Yesterday, I wrote about Lara Logan’s podcast interview in which she talked at length about media bias. Today, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has a rebuttal of sorts which attempts to prove that claims of media bias are nonsense. What it actually proves is that Wemple is far more interested in dunking on the right than in making any kind of serious argument. For instance, one of the things Logan said was that biased reporting tends to oversimplify so that readers know who the villains are. She suggested that real life usually contains more grey tones and so neutral reporting about President Trump would look a bit more mixed than it presently does. She’s not saying it would be 50-50, only that it wouldn’t be 99% negative all the time. Here’s Wemple’s response:
Go for it, Logan: Track down all those positive Trump stories and publish them. In the meantime, please have a look at this breaking New York Times blockbuster about Trump’s “two-year war on the investigations encircling him.”
I guess he was angry when he wrote that. It’s actually a bit hard to tell if he even gets the point she was making, which was not about putting out bogus positive stories to even things up. In any case, he directs her to read the latest NY Times piece attacking Trump, which sort of proves her point that such pieces are easy to find. I don’t know, maybe Wemple is making a version of the argument you see from a lot of left-wing people online, i.e. Trump is so bad that it would be wrong to normalize him. I think that’s what he’s doing but again, he’s not really undermining her point at all. Next, he attacks Logan based on her Benghazi piece for 60 Minutes:
The story, though, was bogus. In telling the tale, Logan had relied on one “Morgan Jones,” a pseudonymous security contractor who claimed he was front and center for the Benghazi mayhem. But “Jones” actually hadn’t witnessed what he said he’d witnessed. The narrative he gave to “60 Minutes” differed from what he’d told the FBI. And he’d just completed a book published by a CBS-owned publisher. A massive embarrassment thus descended on the top brand in television news, which was subjected to a damning investigation from the news organization’s own standards department.
Fair enough. This was a mess and she obviously paid a price for it. But here’s what Wemple takes from all that:
The Benghazi case dismantles the thrust of Logan’s critique. We believe her when she says that she didn’t have Clinton in mind when she set out to do the Benghazi story, even though the story did create problems — at least temporarily — for Democrats. That’s something that the so-called liberal media does all the time — stories that expose wrongdoing, bad management, illegal activity, etc., by the very same folks with whom it’s supposed to be sympathizing. Why didn’t those liberal censors at CBS News stop Logan’s report before it hit the airwaves? And come to think of it, ABC News also got itself in trouble going overboard in reporting on Benghazi misdeeds. What a bunch of lazy conspirators.
Want more examples? Try the mass gorging by the mass media on the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks in the 2016 presidential campaign. Or Clinton’s email drama, coverage of which overshadowed the various Trump scandals dutifully exposed by that same media. Remember which outlet first exposed Clinton’s exclusive use of personal emails? That was the New York Times.
And to turn to more contemporary matters, how about those liberals at BuzzFeed and HuffPost pouncing on Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s harsh treatment of staff?
This is a flaming dumpster of an argument. Wemple is saying if liberal media bias was real, 60 Minutes would never have produced or aired Logan’s Benghazi story. The fact that they did must prove they’re “lazy conspirators.” In short, media bias can’t exist because look at these negative stories about liberal figures.
As one of my Twitter friends pointed out, that’s akin to someone claiming there can’t be any racial bias in the justice system because just look at all the white people in prison! Well, it turns out that both things can be true at the same time. The media can often do its job and also display some blatant bias with real consequences in the process.
There are at least two things that really bother me about this argument. The first is that Wemple knows better. One of the worst instances of media bias in recent history involved CBS News and Benghazi. CBS sat on a video of President Obama admitting he had not called the Benghazi attack terrorism the day after it happened. That clip would have been explosive and maybe even consequential for the election if CBS had rolled it out when that issue became the focal point of the 2nd presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Instead, they sat on it and finally rolled it out online 2 days before the election. The point being, there is some egregious media bias connected to this story and these players.
The second irritating thing, which maybe Wemple does not realize, is that no one on the right thinks that kind of egregious media bias is the norm. What’s normal is the kind of cultural cognition that leads the media to leap on stories like the Covington Catholic teens and leap away from stories like Kermit Gosnell which was famously dismissed by one Vox reporter as a “local news story.”
Anyway, I’m not going to rehearse a litany of media bias I’ve seen and responded to over the years, but there’s a much bigger discussion to be had here. Suffice it to say it’s a bit more subtle than Wemple wants to admit. Unfortunately, it seems he’s more interested in dismissing the complaints out of hand.