Media Bias in the Obama Era — Any Hope for Amelioration?

Richard E. Vatz

Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, has an extraordinary article upcoming in that journal, titled “The Four Year Honeymoon: Will the Press Ever Give Obama Tough Coverage?”

In that piece Barnes makes a truly irrefutable case regarding positively biased coverage of the president by major media. Let me list his most compelling observations, not profound, but profoundly true:

1. When covering unemployment, the press emphasizes only the number of jobs created or the rate of unemployment, whichever is more favorable to the president. When invalid statistics are used to the president’s advantage, such as in those underestimating unemployment due to the ignoring of  “dropouts from the job market,” they get little reportage.

2. Most major media support the president by using the rhetorical strategy of simply not covering embarrassing matters much, such as the killings in Benghazi.

3. Most major media support the president through the equally popular rhetorical strategy of interpreting matters they do cover by putting their finger on the scale. Any fair observer can see this in news coverage, Barnes points out, wherein criticism is absent, as in Obama’s favoring “unions, Hispanics, teachers and single women.”

4. Barnes details how pro-presidential media bias, if it has somehow eluded you thus far, can be seen in the differential coverage between presidents Obama and Bush even, for example, wherein allegedly identical presidential heavy-handedness in the “tactics in the war on terror” has occurred.

There’s more in the Barnes piece, and there’s more in addition to the Barnes piece.

Days ago, I went on WBAL Radio’s Clarence Mitchell IV’s “C-4” show, promising to “name names” in profound major media political bias. I discussed the long-term, embarrassingly anti-Republican and pro-Obama reporting of NBC’s Chuck Todd, Brian Williams, David Gregory, and Andrea Mitchell as well as CNN’s John King, ABC’s Katie Couric, Barbara Walters and others. I also pointed out what I regarded as the straight-down-the-middle work of CBS’s Scott Pelley, Jan Crawford, and Nancy Cordes, ABC’s Jake Tapper (soon to be on CNN?) and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Tom Foreman and others.

The amazing point professionally is that none of the truly biased reporters or news people appears to be even slightly embarrassed by their unprofessionalism. Moreover, none of them ever, to my knowledge, refutes such charges with any particularity.

So might there be a small amelioration of such gross bias?

Barnes thinks the offenders might be embarrassed into doing their job.

I think that since President Obama is not up for re-election and since the facticity of economic crisis in spending may be undeniable, these realities could reduce, at least, the grotesque political cheerleading that characterizes too much of the major media.

Maybe. Possibly. A little.

Or not.

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013.

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