I wrote here about participating in the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend last month. I was on a panel on the media with The Hill’s Joe Concha, moderated by Daniel Greenfield. I thought our readers might be interested in my comments, so I typed up the notes for my talk in narrative form. Here they are:
The issue of media bias has evolved considerably over the last 20 years, and I have had a front row seat. I think a simple way to see how much the landscape has changed is to compare two well-known incidents.
We started the web site Power Line in 2002, and media bias was a major focus of our writing. In those days, reporters for news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post were pretty freely available, and we had many email exchanges with them, which sometimes resulted in corrections to news stories—usually sub silentio, but still. Reporters in those days wanted to be seen as objective and fair, even though they often fell short of that ideal.
In 2004, in an episode that became known as Rathergate, 60 Minutes tried to help swing the presidential election to John Kerry by publishing fake documents intended to put President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, back in the early 1970s, in a bad light. The fraud unraveled quickly as we at Power Line and others on the internet showed that the documents were clumsy fakes that were full of substantive errors.
In less than 24 hours after the internet critique of the 60 Minutes story began, CBS News announced that it would conduct an investigation into what had happened. And it did. CBS News hired a former Attorney General of the U.S. to lead the investigation, and the report that he and others authored, the Thornburgh Report, was a devastating account of the dishonesty at CBS. Dan Rather was already gone by the time the report came out, and thereafter CBS fired Mary Mapes, the producer of the 60 Minutes segment, and several other employees.
The key point is that back in 2004, CBS News was seriously embarrassed that it had produced a false news report. It really did want, at least, to be seen as a fair and unbiased news source. And when the fraud was exposed, it took decisive action against the employees who had perpetrated it.
But over the next decade, that changed. Major news organizations have gone from being biased against conservatives to engaging in open warfare against conservatives. In 2016, Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times, publicly stated that the Times’ approach to covering the news had changed when it came to Donald Trump. No more neutrality, no more objectivity, the Times would openly attack Trump not just in its editorials, but in its news stories.
Shortly after Baquet made that announcement, the Russia collusion story hit the news, and it continued to dominate the news for the next two or three years.
We know now that the so-called Steele dossier was a complete fraud, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign. And who promoted that fraud? It wasn’t fringe news sources on the Left, it was, more than anyone else, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC. I would submit that the collusion hoax never had any plausibility, let alone any proof, and the journalists who promoted it knew that in all likelihood they were reporting lies. But they didn’t care. Their mission was to help Hillary Clinton win the election, and failing that, to hamstring the incoming Trump administration. They succeeded in that last goal to a remarkable degree.
The Russia collusion story has long been known to be a hoax. Bob Mueller and his team of partisan zealots couldn’t find a shred of evidence to support it, and the investigations of Devin Nunez and John Durham have shed plenty of light on how the fraud was perpetrated.
But here is the point: has any liberal news organization launched an internal investigation, as in the Rathergate case, to determine how they could have been so wrong? No. Have any reporters or editors been fired? No. Have any Pulitzer prizes been returned? No.
As best I can tell, liberal reporters and editors are not in the least embarrassed that the story they promoted so heavily turned out to be a clumsy fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party. I think they are proud of what they did. Their mission was to bring down Donald Trump, and the Russia collusion hoax played a major role in what eventually was a successful effort.
So I think those two stories illustrate how we have gone from liberal media bias in the early years of the 21st century to the open warfare on conservatism that we see today.
The only other thing I would add is that the dominant social media platforms now play an important role in amplifying the left-wing propaganda that is produced by the Washington Post, the NY Times, and so on. The social media giants view these left-wing outlets as mainstream media sources and feature them prominently on, for example, Facebook and Apple News, and no news story from those outlets is ever banned on Twitter. So social media companies perpetuate the outdated idea that liberal media are merely biased, not overtly partisan.
Basically, complaining about media bias today is like being a soldier in an ancient army, seeing a phalanx of enemy soldiers lined up across a field, preparing to advance, and saying “Those guys are biased against us!” We left what to do about this state of affairs for the question and answer session.