The Crystal Ball of Media Bias

The news media insist that what conservatives don’t like about their reporting is the unpleasant truths they uncover. If that’s true, how do they explain their fixation on the reporting of unpleasantries that have yet to occur?

Monday morning, Oct. 24, began with great conjuring of clouds and thunderclaps about all the bad news about to land on President Bush. The gloom over the breakfast table was impenetrable, perhaps because the soothsayers all had partisan backgrounds. NBC brought on Tim Russert, former Democratic aide (Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick Moynihan). ABC invited George Stephanopoulos, former Democratic aide (the Clintons). CBS offered Amy Walter, former Democratic aide (campaign manager for Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky in 1994 — the year she was defeated).

The talking points for the week were set. In the near future, there is going to be a body count of 2,000 Americans dead in Iraq, indictments in the probe of White House officials leaking to the press about Valerie Plame, and a collapse of the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court. In the recent past, Tom DeLay was indicted, and we had the miserable federal response to Katrina. And did we mention that Tom DeLay was indicted?

To get a feeling for the tone of the dirge, here’s Amy Walter on CBS, foretelling the Plamegate indictments: "This could not come at a worse time for the president. Here is a president who is struggling at his lowest approval ratings of his presidency, that he is working so hard to get some traction back after a pretty disastrous September between Katrina, Harriet Miers, the economy, continuing frustration about Iraq, a very pessimistic public. He needs something to be able to get himself out of these political doldrums. This certainly is not going to help."

One of the comical things about this kind of reporting is how it most definitely affects those low approval ratings subsequently reported. And if these reports that were so harmful were overhyped, or just plain inaccurate — oh, well.

Time and again, the news media have done this. They wildly exaggerated the deaths and damage of Hurricane Katrina. They hammered on depressing gas price hikes after Katrina, but then suffered a sudden bout of amnesia when they improved.

The Miers nomination presents another issue. At this moment, you can’t really blame the news media too much; it is conservative discontent that has driven the story. Still, conservatives are always a bit amazed at the spotlight they suddenly receive — only receive — when they actually disagree on principle with the White House.

But you can’t blame the Miers pick on the conservatives, and you certainly can’t blame the sorry Miers performance so far on the conservatives. When Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy agree that her questionnaire is so bad it’s "insulting," the White House may want to rethink the neat idea of sneaking through a nominee with no record, no notable thoughts, and no apparent grasp of the judicial particulars she’s supposed to be handling. But if Miers goes down, you can bet your bottom dollar the media will insist the next nominee will be successful only if he/she echoes the "moderate" views of Specter, Leahy and Company.

The media have been obsessing over the 2,000-death mark for a week, and now that it’s been reached, they will continue focusing on it for days to come, all the while giving only lip service to the historic march toward democracy unfolding in Iraq.

What about Plamegate? This is where the Amy Walter forecast was almost perfect in its refusal to see a sunny side: "the actual specifics of the case, I think, become less important than the overall big picture." What? Specifics like Karl Rove being indicted or not indicted aren’t important?

To Walter, the big picture story is the cloud, "the sense that this White House has lost its focus, that there is a continuing raft of problems that seem to be enveloping this White House … at the same time we’re seeing other Republicans, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, in his own ethical and legal woes."

And what of Tom DeLay? While Walter began by asserting that conservatives can’t charge partisanship against Fitzgerald, she offered no elaboration on the raging partisanship of Mr. DeLay’s prosecutor, Ronnie Earle. What if Earle’s case gets the boot, as so many are predicting? Why aren’t the media covering this possibility? Because it isn’t part of the "big picture" of Republican doom.

The unfairness of this crystal ball shows a media that are so eager for bad news, they can’t wait for it to unfold. Why can’t we have a media that pay more attention to what happened today, or what happened yesterday, instead of being so obsessed about the political weather forecast for tomorrow — if it’s potentially harmful to the president?