Let’s first take a trip down memory lane. Remember when journalists covered those tea party rallies and couldn’t help but notice that most of the people who showed up were white? They made it sound like an indictment. I was never quite sure why race was significant, but since the lamestreams brought it up, let me bring up a question: Since almost all the demonstrators in Wisconsin are white, why have the media, ever alert to skin color, not said a word about the crowd’s complexion?
Answer: Because they gratuitously bring race into the story if their real purpose is to make conservatives look bad. Telling us that most of the tea partiers were white was a way of saying they’re probably racists, without actually saying it.
Point number two: If one moron at a tea party carried a sign saying “Obama is Hitler” it was big news – proof that the tea partiers, generally, were hate-mongers. Cut to Madison, where there are lots of signs linking Governor Scott Walker to Hitler, Mussolini, Mubarak and al qaeda. According to the conservative media watchdog group, the Media Research center, on a Thursday morning, right after the demonstrations began, none of the network morning shows aired even one picture of any of those signs.
Since then, some of the placards have made it on the air. But I got the impression that the “mainstream” media weren’t nearly as passionate about showing – or commenting about – the many nasty signs that were aimed at a Republican governor as they were about showing the few ugly placards aimed at President Obama.
Point number three: NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams opened his newscast the other night with these words:
“Good evening. From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up. Citizens uprisings are changing the world. … Tonight, we’re going to begin in Wisconsin. The state capitol has been taken over by the people.”
Get it? The good guys in the Middle East were the courageous demonstrators. The good guys in the Middle West are the courageous demonstrators. The bad guys in the Middle East were the monsters running the government. The bad guys in the Middle West …
Get it now?
Surely Brian Williams understands that there are far more differences than similarities between the desperate protesters in Cairo and the middle class union workers in Wisconsin. But that didn’t stop him from making it sound like they were all in it together, somehow united to break the chains of their oppression.
Peter Wehner has a smart piece on the Commentary Web site about double standards, in politics and journalism.
“All of us in politics are susceptible to double standards,” Wehner wrote. “We tend to overlook serrated comments by those who share our ideological views and quickly cry foul when those on the other side of the political divide say incendiary things. If you’re a conservative you tend to point your finger at Keith Olbermann; if you’re a liberal you are more likely to focus your fire on Glenn Beck. That’s why it’s important to locate figures in both camps who possess some independence of thought and mind, who are capable of making relatively disinterested judgments about events, and who believe people should be held to roughly equal standards when it comes to rhetoric and actions.”
That’s where independent journalists are supposed to come in. Except, as Wehner documents, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. I will quote from his article at some length, his points are well worth considering:
“The day after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, George Packer of the New Yorker complained that ‘relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right.’ James Fallows of the Atlantic lamented our ‘extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery.’ And Paul Krugman of the New York Times argued, ‘it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.’
“The fact that conservative rhetoric had nothing to do with the assassination attempt against Giffords didn’t matter; liberals were determined to use her shooting to conduct a nationwide seminar on civility and public discourse.
“Fast forward five weeks to Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is asking the state’s public employees to start contributing to their own pension and health-care benefits and limit their collective bargaining rights to negotiations over pay rather than benefits. His plan is sparking furious protests, with demonstrators holding up signs saying ‘Heil Walker! Stop the Maniac,’ accusing the Wisconsin governor of ‘exterminating union members,’ and calling him a ‘Fascist Union Community Killer.’ Governor Walker is referred to as ‘Governor Mubarak,’ a ‘Midwest Mussolini,’ ‘al Qaeda Scott,’ with some slogans reading, ‘Scott Walker = Adolph Hitler.’
“This is pretty ugly stuff. So just where is the Liberal Civility Patrol when we really need them? Have Krugman, Packer, and Fallows condemned what we’re seeing in Madison? Where is the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, who has claimed that ‘violent political rhetoric and the threat of political violence in this country comes almost exclusively from the right’? And what of E.J. Dionne, Jr., who has written, ‘The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement’? Where are the earnest political commentators and news stories lamenting the inflammatory language that has become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture?
“The game that’s being played is obvious. Civility has no intrinsic worth for these individuals; it is merely another weapon in an endless political battle.”
Peter Wehner is right, of course. Even opinion journalists have to maintain certain standards, at least they do if they care about their credibility. But too many journalists have become warriors in the battle, instead of fair-minded observers. We used to call this bias. But it’s gone way beyond that. It is nothing less than corruption of an important American institution.