Politics & Policy

Four Ways the Media Subtly Shills for the Democratic Party

President Obama in the White House press room. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Media bias is real — just look at the evidence.

With the 2014 elections approaching, the American people will once again rely on the so-called fourth estate to help them decide what candidates to support. And while bias in the media is rampant regardless of the source, National Review, CNS, and my bosses at LifeSiteNews.com admit where we’re coming from.

Meanwhile, mainstream outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News, and others not only claim to be straight down the middle in their reporting and editorializing, but they also garner far more viewership than the admittedly biased media sources. (Fox is an exception in its avoidance of liberal bias and its outsized ratings, but the king of cable, Bill O’Reilly, for example, garners far less viewership than each of the CBS, NBC, and ABC evening shows.)

So it’s important that the American voter, who uses the Times, the Post, and the evening news shows as their main outlets for news, understands how they can frame the news such that they essentially become shills for the Democratic Party’s policies and attack lines.  

Four broad examples of this pattern:

Getting presidents elected

It’s easy to cherry-pick the mainstream media’s reporting and opinions and claim media bias. (Certainly, that is what critics of this piece will claim I’ve done.) It’s a favorite pastime of conservatives, and sometimes we can overstate individual circumstances.

Therefore, I’d like to start off with some empirical data showing widespread bias for Democrats in election coverage. Let’s start with the 2012 presidential race.

Back then, liberals cheered the results of a study showing that Obama received more negative coverage than 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the Republican party’s primary season. But it doesn’t make much sense to compare a sitting president to a front-runner nominee

According to the Pew Research Journalism Project, in a period from late August to late October, during the general election, both Obama and Romney faced periods of intense imbalance when it came to positive vs. negative news coverage. But while Obama’s worst period showed less than a 3:1 imbalance of negative to positive coverage, Romney’s worst period showed a 4:1 ratio.

Likewise, coverage of Obama was 22 percent positive and 27 percent negative during his most favorable period. Romney’s best time period was still negative: 20 percent positive coverage to 30 percent negative.

And this imbalance isn’t confined to the 2012 election. After the 2008 election, the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affiars (CMPA) found the following:

CMPA analyzed every soundbite by reporters and nonpartisan sources (excluding representative of the political parties) that evaluated the candidates and their policies. On the three broadcast networks combined, evaluations of Obama were 68% positive and 32% negative, compared to the only 36% positive and 64% negative evaluations of his GOP opponent John McCain.

In fact, Obama received the most favorable coverage CMPA has ever recorded for any presidential candidate since we began tracking election news coverage in 1988.

Even the reporting portion of Fox News’s primetime Special Report, which was relentlessly negative on Senator Obama in 2008, was more even-handed than the mainstream networks. From CMPA’s analysis:

Meanwhile, Fox’s Special Report was dramatically tougher on Obama, with only 36% favorable vs. 64% unfavorable evaluations during the same time period. But McCain didn’t fare much better, garnering only 40% favorable comments vs. 60% negative ones. So the broadcast networks gave good marks to one candidate and bad marks to another, while Fox was tough on both–and most balanced overall.

And remember: The mainstream evening news garners millions of more viewers than Special Report.

In 2004, CMPA also found a distinct bias. It examined the three mainstream evening news shows, Special Report, and Time and Newsweek, from June 2 to September 1 of that year. While then-senator John Kerry got a two-to-one positive coverage differential, they found “evaluations of George W. Bush were over 60 percent negative.”

Also, they report, “among non-partisan sources, Kerry’s evaluations were almost three-to-one positive; Bush’s were over two-to-one negative.”

So, overall, the mainstream media has been incredibly biased toward Democrats for the last three presidential election cycles. But even that big-picture analysis can miss the egregious nature and damage of individual attacks.

As the 2012 presidential campaign picked up speed, PolitiFact often acted as a de facto member of the Obama campaign: For instance, it failed to correctly assess a claim by Obama and a campaign surrogate about alleged cuts to federal education funding. The fact-checking site actually made the error twice — once when grading Obama, and once when grading the surrogate.

And, of course, who can forget that the Washington Post somehow unearthed an unsourced story about Romney’s allegedly bullying a classmate in high school — five decades before the 2012 elections?

The “War on Women”

This was a particularly effective Democratic attack line that began in the 2012 elections. It may have been in large part responsible for Democratic wins in Indiana and Missouri Senate races and ginned up a great deal of cultural-liberal enthusiasm for President Obama’s reelection victory. It even helped boost Terry McAuliffe to victory over Ken Cuccinelli in the 2013 Virginia governor’s race.

Democrats had plenty of help on this front from the mainstream media. In January of 2012, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Republican primary candidates if they would ban contraception — which wasn’t a public-policy issue until the Obama administration put forth its unconstitutional mandate less than two weeks later, and was never a public-policy proposal any prominent Republican, let alone one of the candidates, had considered.

And, of course, who can forget how mainstream-media outlets somehow found Richard Mourdock’s clumsy but morally sensible comments about pregnancies resulting from rape worth a firestorm of attention? Unsurprisingly, these comments were tied to the inarticulate — at best — and scientifically inaccurate comments of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. Both comments somehow ended up being connected to the GOP nominee for president, Mitt Romney.

Finally, in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe went after his Virginia gubernatorial opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, claiming that the candidate wants to ban contraception. This inaccurate claim relied on conflating contraceptives — which prevent pregnancy — with abortifacients, which end a pregnancy, and thus cause an abortion.

Rather than correct the record, the Washington Post’s editorial board hopped on the bandwagon, accusing Cuccinelli of the same. As Drew Belsky correctly highlighted in a post for Live Action, however, opposing certain abortifacients has nothing to do with one’s stance on contraception.

PolitiFact declined to include the so-called “War on Women” in its year-end list of 2012’s biggest lies. Its reasons were less than convincing, as I noted in a fact-check at the time.

Targeting the Tea Party

Since 2009, the Tea Party has been one of the most important influences in American politics. While Republicans have been a bit wary of the movement in their own way, it’s Democrats who have waged a real war on it, claimed the movement is flush with racism and extremism.

Unfortunately, this lie — refuted by more than one intellectually honest liberal — has been repeated throughout mainstream and liberal media sources.

Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor has noted that tea partiers were prominently linked to, or blamed for, the shooting of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. 

Larry O’Connor also highlighted how rock-throwing by Ferguson protesters has been treated with more respect by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes than legal tea-party activism. And who can forget the race-baiting accusation that tea partiers spit on Representative Emanuel Cleaver as he and other Democrats purposely marched through crowds of tea-party protesters in order to spark a confrontation that never happened? That was treated as serious rather than utterly spurious and unsupported.

Flacking for the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act is an immensely complicated and controversial piece of legislation, some provisions of which can be misconstrued. But the mainstream media has repeatedly tried to reframe or refute conservative criticisms.

For instance, the Huffington Post grossly misled readers about a study examining whether the ACA would reduce worker hours. While the HuffPo article on the study made a sweeping conclusion that a small number of businesses nationwide would reduce hours, the study itself only looked at one region of the country. Meanwhile, the study noted that “some [business owners] commented that it is too early to know the effects of the law’s detailed regulations.” Hardly conclusive, in other words. And besides, the study concluded that there would be a 10 percent shift to part-time employment by business owners on account of the ACA — which, if it actually took place, would constitute an enormous change in the employment situation in America.

HuffPo’s treatment of this study is emblematic of how the media has dealt with the ACA’s economic downsides more broadly — try to discredit GOP worries because the effects haven’t shown up yet (even though, for instance, the employer mandate hasn’t even gone into effect yet) and then just argue that the effects will be only marginal.

Take another complicated debate about the ACA: the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is designed to rejigger Medicare payments in the future to restrain health costs.  During the 2012 elections, FactCheck.org targeted conservatives’ claims that this means the ACA’s IPAB rations health care, saying that no such thing exists.

Yet less than a year later, former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said that was exactly what IPAB amounts to.

Dean wasn’t alone in his assessment. My good friend and occasional client James Agresti, president of Just Facts, proved the same thing, and famous rationing proponent Dr. Donald Berwick — who was considered to head Medicare and Medicaid by President Obama — also agreed that IPAB was a tool for rationing. Of course, it’s possible to argue otherwise — but the mainstream media has dismissed the GOP argument on this issue as if it’s a conspiracy theory.

Finally, the same dishonest representation of contraceptives referenced in above, related to Cuccinelli and McAuliffe, has played itself out in numerous mainstream-media stories on the ACA.

Belsky and I highlighted on how Politico, NBC News, Pew Research, and the New York Times all did this in early 2014, thus misleading their millions of readers on the realities of how employees are being required to cover abortifacients under the Affordable Care Act. NBC News even had the gall to write the following beneath one of its articles:

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the Affordable Care Act requires companies to offer health-care coverage that provides abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. It does not.

The federal government happens to disagree.

Is this a comprehensive list of media biases? Absolutely not, and the fine folks at the Media Research Center do a great job of highlighting such bias, as do the reporters at Heritage’s Daily Signal and other outlets. But on such important broad issues and narratives as I’ve covered, it’s important that the average American knows some of the historical bias in the mainstream media so they can parse the truth. With two months to go in the 2014 midterm elections, we haven’t seen much improvement.

— Dustin Siggins is the D.C. Correspondent for LifeSiteNews, a former blogger with Tea Party Patriots, and co-author of the forthcoming book Bankrupt Legacy: The Future of the Debt-Paying Generation.


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