Thursday, July 24, 2008

Media bias

[As I gear up for more of my award-winning series on Great Teachers and decision-making, I have found a few other things to comment on. Never fear, you will hear more of my ramblings on education, but I have to clarify my own thoughts and incorporate some perceptive comments from Citizen Carrie.]

John Kass writes for the Chicago Tribune, having taken over the column spot once inhabited by Mike Royko. And in that role, as one who writes about corruption in Chicago and the curious relationship to it of Mayor-for-Life (-or-until-his-son-is-ready-to-take-over) Richard M. Daley, he can approach Royko-ness (Royko's most enduring work is almost certainly Boss, his biography of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley).

But Kass is not a national reporter, something he proves almost every time he comments on anything outside of Northeastern Illinois. It's fine that he's a conservative; if he wants to continue to carry a torch for our Brave Protector, the Great Decider George W. Bush, that's his right. And those columns tend to be quite weak, since the evidence doesn't exactly favor that interpretation.

Kass has some chance of reclaiming a reputation for persipicacity during the current campaign, but is blowing that chance through his decision to prattle on about the media bias in favor of Barack Obama. His most recent column, Media's guilt plays well for Obama and McCain (and, no, I don't understand that title), is yet another attempt to get us to feel sorry for John McCain, as the liberal media follows Obama around with awe and admiration, and ignores the great war hero.

I can't do justice to chronicling the pass that the press has given Mr. Straight Talk over the years, many have demonstrated that the media has swooned over Senator McCain forever (you can start with Brilliant at Breakfast, where you can pick any random recent post and have a good chance of reading a description of McCain's missteps, and the reluctance of the mainstream press to expose any of that). I could point out the most recent one, where McCain gives George Bush credit for the drop in oil prices because of his lifting of a ban on offshore drilling, which the White House won't even take credit for. Here is McCain, who should be distancing himself from Bush, but he just can't stop tacking back to nuzzling the President's hand.

Another example, which has received a certain amount of play, is that Obama's overseas trip is being covered by a mass gathering of the Fourth Estate, while McCain had to travel to Iraq without the comforting presence of Katie Couric. Let's forget, for the moment, that McCain baited Obama on his failure to visit the Middle East, and is now criticizing Obama for...visiting the Middle East.

This might seem like bias, and maybe it is, somewhat, but McCain shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. On his last trip to the "war-torn" Middle East, every picture and clip I saw featured McCain and his little friend, Joe Lieberman. Someone needs to tell John that there is probably no potential voter who doesn't recoil at the sight of this strange little man looking adoringly at him (isn't that Cindy's job?).

McCain and his surrogates (Whinin' Phil Gramm and "Business Person" Carly Fiorina) have put out mixed messages, contradicted one another (and McCain is able to do that all on his own), have made major misstatements ("We have the Iraq surge to thank for the defeat of Japan in World War II"), and have come off like the campaign that can't shoot straight.

And still the media presents without question the idea that being a POW is, in and of itself, sufficient to become President, that sitting in a cell in Hanoi for 5-1/2 years automatically confers on the captive an expertise in foreign policy. They allow Fiorina to portray herself as a business person who "understands the numbers," despite no proven ability to do so. They profile Cindy McCain as a brave woman who overcame an addiction, while rarely referring to her theft of drugs from her non-profit organization. They give short shrift to the lobbyists and influence peddlers who infest McCain's staff.

So the problem here is not primarily one of media bias, it's one of media laziness. For Kass, or anyone else, to criticize the press for their fawning coverage of Obama is to ignore the bigger sin: that the press isn't coming close to informing the public about the things they need to know in order to make an informed decision.

Keep in mind, this is the same press corps that showed actually no backbone in dealing with George W. Bush for eight years (have you ever seen David Gregory's pride at having been named "Stretch" by Big Alpha Male?). Did their liberal bias show as they laid supine at the feet of the Decider? I'm uncertain the press is able to hold a thought long enough to be liberal or conservative or anything else. At any rate, bias is pretty low on my list of media sins; I don't think they're pushing either campaign hard enough on issues, and that's what I think we need.

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