehlman's charge that Hillary is "too angry and that Americans will not elect an angry candidate." Bumiller used a transparent media tactic to deliver the RNC talking point: the feigned interrogative. In other words, she used a question to get her point across, as though framing it as a question makes the parroting of anti-Hillary narratives any less repugnant.

++ ISSUE: Coretta Scott King funeral --- NARRATIVE: Dems politicize everything --- EXAMPLE: Howie Kurtz suggested the national media "blew this story" by "failing to note the extraordinary nature of these anti-Bush remarks." Kurtz, a predictable GOP meme-pusher, has it backwards. First, the media was all over the controversial eulogies at the King funeral. Second, the "extraordinary anti-Bush remarks" never even mentioned Bush. And third, despite Kurtz's implication, it's not the media's job to push an RNC line of attack.

++ ISSUE: Coretta Scott King funeral --- NARRATIVE: Bush firm, Bush compassionate --- EXAMPLE: Newsweek's Eleanor Clift, generally considered a Bush critic, praised Bush in a strangely sycophantic piece, saying: "President Bush deserves credit for sitting through the awkward moments at Coretta Scott King’s funeral—and for his role in setting up an African-American history museum." Clift follows in the footsteps of other "liberal" pundits whose raison d'etre seems to be to bash liberals and defend Bush.

++ ISSUE: Warrantless domestic spying --- NARRATIVE: Dems politicize everything/Dems are whiners --- EXAMPLE: The Washington Post recently stated that "some Democrats argue that Bush is breaking the law by spying on people in the United States without a warrant and without congressional or judicial oversight." This spin mirrors the GOP effort to paint this as a partisan controversy, but that dog won't hunt. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have raised serious questions about the program's legality.

++ ISSUE: Abramoff scandal --- NARRATIVE: Dems do bad things too --- EXAMPLE: The Associated Press has picked up on the Republicans' drive to make the Abramoff scandal bi-partisan with a major report on alleged ties between the disgraced GOP lobbyist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. There's only one problem: the AP report is wildly misleading. As MyDD's Scott Shields explained, "For a variety of reasons, some of which I still don't get, the old fashioned media wants very badly for this to be a bipartisan scandal. This is only the latest attempt to make it so. But by leaving out such key information as the fact that Reid never supported the Republicans on the Marianas, the whole story is called into question."

++ ISSUE: Warrantless domestic spying --- NARRATIVE: Bush strong/Dems weak --- EXAMPLE: Fox News and the Washington Times predictably embrace White House terminology -- "terrorist surveillance program" instead of "warrantless wiretapping" being the latest example. Late last week, the AP bought into the narrative and described Bush's warrantless domestic spying as the "anti-terrorist surveillance program."

++ ISSUE: Coretta Scott King funeral --- NARRATIVE: Dems "politicize" everything --- EXAMPLE: CNN's Jeff Greenfield questioned whether some of the eulogies were "appropriate" and asked, "I think for a lot of people the idea is, do you really do this at a funeral?" Greenfield went on to praise Bush for his "gracious speech." The media's immediate willingness to play along with this RNC-driven game is transparent - wouldn't the following question have been equally appropriate: "In light of Katrina, shouldn't George W. Bush have been ashamed to appear at King's funeral?"

++ ISSUE: Warrantless domestic spying --- NARRATIVE: Dems are weak --- EXAMPLE: In its coverage of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the warrantless domestic spying scandal, Reuters framed the hearing exactly the way the administration likes: by making the Dems look weak and ineffectual. The headline says it all: "Democrats frustrated by Gonzales on eavesdropping." A more accurate headline would have been, "Gonzalez Refuses to Answer Questions on Warrantless Spying." (Thanks to reader Dr. Funkenstein for the tip)

++ ISSUE: Majority Leader Boehner --- NARRATIVE: Never allow a criticism of Republicans to go unchallenged --- EXAMPLE: CNN's Jack Cafferty asked viewers if they saw any problem with Majority Leader Boehner renting an apartment from a lobbyist whose clients have business before Boehner. He got over 700 responses, nearly all of which questioned the arrangement. Wolf Blitzer stuck up for Boehner, telling Cafferty, "But you did hear Ed Henry say it is a basement apartment, which is not necessarily all that desirable, and he's paying the fair market value."

++ ISSUE: 2006 elections --- NARRATIVE: Dems have no message --- EXAMPLE: The New York Times ran yet another article (courtesy of Dem-basher Adam Nagourney) that paints congressional Democrats as "heading into this year's elections in a position weaker than they had hoped for." It was, as Josh Marshall put it, "a pretty lazy piece of journalism." What's more, the piece neglected to mention that when asked, Americans say they prefer Dem candidates and the Dem agenda in 2006 by wide margins over the GOP. Kid Oakland elaborates: "I'm sick of articles like this from Adam Nagourney and, to be frank, I'm sick of the New York Times political coverage in general.... Basically, after years of reading this stuff, and hearing similar sentiments echoed on NPR, I think blog critics of mainstream media political coverage are right. There's a persistent media bias that has the genetic code of GOP spin and there's no point in giving it energy or credence. The press is no friend of the Democratic Party and has not been for years."

++ ISSUE: Boehner replaces DeLay --- NARRATIVE: Republicans are tough --- EXAMPLE: A Reuters article on John Boehner titled "New House Republican leader is canny, tough" says the following: "Boehner has shown he can be tough. Last year he approved one of the more controversial provisions of a spending-cut bill: $12.7 billion savings in student-loan programs, raising costs to borrowers, despite student protests." Undermining students is now a measure of toughness?

++ ISSUE: Iraq/Cindy Sheehan --- NARRATIVE: War protesters are unpatriotic --- EXAMPLE: The Associated Press, noting Cindy Sheehan's arrest before the State of the Union, reports, "Sheehan's T-shirt made reference to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: '2245 Dead. How many more?' ... Young's shirt had just the opposite message: 'Support the Troops -- Defending Our Freedom.'" Several bloggers took the AP to task for this blatant propaganda, including Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, and Carpetbagger. Greenwald writes, "As we all know (because George Bush said so, followed by his followers, followed by the media), opposition to the war in Iraq is the "opposite message" of supporting the troops and defending our freedoms. That's a totally appropriate premise on which to base a news article. A mini blogosphere firestorm erupted over this, and I have no doubt that the e-mail inbox of the AP reporter (Laurie Kellman) was stuffed with objections. As Jane Hamsher reports, that sentence was thereafter altered to a more neutral formulation."

++ ISSUE: The federal budget --- NARRATIVE: Bush is fiscally responsible, the deficit is someone else's fault --- EXAMPLE: This New York Times report on budget cuts to Medicaid, welfare, child support and student lending, offers a decidedly pro-Bush spin: "The vote helped President Bush deliver on his promise to rein in federal spending." In reality, Bush has boosted federal spending more than any president since LBJ.

++ ISSUE: Free Speech --- NARRATIVE: War protesters are law-breaking extremists --- EXAMPLE: After Cindy Sheehan's arrest, major media outlets got several elements of the story completely wrong, including the notion that Sheehan unfurled an anti-war banner (reported falsely on CNN) and that Sheehan's T-shirt was illegal. Somehow, one knowledgeable blogger managed to do what the major outlets couldn't, namely, get the facts straight.

++ ISSUE: SOTU/Energy policy --- NARRATIVE: Bush has a credible policy agenda --- EXAMPLE: On ABC's Good Morning America, Charles Gibson embraced the administration's spin and said, "[I]f  there was anything new in the [State of the Union], it was his call for an end to America's addiction with foreign oil, a calling for a reduction on America's dependence on Middle Eastern oil of 75 percent in 20 years." The truth is, there's nothing new in Bush's proposal except slightly different rhetoric.

++ ISSUE: SOTU --- NARRATIVE: Dems are whiners --- EXAMPLE: CNN's Jeff Greenfield chided Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) on the air for issuing a rebuttal to Bush's SOTU before it was delivered, telling viewers, "There wasn't a chance in the world that this congressperson had seen the speech." He failed to note that the White House made excerpts of the speech available well before it was delivered, which is why Wexler's statement was fully justified.

++ ISSUE: State of the Union --- NARRATIVE: Bush firm despite "challenges"/Dems are whiners --- EXAMPLE: The Associated Press hands us a quintessential example of pro-Bush and anti-Dem narratives. The headline reads, "Bush Confident Despite Mounting Challenges," and the lead paragraph captures the White House talking points practically to the letter: "President Bush, opening the fall campaign season, is painting Democrats as defeatist for criticizing his march to war in Iraq and protectionist for questioning new trade deals and tax-cut extensions. Grumbling Democrats looking for advantage in Bush's weak poll numbers and burgeoning scandals in GOP congressional ranks refused to cede center stage as the president laid out his 2006 priorities Tuesday night in his fifth State of the Union address." [Update: The AP has already changed the headline and portions of the text. We have a screenshot of the original on file.]

++ ISSUE: State of the Union --- NARRATIVE: Bush strong, Dems weak, irrational --- EXAMPLE: Immediately following Bush's State of the Union speech, MSNBC's Chris Matthews and his guests delivered the usual Bush-propping and Democrat-bashing themes. Matthews said Bush was "at the top of his game," and that he delivered "a very powerful speech." He added that Democrats are "afraid to take on the president." Matthews' guest, Newsweek's John Meacham, described Bush as "unusually compassionate," and "just as fluid on domestic and foreign issues." Meacham criticized the left for an "irrational hatred of Bush." Matthews also repeated Bush talking points on the warrantless domestic spying scandal.

++ ISSUE: SOTU/Energy policy --- NARRATIVE: Bush has a credible policy agenda --- EXAMPLE: Several major dailies feature headlines that mischaracterize Bush's discussion of energy policy in the SOTU. The New York Times headline said, "Bush, Resetting Agenda, Says U.S. Must Cut Reliance on Oil." The Los Angeles Times headline said, "Bush Calls for Cuts in Oil Reliance." Neither acknowledges just how narrow the Bush plan really is.

++ ISSUE: State of the Union --- NARRATIVE: Bush is firm --- EXAMPLE: MSNBC started their 11am (eastern) hour with "Bush standing firm," one of the most ubiquitous pro-Bush narratives of the past half-decade. To understand why this is favorable to Bush, imagine what his poll numbers would look like if the word 'stubborn' had replaced 'firm' in all those reports.

++ ISSUE: State of the Union --- NARRATIVE: Of course we're balanced, who you gonna believe, us or your lying eyes? --- EXAMPLE: CNN's coverage of the SOTU featured one voice from the left (Paul Begala) and three from the right (Bill Bennett, Victoria Clarke, and J.C. Watts). The network later added Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, but the right still outnumbered the left when offering commentary on the president.

++ ISSUE: State of the Union --- NARRATIVE: Democrats weak on national security, have no message --- EXAMPLE: CNN's coverage of the SOTU also featured Paula Zahn reading from the GOP script, claiming that "a lot of people out there" are saying that "if you vote for a Democrat, that basically you want to be bombed." Zahn also purported to identify a "perception" that Democrats are "reactive, not proactive, that they have no agenda of their own, and ... that basically the only thing they're good at is blasting the president."

++ ISSUE: Warrantless spying --- NARRATIVE: Terrorism helps Bush --- EXAMPLE: Rather than deal with the warrantless domestic spying scandal with the gravity it deserves, MSNBC's Chris Matthews tells his viewers that Bush is "turning the NSA surveillance question into a winner politically."++ ISSUE: Bush approval ratings --- NARRATIVE: Americans trust Bush --- EXAMPLE: Rather than acknowledging the fact that Bush's approval rating is at its lowest level ever in the LA Times poll, the LA Times runs the headline, "Bush's Ratings Sink, but Trust Remains." Similarly, though the latest Washington Post poll shows Dems enjoying big leads over Bush on the direction of the country, the WaPo goes with this headline: "Bush's Midterm Challenge: Rebuilding Public Support May Bolster GOP Candidates."

++ ISSUE: Tim Russert/ MTP --- NARRATIVE: Democrats guilty by association --- EXAMPLE: Last week, Meet the Press's Tim Russert inexplicably asked Sen. Barack Obama (D) to respond to controversial remarks made by Harry Belafonte. Yesterday, just two days after Ann Coulter made headlines by calling for the assassination of Justice John Paul Stevens, Russert neglected to raise the issue in his interview with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R).

++ ISSUE: Abramoff scandal --- NARRATIVE: Everybody does it/Democrats are just as bad as Republicans --- EXAMPLE: A number of journalists, ranging from The Washington Post's ombudsman to NBC's Katie Couric, have declared that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties. Paul Krugman notes today that there's nothing bipartisan about the Abramoff scandal, which is all about the use and abuse of Republican connections. "[T]he reluctance of some journalists to report facts that, in this case, happen to have an anti-Republican agenda is a serious matter. It's not a stretch to say that these journalists are acting as enablers for the rampant corruption that has emerged in Washington over the last decade."

Not to mention this, this, this, and of course this.