Ed Driscoll

The Next GOP Candidate Should Front-load Media Bias Complaints

In the Washington Times, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) writes that during the 2008 campaign, “the media crossed a threshold that should be greatly troubling to Americans:”

Coverage of the election by many in the media ranged from slanted or biased to actually serving as strong and unabashed advocates for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign.

For example, national news magazines such as Time and Newsweek essentially provided free advertising for Mr. Obama, featuring him on their covers far more frequently – and more favorably – than Sen. John McCain.

Day after day, the New York Times showed its favoritism by allowing Mr. Obama to dominate coverage and control the debate. For example, The Times’ opinion editor, a former staff member in the Clinton administration, refused to publish an op-ed by Sen. McCain about the Iraq war just days after publishing an op-ed on the same subject by Sen. Obama.

In general, media coverage of Sen. McCain was 3 times more negative than coverage of Mr. Obama following the conventions, according to the nonpartisan Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Another way to see the media’s bias is to follow the money. An analysis by Investor’s Business Daily showed journalists contributed 15 times more money to Democrats than Republicans during the 2008 election cycle. And journalists who gave to Mr. Obama outnumbered those who contributed to Mr. McCain by a 20-to-1 margin.

Kevin D. Williamson of NRO’s Media Blog responds with two thoughts:

1. It’s a solid analysis of the media problems Republicans face.

2. Every time I hear a Republican candidate or office-holder talking about media bias in the fall, I assume that the election is over and the Republican has lost. It’s not that the complaints don’t have merit–do they ever–it’s just that the media-bias talk tends to come up right about the time things are going undeniably south for a campaign. So maybe it’s best to front-load the discussion for next time around. Candidates who are talking about media bias in October are losing elections.

And when they’re talking about it in late September, they’re really toast, as Robert Stacy McCain wrote in his October 3rd pre-postmortem:

I didn’t comment on it at the time, but I was shocked when Steve Schmidt lashed out at the New York Times on Sept. 22. Every word Schmidt said about the NYT being in the tank for Obama was true. But you don’t do that. Ever. Not in a campaign you have any hope of winning. It is one thing to criticize specific errors by specific reporters, but for a presidential campaign manager to call into question the fundamental integrity of a newspaper that more or less dictates news coverage at the three major broadcast networks? Uh uh. No way. Leave that work to surrogates. Then Wednesday, in an interview with the Associated Press, McCain himself got all hostile with the reporter. That is tantamount to an admission of defeat.

But one of McCain’s many weaknesses as a GOP candidate is that he counted on the media’s support–or at least was praising the media–and in particular, the New York Times as late as January of 2008 in the Republican debate in Florida. This left him absolutely unable to criticize the media in any form–which is why Schmidt’s meltdown in late September sounded so much like whining, even though, as Robert McCain wrote back then, “Every word Schmidt said about the NYT being in the tank for Obama was true.”

Hopefully the next GOP candidate will lay sufficient upfront groundwork so that his supporters (and not just the base) will know that the media attacks are coming–and that the GOP isn’t competing merely against another party, they’re also competing against the bulk of the legacy media, where most voters go to receive whatever scraps of information they’ll get to justify their voting decisions.

It wouldn’t hurt to remind people of the media’s excesses and kneejerk support for Obama in this election, as many will have forgotten it. Laying this groundwork early in the campaign would also allow the candidate to have lots of “See, I told you so” moments when the drive-by media hits start flying. Whoever the next GOP candidate is, he might want to remind his supporters of this moment, as Stephen Spruiell describes in the December 1st “dead tree” edition of NR (subscription required):

McCain’s health-care plan also became the subject of a deceptive ad campaign, funded by Obama’s historically deep and mostly unscrutinized campaign coffers. The ads claimed that McCain’s health-care tax credit would go “straight to the insurance companies, not to you, leaving you on your own to pay McCain’s health-insurance tax.” A few media sources took the trouble to point out that this was a flat-out lie, and that no one would pay more in taxes under McCain’s health-care plan. But at this time most of the media were busy accusing McCain and Palin of fomenting racial hatred every time some bigot unaffiliated with the campaign yelled something offensive at an open event. So much for wanting to talk about “the issues.”

The McCain campaign complained mightily about these and other instances of media malpractice, and the public shrugged. In perhaps the most blatant case of overt bias against McCain, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said that each complaint from the McCain campaign made him want to “find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page, just to show them that they can’t get away with it.”

Which of course, the Times was doing all year, even if the stories weren’t true.

Spruiell concludes:

When the top newspaper editor in the country is openly discussing his strategy to attack the Republican nominee through the news pages and almost no one cares, complaining about bias just isn’t going to accomplish much.

The mainstream media have staked their future on Obama; that was evident in the way they conducted themselves during this campaign. Economic and political forces are driving notionally objective news organizations toward overt partisanship. Now is the time to invest in conservative alternatives and work to secure mainstream recognition for conservative voices. The media game has changed, and we have to get better at playing it.

If the next Republican presidential candidate doesn’t get that, he’s dead politician walking.