A Philosopher's Blog

Will the Media be Too Easy on Obama?

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 27, 2009

While some might think that the notion that the media has a liberal bias is a new thing, it actually dates back to Spiro Agnew. This notion continued under the Reagan administration and is still around today. For example, it has been claimed that the media was too easy on Obama during the primaries and general election. Some even have gone so far as to claim that the biased media contributed to his victory. Naturally enough, some wonder whether the media will be too easy on Obama now that he is President.

Of course, there is the question of whether the media has a liberal bias or not. Some critics point to the surveys showing that journalists tend to be politically liberal as evidence for a liberal bias. While this does provide grounds for concern, the mere potential for bias does not entail actual bias. To use an analogy, I have definite moral views. However, when I grade student papers in my ethics classes, I do not grade them based on whether they match my view or not. Presumably other professionals can exert the same restraint as I and keep their bias in check.

In the face of such a question, the natural thing to do is to turn to the experts. Unfortunately, the experts disagree. For example, Eric Alterman argues that the liberal bias is a myth (What Liberal Bias?) while Bernard Goldberg contends that the bias is a fact (Bias). One problem with reports and books on the media is that they generally come from media folks. As such, this does raise a bit of a problem: can the media folks be trusted to objectively assess their own bias (or lack thereof)?

Laying aside experts, one way to address the matter of liberal bias is to observe what the media says about Obama. Clearly, not all the media folks are liberals who will take it easy on him. After all, the fine folks at Fox News tend to be very critical of Obama. Rush Limbaugh and other such media folks are also clearly not taking it easy on Obama.Of course, they can be accused of having a conservative bias-something that should be criticized as severely as having a liberal bias.

Other news companies might be seen as being biased in Obama’s favor. For example, some folks think that CNN is a bit too liberal leaning (with some notable exceptions) and will take it too easy on Obama. While CNN claims it will “keep them honest”, that remains to be seen.

In general, the media is often easily manipulated by the government. A few recent examples: first, the federal government  created a fake “news report” praising airport security. This “news report” was then distributed to stations along with a prepared introduction for local anchors to read.

Second, during its first four years the Bush administration spent a quarter of a billion dollars on fake “news” about Medicare, Iraq, Social Security, and No Child Left Behind. It should be noted that the Clinton Administration was also active in manipulating the media.

Third, between 2004 and 2005 three editorialists were exposed for taking money directly or indirectly from the Bush Administration to promote its policies and programs. Armstrong Williams received $200,000.

Fourth, in 2007 FEMA held a “press conference” in which FEMA staff members asked the questions. The White House spokesperson replied by saying that the practice was not employed by the White House and was not something that was condoned. This reply was reported uncritically by the White House Reporters, despite the fact that the White House has done the same in the past.

While more examples could be given, these should suffice to show that the media has a long tradition of being manipulated by the government and taking it easy on the President. True, the media did get tougher on the Bush Administration. However, that was when Bush’s approval ratings began to plummet. In light of the past, it seems reasonable to expect that the media will be fairly easy on Obama-provided that he remains popular. After all, shouldn’t he get the same easy ride that Bush got?

While Fox will be critical of Obama, someone should just play them tapes of what they said about the “liberal media” attacking Bush. After all, if the President should be treated a certain way by the media, that should hold whether the President is a liberal or a conservative.

My view is, of course, that the media folks should strive to be objective. When the Obama Adminstration is in error or up to something shady (wait for it…), then the media should call them on this. When the Obama Administration does well, then that should be noted as well.