The Press Biased? What Else is New? Get Over It, Jerry.

Jerry Kilgore has opened up a can of worms, accusing the “liberal press” of “defending a liberal soulmate” — Democrat Tim Kaine — from criticism of his opposition to the death penalty. (See Jeff Schapiro’s article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

I have two reactions. First, so what else is new? Second, that’s the way it is, quit whining and get over it.

Of course the Mainstream Media is biased. The only people who can’t see it are those who share the same mental framework for viewing the world as the journalists themselves. To liberals, reportorial coverage just looks normal. The rest of us can see the bias plainly. How do we know? Because we live in daily stupefaction at the spin put on the nightly news and front pages of the leading newspapers. We know there’s bias because we know that we’d write the same stories very differently, ignore stories that get replayed incessantly, and give greater weight to stories that the MSM doesn’t bother to cover.

The fact of bias in the national media is so blindingly obvious that I won’t bother to defend my statement any further. If you can’t see it, I’ll never convince you. It’s a conservative thing, you wouldn’t understand.

On the other hand, I would argue that local reporters tend to be less biased than their national counterparts. Yes, biases exist, but they’re not nearly as intrusive. While the national MSM, cloistered in liberal enclaves like Manhattan and Washington, D.C., ignores vast bodies of evidence that contradict its worldview, local journalists live amidst the mainstream culture, not in isolation from it. That tends to moderate their views. Furthermore, most local reporters, I’ve found, are fairly diligent about reporting both sides of a story. You might have to read a little deeper to read the pro-death penalty quotes, but they’ll be there in the article. There may be subtle bias in the way reporters write the leads and slant the story, but, honestly — and I can say this because I’m very sensitive to it — it’s not nearly as egregious as with the national media.

The true failing of local media, to my mind, is the superficiality of coverage, particularly of public policy issues. Political reporters are, by nature, generalists. They cannot become experts in every field of policy — taxes, budgets, transportation, health care, education, etc. So, they tend to engage in he said/she said reporting without making any great effort the claims being made. Regarding the death penalty debate, why isn’t the T-D’s Frank Green, who has won numerous national awards for his reporting on the death penalty, part of the team covering the debate? Why leave the issue to the generalists?

Kilgore is unhappy because his death penalty initiative isn’t giving him the traction he was looking for. But he shouldn’t blame the media. It’s like Democrats kvetching that Republicans raise more money. As Tom Silvestri, my old boss and now publisher of the Times-Dispatch, used to say about some intractable problem: “It is how it is.” The sub-text of his message was, you can pout about it, or you can work around it. A biased media is part of the background of any political campaign.

Reporters, no matter how liberal, are drawn to many elements of a story. They like conflict. They like human interest. And, yes, they strive to uphold a standard of objectivity and fairness in their coverage. They often fall short of that standard, but the existence of the standard does moderate their biases. Finally, I would add, the local MSM is not monolithic. Blogs provide a limited corrective. So does local talk radio.

Ultimately, the existence of a biased media puts the onus on the Kilgore campaign to craft and deliver its campaign messages in such a way as to penetrate the filters of the MSM. Jim Gilmore succeeded eight years ago, and George Allen did four years before him. It can be done.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    The new Kaine TeeVee ad Kilgore refers to does open with the line, “all these Virginia newspaper’s couldn’t be wrong,” to which my immediate mental response was, hell yes they could!

    But these “hide behind the editorial headline” response ads are getting pretty commonplace, and I guess have some value. It’s important to note that editorial pages are allowed to have some bias, in fact are more fun to read if they take their prejudices out of the box and display them now and then. As I recall, Jim, your first reaction on the death penalty ads could have been fodder for a Kaine response — that’s when you’ll know you’ve arrived — when Bacon’s Rebellion gets cited in a campaign TV ad!

    Agree with your main point. Republican candidates usually start with lousy field position in the media game, but that doesn’t prevent moving the ball. Its alot better now than it was, thanks to the explosion on cable and the Internet. And I suspect Shapiro made a story out of an offhand remark.

  2. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    On November 9th we’ll have a good feel for how the obvious bias on editorial pages played out. I suspect Kaine will have 3 newspaper endorsements for every Kilgore endorsement. If Kilgore wins, that will tell us something about editorial page influence and understanding.

    Right now, with early editorial page darling Russ Potts “tanking,” we have some preliminary information on how in touch the opinion pages are with messages and messengers.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The other day I was thinking about commenting on how the Kaine commercials cite all the newspapers for their hit lines. But, then I noticed that Jerry Kilgore does the same thing when it fits.

    It’s just a given that Republicans in general and Conservatives in particular will have to get their message through the media filter. So, the message had better be Reaganesque – clear and direct.

    On The Peninsula the Daily Press endorses a Republican enough to quote themselves with blown up pride. “Oh, yes, we endorsed these Republicans who raised your taxes…” But, they are so far from fair and balanced that I know voters who look to see who they endorse to know who to vote against.

    I believe that the MSM, like too many politicians, underestimate the voters. They really think the voters are ‘stooopid’. Some are because there is no law against stupid people living, but more often than not, the majority is wise enough.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    More reporters need to do what I did, move to the dark side and run some campaigns. You learn very quickly that Lincoln was right about fooling people — the voters are very hard to fool if they are paying attention.

    Speaking of ex reporters who went into the game, raise a glass for John Goolrick , the real power and best wit in America’s First District. He will be missed.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Most of the MSM is liberal and Jerry needs to GET OVER IT. However, he need not be too discouraged.

    Ironically, the only pulpit the liberals have left is the media. Liberals don’t have the luxury of being able to reach and preach to people in the same way conservatives do.

    Potts was the darling of the editorial pages early on and you can see the effect that had on the race. If people actually read the newspaper then we would have a tight 3-way race. We don’t.

    In addition, look at all of the things this campaign has had to go up against, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, The War in Iraq, just to name a few. It has been a very difficult year to cut through the clutter and with three lackluster candidates it’s no wonder nobody cares.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m a liberal, but I’m actually quite moved by your arguements in this post. However, I would like to point out one thing. Substitute ‘liberal bias’ with ‘conservative bias’ and ‘reporters’ to ‘owners’, and you can make the EXACT same arguement for a conservative bias in the MSM.

    I think the truth falls somewhere between. It all depends on your point of view. To liberals, MSM pays way too much attention to conservatives talking about trickle down economics through tax cuts while ignoring or minimizing the liberals discussing New Deal economics. Conservatives probably feel that the MSM spends too little time discussing the destruction of the family or something (I’m sorry, I just can’t see the conservative bias in MSM, so I couldn’t come up with a good issue where the MSM screws things up for you), while liberals complain about the lack of coverage of the descruction of the environment and societal values. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of which side you come at the issue.

    As for endorsements in the governor race, I think the descrepancy has to do with the way this race has been run. The Kaine campaign has been run with a moderate amount of effeciency (I think they could have done a lot better, but I’m happy with they’ve done so far) and much more class than the Kilgore campaign. The Kilgore campaign meanwhile has seemed to be floundering about, trying to find its way. Every week it’s something new. And come on, decoder rings?? I think the editorial boards just figured that they shouldn’t endorse a campaign run like a campaign for Homecoming King.

  7. Ink Stained Wretch Avatar
    Ink Stained Wretch

    If people let a newspaper’s edit board decide who they should vote for, then they are “stoopid.” And yes, 900 newspapers can be wrong, all at the same time on the same subject.

    I know all too well about local media. I work for one. And we get really sick and tired of the idiots in NY and DC screwing it up for the rest of us. I actually got calls stopping subscriptions “because Dan Rather is biased.”

    Oooookaaaaay…. He works for CBS. I work for [redacted]. Dan doesn’t work here. Yet, we get painted with the same brush, no… power roller, that the national people get painted with.

    I lose sleep many nights over whether or not my stories are accurate, balanced and fair. I do my dead level best to play it straight, because my daughter [name redacted] is looking up to me.

    If Kilgore has a problem with editorial writers, he should be careful to point out that edit boards generally don’t mingle with the rabble that actually write news. I’ve watched this race very closely, and so far I’d say the vast majority of coverage at the local level is fair, save the Roanoke Times.

    As for being superficial, it’s the tyranny of the marketplace. If we get more in depth, people write in and complain that we’re being too technical, that we’re publishing too much inside baseball. If we don’t, we’re pandering to the lowest common denominator.

    We can do many things with a printing press, but resolve mutually-exclusive goals isn’t one of them. So we do the best we can with the people we have and the resources available and try to make a product accessible to the most people while serving the public interest.

    It ain’t easy. Few of us drive a Lexus, unlike the Posties.

    In the meantime, the rest of us wretches will be out here doing the best we can, in spite of the “stoopid” going on in DC and NY.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “Yet, we get painted with the same brush, no… power roller, that the national people get painted with.”

    That’s what “working the refs” is all about: creating a sub-rational hysteria that requires no facts or connection to reality to defend.

    For instance, from all the wailing about liberal papers, you’d think that they run around all endorsing Democrats, right? Cept that isn’t true. The Daily Press is one of the most liberal editorial boards, and it actually endorsed Jerry Kilgore 4 years ago. Whaaaa….? The Virginian Pilot on the other hand is sure to be dismissed as a liberal rag anytime it criticizes Kilgore. But wait: is that the same paper that just these last Sundays endorsed mostly Republicans for all the Hampton Roads races: even slapping down some pretty solid moderate Dems who are running against machine politics candidates (Parr) or Regent U acolytes (Iaquinto)? Yet, if they criticize Kilogre…. that’s just easily dismissed as being more blather from Democrat-lovers.

    As I said: the elevation of sub-rational emotional cues over reasoned argument. It’s quite an effective political weapon… but at what cost to our public discourse? At what point do our discussions of issue become nothing more than accusations of bias at anyone that doesn’t agree with us or praise our favored leaders?

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