The Columbia Journalism Reviews Campaign Desk has an item today about CNN, which has often been portrayed by conservatives as a liberal network. In fact, conservatives describe any media that isn’t right-wing as liberal. In their lexicon, there’s no such thing as moderate or objective news reporting. If you’re not conservative, you’re liberal.
That’s bad enough when describing voters and politicians, but for a profession that’s supposed to be fair, balanced, accurate and objective, it’s an absurd dichotomy.
During the Democratic convention, I watched mostly CNN and MSNBC, with a little PBS and no Fox. After four nights, I could no longer tolerate Chris Matthews on MSNBC, a guy I had once turned off and then began watching occasionally. But his shouting and stepping on people’s comments revealed not just a conservative slant but a bore who bullies people, even his own guest pundits. His style was contagious during the convention, infecting Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, Willie Brown and Joe Scarborough (himself a bruiser). They constantly talked over one another to the point that you couldn’t tell what was said half the time.
CNN with Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenberg at least had a lower volume. But as the CJR piece points out, they, along with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and others, revealed if not a conservative tilt, an unprofessional refusal to challenge pundits on their talking points. I had pointed out two misrepresentations yesterday, and the CJR writer later in the day mentioned them on his post.
CNN also did something the other networks didn’t. Immediately after Edwards’s and Kerry’s speeches, CNN brought in representatives of the Bush campaign to counter the speech. Edwards drew Ralph Reed and Kerry’s antagonist was Ed Gillespie of the RNC. In both cases, Blitzer, who has never struck me as more than a not-so-pretty-face-but-a-perfectly-trimmed beard of an anchor, and Woodruff and Greenberg, for whom I have had respect, never challenged the GOP on their talking points.
But in all the coverage, the media’s obsession with the talking points dominates. Flip-flopping is one. IN a Lexis-Nexis search, I found more than 80 newspaper articles that mention the term over the past week. Forty-nine magazine articles used it over the past six months. And on the tube every major network – from Fox to NPR, CNN to PBS, MSNBC to CNBC repeated the charge.
One could argue that they should because people are thinking that way about Kerry. But the only reason they are is because the GOP has constantly promoted it. Even his most notorious flip – his not vote for $87 billion for the Iraq War was clearly at the time described as a vote of protest against the Bush administration’s refusal to curtail tax breaks to pay for the war. It was a fiscally responsible vote to take. Remember, Bush could have reduced the amount requested or reduced the tax cuts to address those issues. But he didn’t knowing most lawmakers wouldn’t oppose it because they were afraid of the exact charges the Bush campaign now makes. So instead of calling Bush on his political ploy, the media – and with relish CNN – constantly regurgitates the point.
This proves the thesis of many writers, including Eric Alterman, Joe Conason, Al Franken and others: The way to intimidate the media is to accuse it of being liberal. The defendant then will bend over backwards to prove you wrong – by being an attack dog for the right.