Tales from the Media Crypt
Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
It is difficult but often advisable to resist the temptation to comment on media bias. Any rational consumer of media, let alone those with conservative leanings, knows such bias exists. To comment on every example would amount to an exercise in necro-equine sadism. There are times, however, when the extent of the problem surpasses the expectations of even the most jaded observer. This is such a time.
Take, for example, the recent hidden camera sting of National Public Radio by the conservative provocateur James O’Keefe. Some years ago, the playwright and screenwriter David Mamet joked that NPR stood for “National Palestinian Radio.” But it was hard to imagine that NPR executive Ron Schiller would meet with two men who openly admitted having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, entertain their offer to donate $5 million to NPR, and denigrate the religious beliefs of Tea Partiers before describing them as “gun-toting,” “scary,” and “seriously racist, racist people.” All of which Schiller did. On tape.
The video is so obviously damning that NPR’s federal funding is imperiled. Schiller now finds himself unemployed, as does NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation), who became infamous last October when she said that any discomfort ex-NPR analyst Juan Williams had while flying beside individuals dressed in “Muslim garb” was between him and his psychiatrist. An open letter signed by 23 NPR journalists and released on March 10 repudiates Ron Schiller’s remarks. Yet NPR still has no shortage of media apologists.
“I’m always left wondering just how much those folks on tape are behaving sincerely, and how much they are trying to be polite, to muddle through in unusual circumstances,” wrote the Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg. But judging Ron Schiller’s condescending and insulting remarks about the Tea Party does not involve a complex moral calculus. The only thing to wonder about now is to what extent the media will ignore reporting on the NPR story because they fear self-indictment.
Yet NPR was hardly the only media institution that embarrassed itself last week by exhibiting lackluster professional standards. To take another example, the New York Times finally decided that New Jersey governor Chris Christie has become more credible and popular than a GOP politician has any right to be, and set out to cut the admittedly ample governor down to size.
The resulting front page article, “Christie’s Talk Is Blunt, but Not Always Straight,” was alternately petty and wrong. The Times asserted that Christie is inaccurate to say public workers in New Jersey pay “nothing” for health care costs—in fact, the Gray Lady pronounced, those workers have contributed 1.5 percent of their salaries to health care costs since 2007. Compared with the expensive health insurance premiums private sector workers have paid for decades, this paltry contribution might as well be “nothing.” To call Christie dishonest is a lawyerly cheap shot.
The Times also attacks the governor for wrongly asserting that “dozens” of states lack collective bargaining rights for public workers. However, 24 states and the federal government do limit collective bargaining rights for public workers. Not that the Times lets necessary context get in the way of attacking Chris Christie.
The Washington Post joined in the media follies too, publishing an article with the web headline, “Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam ‘sinister.’” The article, labeled as “news,” explicitly compared Homeland Security chairman Rep. Peter King of New York’s long-overdue hearings on Islamic radicals in America to the indiscriminate internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. Suffice it to say, most Americans are rightly concerned about Islamic terrorism, and their fears are unlikely to be allayed by the media’s preoccupation with politically correct hyperbole.
Schadenfreude is a capricious sprite, and reveling in the fact that the media are working so hard to discredit themselves is of limited value. (Unless, of course, you’re Juan Williams. In that case, go ahead and indulge yourself.) Still, simply noting that the media are on the defensive or increasingly brazen in their attempts to shade the truth is worthwhile. Why? Because it tells conservatives something important: We’re winning.