The perils of blaming the "liberal media"

This is not to say a liberal bias does not exist in the news media. One recent study found that, since 2004, far more employees at newspapers and in print media donated to liberal candidates than to conservative candidates. And public perception and trust in the media remains bleak. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 44 percent of people surveyed have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the mass media. A whopping 74 percent of Republicans think the news media are too liberal, compared with 46 percent of all respondents.

The damn-the-media strategy has been called “working the refs,” or deliberately antagonizing the press in the hopes that they will go easier on you, and if that fails, setting up a reliable group to point your finger at. It can be an effective strategy, especially for Republicans during a primary campaign. But it’s one that only works for so long. Blame the media once or twice and you’re a righteous crusader. More than that, and you start looking like the Boy Who Cried Media Bias.

If you’re a politician, blaming the media is also a great way to attract more scrutiny from reporters—just look at what happened to Rep. Aaron Schock’s office after his now former communications chief aggressively pushed back against a Washington Post reporter. Historically, it’s often a good marker for when the public stops taking candidates seriously and starts relegating them to the fringe (take Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, for example). It’s a successful tactic if you want to have a talk show on Fox News or CNN, perhaps, but not if you want to be president.