One hesitates to discuss media bias. So many writers have written so many articles and books about the bias of the American mainstream media that one feels that the prejudice is so deeply ingrained that it no longer responds to criticism.
Still, one soldiers on, because giving up does not feel right. Besides, of the alternative explanations, one is better than the others.
Peter Wehner asks whether the mainstream media is cynically manipulating the news in order to advance the candidates and agenda it prefers? Or do journalists really believe in their heart of hearts that they are purveying facts objectively?
Wehner compares press coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens with coverage of the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.
Benghazi was a monumental failure:
The September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. We witnessed a massive failure at three different stages. The first is that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and others asked for additional protection because of their fears of terrorist attacks. Those requests were denied—and Mr. Stevens became the first American ambassador to be murdered in more than 30 years, along with three others. The second failure was not assisting former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty when they were under attack (both were killed). The third failure was that the administration misled the American people about the causes of the attack long after it was clear to many people that their narrative was false.
Wehner then states the obvious:
In the Benghazi story, we have four dead Americans. A lack of security that borders on criminal negligence. No apparent effort was made to save the lives of Messrs. Woods and Doherty, despite their pleas. The Obama administration, including the president, gave false and misleading accounts of what happened despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And the person who was wrongly accused of inciting the attacks by making a crude YouTube video is now in prison. Yet the press has, for the most part, treated this story with ambivalence and reluctance.
If the exact same incidents had occurred in the exact same order, and if it had happened during the watch of a conservative president, it would be a treated as a scandal. An epic one, in fact. The coverage, starting on September 12 and starting with Mr. Friedman’s newspaper, would have been nonstop, ferociously negative, and the pressure put on the president and his administration would have been crushing. Jon Stewart, the moral conscience of an increasing number of journalists, wouldn’t have let this story die.
He then describes the media-generated hysteria that surrounded the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity:
It’s not that it hasn’t been covered; it’s that the coverage has lacked anything like the intensity and passion that you would have seen had this occurred during the presidency of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. I have the advantage of having worked in the Reagan administration during Iran-contra and the Bush White House during the Patrick Fitzgerald leak investigation—and there is simply no comparison when it comes to how the press treated these stories. The juxtaposition with the Fitzgerald investigation is particularly damning to the media. Journalists were obsessed by that story, which turned out to be much ado about nothing—Mr. Fitzgerald decided early on there were no grounds to prosecute Richard Armitage for the leak of Valerie Plame’s name—and obsessed in particular with destroying the life of the very good man who was the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories (thankfully they failed in their effort to knee-cap Karl Rove).
They appear to be completely blind to their biases and double standards. If you gave them sodium pentothal, they would say they were being objective. Self-examination, it turns out, is harder than self-justification. And of course being surrounded with people who share and reinforce your presuppositions and worldview doesn’t help matters.
In some ways I think it would be better if they were perfectly cynical and were consciously slanting the news. Pretending to have integrity is better than not having any at all.
If this is not true they might simply see themselves as propagandists using their power to destroy those who disagree with them.
If neither of these is true, they have been brainwashed to the point where they believe that they are being objective and fair. They really believe that the Valerie Plame scandal was an unmitigated horror while the Benghazi terrorist attack was, in Tom Friedman’s words, a “tragedy.”
Adding it all up I would rather think of them as cynical. At least then they would know that they are being dishonest.