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The Bias Card
Krugman thinks right-leaning media coverage is bringing Kerry down.


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Donald L. Luskin

I’ll bet you didn’t know that most TV news is conservatively biased. You poor fool. You probably didn’t know the South won the Civil War, either. But don’t worry. With Paul Krugman’s two latest New York Times columns, hope is on the way.

Or is it?

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According to Krugman — America’s most dangerous liberal pundit — all those conservative TV news programs haven’t been reporting on the substance of John Kerry’s policy proposals. He says,

I’ve been reading 60 days’ worth of transcripts from the places four out of five Americans cite as where they usually get their news: the major cable and broadcast TV networks. Never mind the details — I couldn’t even find a clear statement that Mr. Kerry wants to roll back recent high-income tax cuts and use the money to cover most of the uninsured.

Except that’s not the way CBS’s famously liberal prime-time anchorman Dan Rather sees it. The Dan’s executive producer Frank Murphy wrote an open letter saying,

The entire staff of the “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” was pretty miffed … He must have missed the SIXTEEN different “issues” pieces we did over a four week period during that time, part of a series that will continue until the election … The Washington Post’s media critic found the series so intriguing amid all the debate over campaign coverage he actually wrote an article about it. How can anyone take an editorialist’s arguments seriously when he ignores some FACTS completely?

That Washington Post article is revealing. It seems that CBS showed Kerry’s health plan in the best possible light, including an interview with “a woman with an immune disease who needs intravenous antibiotics to stay alive and whose monthly health insurance bill has rocketed from $212 to $4,419.” This woman said on camera: “I believe that Mr. Bush doesn’t give a damn about me.” The Bush administration is quoted saying the Kerry plan would “break the bank,” and according to the Post, the report “left the implication” that the woman “would die under the Bush approach.”

That’s some conservative bias, eh?

I don’t know whether the CBS report said specifically that Kerry would raise taxes on the rich to pay for his plan. But it’s not as though the Kerry campaign even wants coverage of how it thinks it can increase spending and cut the deficit at the same time. As Robert Rubin — Clinton’s “legendary” Treasury secretary and current Kerry intimate — told BusinessWeek,

I don’t think you can make proposals to try to dig out of this hole until you’ve gotten elected and until you’ve organized effectively across both parties and both houses. If you start to put out proposals now, they would be vigorously attacked, and they would in effect become tainted so they couldn’t be used.

What other signs of conservative bias does Krugman see? He claims that cable news follows a “script” — “a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence.” One example is the economy. Krugman says,

last summer, when growth briefly broke into a gallop, cable news decided that the economy was booming. The gallop soon slowed to a trot, and then to a walk. But judging from the mail I recently got after writing about the slowing economy, the script never changed; many readers angrily insisted that my numbers disagreed with everything they had seen on TV.

I suspect that what Krugman’s readers were really thinking about was the “teeth of the evidence” that the economy has expanded at the fastest rate in almost twenty years since President Bush’s tax cuts were enacted in 2003. Or perhaps they were just recalling Krugman’s own belated admission just two months ago that “Over the last few months, the recovery has finally started to look like the real thing.”

Here’s another Krugman “script.” He claims that “many people watched the convention on cable news channels — and what they saw was shaped by a script portraying Democrats as angry Bush-haters who disdain the military.” Yet just four paragraphs later, he notes the presence on television of “all those admirals, generals and decorated veterans.”

Krugman’s most absurd evidence of conservative bias comes from gazing into the future. As Krugman Truth Squad member Tom Maguire points out on his Just One Minute blog, “Do not let it be said that he lacks imagination — Paul Krugman opens a new front in the ‘biased media’ war by criticizing CNN for coverage they haven’t aired yet. No, I’m serious.”

Maguire’s right. Krugman says,

CNN used to be different, but Campaign Desk, which is run by The Columbia Journalism Review, concluded after reviewing convention coverage that CNN “has stooped to slavish imitation of Fox’s most dubious ploys and policies.” Seconds after John Kerry’s speech, CNN gave Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party’s chairman, the opportunity to bash the candidate. Will Terry McAuliffe be given the same opportunity right after President Bush speaks?

Since when is it a “dubious ploy” to allow the opposition to comment on a major speech? And as to whether McAuliffe will have the opportunity to do the same thing, we can be sure that if he does Krugman’s subsequent column won’t acknowledge the fact (except to repeat his talking points).

Why is Krugman stooping to all these “dubious ploys” of his own to make it seem as though coverage of the campaign and Democratic National Convention has been conservatively biased? Because bias is the only explanation he dares to contemplate for the fact that John Kerry is slipping in the polls, just when he was supposed to get a big “bounce.” If you’re not a big enough man to admit you’re losing, what’s left except to whine that it’s not a fair game?

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your comments at [email protected].



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