The last time I heard this chestnut was during the White House correspondents dinner, shortly before Colbert took the stage. The president of the correspondents association tossed it out there in introducing Bush; about 30 minutes later, as if to prove his point, Colby got up and tore them to pieces for being lapdogs or poodles or whatever dreary canine pejorative is currently in vogue. And, as Ace says, they loved him for it. The more heat they get from the left, the more license they have to tack left until their hate mail is back in equilibrium and their objectivity thereby restored. They’re like bookies setting the line: only when the same amount of money’s coming in for each team do they know they’ve set it right.

Except that to judge how fair you’re doing based on hate mail is stupid. For one thing, we probably get as much critical e-mail from righties as lefties because (a) our audience is composed overwhelmingly of conservatives and (b) they’re more likely to care what we think than liberals are. One doesn’t complain to someone unless one’s invested in them. For another thing, given what WaPo and every other newspaper in the country has been covering for the past six years, does their editor really not understand the dynamics of puritanical ideologies? Hey, Len? They hate you for the same reason any extremist hates any moderate: you’ve got the right idea, you just haven’t got enough of it.

He knows all that, but he’s got a bias charge to parry. So, here you go:

Q. Every person we speak with who would identify themselves as a conservative journalist says: “Bias? If you think we’re biased, look at The Washington Post, that liberal newspaper.”

All I can say is that people just need to read us and then decide whether we’re liberal or not. We’re an independent newspaper. We have a strict separation, between the editorial page — which, last I heard, is a supporter, for instance, of the Iraq war and considered by many liberals to be rather conservative — and our news gathering.

In our news gathering, we seek to be strictly nonpartisan and nonideological. We’re human beings, we make mistakes, but we do not set out to be, nor do I think we are, liberal. And judging from my e-mail traffic in recent years, the left is much more critical, and much more angrily critical, of our coverage than the right has been.

They should probably tilt left a bit and even things out, huh? Meanwhile, it seems there’s a witch hunt going on for patriots whose dissent happens to take the form of violating federal law by breaking their confidentiality agreements with the government and spilling state secrets to the Post. Apparently the FBI is conducting it under the rubric of, um, enforcing federal law.

Q. In my 37 years in the business, I don’t remember anything like this going on before. … There’s apparently a couple of squads of FBI agents at the Washington field office; that’s all they’re doing, looking for leaks.

Right. I can’t remember a precedent for this either…

Q. Today I talked with a source of mine, who said he just got polygraphed.

Yeah, that’s going on all around town. There’re investigations of sources going on all around town, and it’s very, very worrying. It’s not good. It’s not good for the free flow of information to the public, and it’s not good to criminalize sources and reporters who are merely engaged in trying to keep the American public properly informed.

Exit question: If the feds can get away with this, what else can they get away with? What’s next — deporting illegal immigrants?

Tags: White House