Tired Cries of Tiredness Don’t Help Media

by Ramesh Ponnuru

“Tired Cries of Bias Don’t Help Romney” is the headline for a New York Times piece by David Carr yesterday. His argument: There are a lot of influential conservative voices in the media (he mentions Fox News and Rush Limbaugh); and complaints about media bias don’t seem to help Republicans. A lot of conservatives will get a chuckle out of his insistence, in his discussion of the first point, that liberal bias in the news pages of the Wall Street Journal is metaphysically impossible. But leave that aside. Notice that Carr does not contest the claim that many journalists are biased in favor of liberals and liberal points of view; nor does he contest the idea that this bias can sometimes have an effect on political outcomes. He does not try to defend the neutrality and professional work product of NBC, CNN, or his own newspaper. He could try to make the argument that it’s okay to slant the news on the theory that other people are slanting it in the opposite direction, but he doesn’t do that either.

And what’s Carr’s evidence for his claim that “the trope” of a media biased toward liberalism “is losing traction”? Do fewer people believe it than used to believe it? (Not according to the polling data I’ve seen.) Are the complaints about it moving fewer voters than they used to? (They didn’t seem to work for George H. W. Bush in 1992.)

I’m assuming that Carr understands that whether complaining about the media helps Republicans win votes is a separate issue from whether it exists and has consequences. The headline, at any rate, is perfect. The trouble is that that it’s also compatible with the subheadline “But They’re True, and an Indictment of My Colleagues.” Which may be why the whole debate makes Carr so very tired.