The “Liberal Mainstream Media:” Too Broad a Brush (The Dana Milbank Example)

–Richard E. Vatz

I hear the phrases “the liberal media” and “the liberal mainstream media” all the time, and I may have inadvertently used the phrases myself. Still, I shouldn’t do so without a qualifier, and neither should you. It oversimplifies the phenomenon of print and electronic media which may have prevailing liberal biases but which differ in the uniformity and ubiquity of those biases and the ability to be a “watchdog press” and to be fair. In this article I restrict myself to looking at print NEWS media, although much that is said is applicable to other media as well.

One of the problems with an ideologically based news medium is that it will not cover, cover prominently, or follow up on scandalous behavior by those who share its political predilections. Thus when THE BALTIMORE SUN does not pursue or editorialize quickly and firmly regarding possibly illegal or unethical activity by Democrats in Maryland or when THE LOS ANGELES TIMES withholds, as just one example, a videotape of the 2003 farewell bash in Chicago at which Barack Obama lavished praise on former Yassir Arafat spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who subsequently held a fundraiser for then-Sen. Obama, it is a journalistic travesty akin to the unspoken journalistic conspiracy not to investigate Obama relations with terrorist Bill Ayers, the odious Rev. Jeremiah Wright (“God Damn America”) and the criminal Tony Rezko.

But there are very significant differences of integrity among allegedly “liberal” newspapers.

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Let me look at one example from today’s newspapers. Dana Milbank is one of THE WASHINGTON POST’s liberal in-house columnists (redundant), yet he upholds the tradition of the aforementioned “watchdog press.” His column today castigates former Department of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle (he withdrew his name today, perhaps as a consequence of articles such as Milbank’s) for his income tax derelictions and influence peddling. Milbank ultimately gives neither Daschle nor his powerful supporters any quarter as he (Milbank) dissects Daschle’s transparently deceptive rhetoric and his Senatorial ex-colleagues’ “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to investigating his questionable financial dealings. The outcome, says Milbank, is that “they risk leaving the impression that they operate under the Leona Helmsley rule: only the little people pay taxes.”

Milbank goes on to analyze other examples of financially shady dealings of other Administration nominees and the indifference of their Democratic supporters. He finishes this exemplary piece of journalistic commentary by citing very specific illustrations of Democratic partisan irresponsibility.

I always tell my classes that despite some liberal bias on its news pages that THE WASHINGTON POST is my favorite newspaper, including its clearly balanced op-ed page (in contrast to THE NEW YORK TIMES’ nearly all-liberal line-up, although, incidentally, they did call for Daschle’s name to be withdrawn). To be consistent in their criteria for good government the POST endorsed Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich for re-election in 2006. Their recent ombudsman, Deborah C. Howell, roiled the journalistic world in several columns by citing the problem of anti-conservative journalistic bias, specifically and bravely citing the POST’s violations of disinterested writing and reporting.

Major news media are typically liberal and pro-Democratic, but there are very significant differences among them. For this reason and others THE WASHINGTON POST, a newspaper with integrity, excellent reportage and writing is one conservative’s favorite newspaper.

Richard E. Vatz is professor of political communication at Towson University

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