Thursday, February 11, 2010

Attack of the 'Liberal' Media

Eric Boehlert, Media Matters:

If you don't think there's a media double standard that favors Republicans over Democrats, then let's play a game of what-if.

What if, in 2006, at Yearly Kos, the first annual convention of liberal bloggers and their readers, organizers shelled out $100,000 for former Vice President Al Gore to address attendees? And what if the same organizers booked as an opening-night speaker a fringe, radical-left conspiracy theorist who'd spent the previous year pushing the thoroughly debunked claim that some Bush White administration insiders played a role in, and even planned, the 9-11 attacks. What if the speaker (also proudly anti-Semitic) received a standing ovation from the liberal Yearly Kos crowd?

Given that backdrop, and given the fact that the 9-11 Truther nut had for weeks bragged about his chance to share the stage with Gore, do you think the press would have demanded that Gore justify his association with a hateful conference that embraced a 9-11 Truther? Do you think pundits would have universally mocked and ridiculed Gore's judgment while condemning the Yearly Kos convention as being a hothouse of left-wing hate? Do you think Gore's appearance would have become a thing?

I sure do.

Gore and liberal bloggers would have been crucified by the press and the D.C. chattering class if the scenario I described ever unfolded in real life. (FYI, it goes without saying that organizers for Yearly Kos, now known as Netroots Nation, would never dream of mainstreaming an anti-Semitic 9-11 Truther via a prime-time speaking gig.)

But this past weekend in Nashville, at the first National Tea Party Convention, the Beltway press did just the opposite with regard to Sarah Palin's keynote address, which did follow a prime-time speech by "birther" nut Joseph Farah, who over the years has carved out a uniquely hateful and demented corner of the right-wing blogosphere. Because, yes, at the Tea Party convention, Farah, a proud Muslim-hater and gay-hater, did receive a standing ovation from the conservative crowd after he unfurled his thoroughly debunked birther garbage. (i.e. Obama "doesn't have a birth certificate.") And Farah did brag in the weeks leading up to the event about his chance to share the stage with Palin, to associate with Palin. ("Sold out! Palin-Farah ticket rocks tea-party convention," read the headline at Farah's discredited right-wing site, WorldNetDaily.com.)

Worst of all, though, the press played dumb about the whole thing.

Fact: Virtually nobody in the corporate media said boo about Palin helping to legitimize Farah by sharing the same stage with him. She was given a total free ride.

And I mean nobody. According to Nexis, there were more than 150 newspaper articles and columns published in the U.S. last week that mentioned both Palin and the Tea Party. (Combined, The New York Times and The Washington Post published 18 of them.) Yet out of all those articles and columns, exactly two also mentioned Joseph Farah by name. (Congrats to the Philadelphia Daily News and New Hampshire's Concord Monitor.)

And keep in mind that lots of scribes, even after listening to Farah's rambling rant, filed dispatches from Nashville stressing how mellow and mainstream the Tea Party convention was turning out to be. According to the Post, the mood at the Nashville confab was "festive, even giddy." And no, not a single word in the Post dispatch mentioned Farah's high-profile birther harangue.

Bottom line: The birther movement embarrasses most conservatives. Yet even when they invite a birther nut to speak at their conference, the press still won't ask tough questions. Instead, journalists politely look away.

It didn't used to work that way. There's been a long media tradition of holding politicians accountable for their public associations, especially when they appear at conventions that feature fringe rhetoric from controversial speakers. Reporting on who politicians agree to share a stage with has always been considered not only fair game, but genuinely newsworthy.

It's just that in this instance, the press gave Palin a complete and unobstructed free ride, a free ride Al Gore never would have been afforded.

In fact, the stage-sharing question was actually of added importance at the Tea Party event, because the movement remains somewhat undefined, since, unlike a political party, it does not have obvious leaders. The people Tea Party organizers choose to associate with provide telling insight into where the movement might be headed.

For the second time today, let me paraphrase Chris Rock: If it's done by the Right, it's alright.

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