Thursday, May 20, 2004

What, media bias?

Another editor and I were discussing media bias, anti-war activism, and related topics this week. I said, "I know a lot of right-wingers who were furious at Clinton over Kosovo, but I don't recall any of them cheering American casualties or rooting for American defeat, like many on the anti-war left do now." He instantly challenged me to name some and the first name that rolled off my tongue was "Michael Moore."

I guess it hit the mark because he was willing to believe it of Moore (I was ready to prove it, if he was unconvinced). But my fellow editor dismissed Moore as the lunatic fringe of the anti-war crowd, "just like Rush is on the other side. They cancel each other out, and I don't pay any attention to either one."

I let that stand and moved on, but it occurred to me, later, that even if it is so in our minds, it's not so in our profession.

The last story our newspaper ran about Rush was about how he had said something stupid, downplaying the Abu Ghraib tortures. The story (AP) originated with one of the anti-Rush groups that monitors his programs and alerts the media when it thinks he's said something egregious.

Our last Michael Moore story (AP) was about how Moore has been "censored" by Disney, which refused to distribute his virulent 9-11 movie, and the article contained Moore's dark mutterings about how Disney feared losing its tax breaks from Bush's brother, the Florida governor. The source of the story was, Michael Moore. It wasn't even until the write-through, several hours later, that the AP included a quote from Jeb Bush pointing out that Disney got no tax breaks from him.

And when it transpired, a day or so later, that this was not news, that Disney had told Moore of its intentions in March 2003, not a word was printed to that effect. But the "New York Times" did run an editorial in support of Moore, blasting "craven" Disney.

Meanwhile, when Moore boasts that the Iraqi insurgents are going to win, and calls for more American deaths, it doesn't make news in the mainstream media.

As of today, by the way, Moore's Web site still links to the "Guardian" story puffing up the now-exposed phony photo(shop)graphs of alleged British abuse of Iraqi detainees. Moore's commitment to the "free media" evidently means "I'm free to use all media to lie my ass off if it busts on anyone I dislike."

[Hitchens parsed Moore and his fawning Euro-fans nicely the other day: "But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities."]

Just so, almost all Pat Robertson stories in our newspaper originate with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or some group like them. I belong to that group. I believe in much of what it does. But I think it's absurd for a media that doesn't pay attention to the entirety of a public figure like Rush or Robertson to rely on their sworn enemies as the sole directors for what to cover and when.