The Media Bias Canard

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Casting about for material this morning, I ran across two different articles on how the leftist media treat Republican and Democratic politicians differently. Nothing new there, but it struck me as odd for some reason to read John Hawkins ticking off "Six Things the Mainstream Media Would Say about Obama if He Were a Republican." (In the other piece, Ann Althouse merely comments on a conspicuously absent media feeding frenzy -- but in doing so, she did cause me to think again about the Hawkins piece.)

Most relevant to my point is the following, which comes from the opening of the Hawkins article:

Conservatives spend most of their time correcting smears and trying to explain to the public what they really believe. Liberals, on the other hand, can count on the press to hide their unpopular beliefs and put the best spin possible on everything they do.
Okay. Sure. Leftist media are in the tank for Obama and would trash him if he were a Republican. Why is this such a big deal just now? I can't help but wonder whether the weak field of GOP hopefuls is raising the defensive hackles of some in the GOP. To see why, let's question a couple of the implicit premises in that statement. In doing so, note that I am not suggesting we question whether the media are biased.

The first premise is that Republicans (a) have a substantially different message from the Democrats and (b) that this media smearing and focus on personalities is keeping said message from being heard. We can see that this premise is wrong on both counts by considering what some Republicans hold as a triumph of one of their own over the media: Then-RNC Chairman Haley Barbour's public wager against media "charges" the the Clinton-era Republicans in Congress were actually going to cut back a major entitlement program. To quote Barbour: "In November 1995, the U.S. House and Senate passed a balanced budget bill. It increases total federal spending on Medicare by more than 50 percent from 1995 to 2002."

The money to pay for such programs was coming (or would have to come) from somewhere. Whether the route was to be taxation or inflation and the time was to be then or later, the Republican message was loud and clear: "We favor redistribution of wealth, just like the Democrats." The only difference between Barbour and the Democrats is that Barbour probably made himself sound like he favored the government not bankrupting the country in the short term. Maybe sound fiscal policy is something Barbour and others in the GOP feel an attraction to, but it can't be founded on the premise that it's okay for the government to redistribute property.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself, "Sound? For whom?" How it is "sound" for any voter to be subject to the government taking his money? That's just the beginning of a long line of moral and economic questions we ought to be asking about entitlement programs, but aren't. This is, in part, because the GOP does not oppose them or take a principled stand for limited government, but it does blow lots of hot air about balanced budgets. Or at least, about budget "cuts."

The second premise is that such biased coverage is responsible for Republican difficulties at the ballot box. Perhaps if voters didn't actually care about important issues that have been properly framed, that might be the case, but history is replete with examples that show otherwise. One that comes to mind is the landslide victory of the corrupt Edwin Edwards in the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial race against white supremacist David Duke, who ran as a Republican, but was, rightly, repudiated by his own party. In that campaign, there was a clear difference between the two candidates, neither of whom the public was particularly fond of. In a campaign in which people who otherwise wouldn't have been Edwards supporters rallied under the slogan, "Vote for the Crook. It's Important," Edwards won in a landslide.

While the above example is of a Democratic victory, the elections of Ronald Reagan, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, and the most recent congressional election all show that Republicans can win elections in which voters see a clear contrast (whether or not it actually exists) between Democrats and Republicans and understand (correctly or not) that it is in their interests to vote for the Republicans. The fact that none of these elections caused a turning of the tide in the growth of our government demonstrates that the GOP was not really a party of limited government or at least that too many of them doubted that voters really wanted limited government. See Haley Barbour, above.

If Republicans would stop aping Democrats all the time, they would be clearly different enough from the Democrats to win elections, especially at times when the consequences of big government policies are clearly in favor of proponents of limited government. Or they'd lose in elections where constituencies want handouts, and perhaps be in a better position to run later, after saying, "See. I warned about this." As a voter who regards politicians as generally spineless, I don't expect the second outcome to be very common. Instead, what will have to happen is for voters like myself, who see the dangers inherent in the welfare state, to keep up the pressure on such irresolute officials as John Boehner.

Part of that pressure should include turning a deaf ear to conservative whining about media bias. It's the public who cast votes, and the public can communicate its way around the media, if journalists want to continue making themselves irrelevant.

-- CAV


Mark Lindholm said...

As a constant whiner about media bias, I must disagree.

Most people are second-handers. They don't think in principles, and they don't think independently. Their opinions are strictly based on what is considered polite and what will make people like them.

If the media (and its parent the ivory tower) create an environment in which these "polite" people only feel comfortable voting for leftist politicians, they are, in a very real sense, controlling elections.

You must have seen this in action. It pains me to say it, but my own mother, who is highly educated and intelligent, unfailingly votes democratic. She admits to me that she knows little of politics, and concedes every point with great discomfort when I try and debate her on specific issues. Yet every once in a while she will blurt out some ridiculous media talking points about the latest republican "outrage".

My mother, the most civil and polite human being I know, once made a joke to me about Sarah Palin's retarded child. And this is because she and her friends listen to NPR, read the NYT, and allow these types of outlets to define for them a common "polite" discourse. They are fed a constant diet of dehumanization that allows them to snicker over someone who doesn't believe in abortion having a retarded baby - or ridicule tea partiers as racist.

Politicians like Barbour aren't much different. If its not polite to be a capitalist, then they will brag about spending increases and hope that makes people like them more. The message itself (or lack thereof) is shaped to a large degree by the media.

Gus Van Horn said...

I am not saying that the media aren't shaping elections. Nevertheless, unless someone like Barbour takes a stand once in a while, who is ever going to become emboldened to stand up to the left?

It's fine to point our or complain about media bias, but past a certain point, it verges on making excuses or even collusion.