Our national media do not take charges of an institutional liberal bias well. Often they ignore them. Sometimes they simply deny them. Few reporters call and stand their ground.
Recently, the Media Research Center (MRC) asked a panel of 46 judges from across America to select the "Best Notable Quotables of 2003" for the year's worst reporting. One unhappy winner was Time reporter Karen Tumulty, who won the "Media Millionaires for Higher Taxes Award" for some May 11 comments on CBS's "Face the Nation." She called the MRC to protest. "This is taken out of context!" she complained to MRC's Tim Graham.
The MRC takes complaints seriously, so Graham looked into it. The topic on CBS on that May Sunday was the growing unpopularity of the nation's governors, facing a tough choice in times of leaner tax revenues either to raise taxes or cut spending. Armed with the liberal mindset that governments are always underfunded, CBS host Bob Schieffer asked Tumulty this telling question about the governors' low approval ratings: "Is that because the states are just so starved for money?"
Here's Tumulty answer: "That's right. And while these arguments we're having here in Washington over tax cuts may look sort of abstract to most people in America, it is not abstract when your kid's teacher gets laid off ... Libraries are closing, teachers are getting laid off. Gray Davis is in the position of having to decide whether he should deny prosthetic limbs to poor people."
In other words, because of "abstract" tax cuts, poor people are denied an arm or a leg. The judges for the "Best of Notable Quotables" saw this quote and voted it as the winner of the "Media Millionaires for Higher Taxes Award." Tumulty suggested MRC analysts needed to look at the whole CBS segment to put the quote in its proper perspective. But a rerun shows that this exchange with Schieffer is about the only discussion of potential spending cuts in the few minutes of the CBS roundtable -- there was nothing else to analyze.
So researchers re-checked Tumulty's article for Time that week. It revealed that Tumulty's televised comments about "abstract" tax cuts -- not so abstract to the American who sees a refund in the mail or in their retirement account -- were originally the opinions of a Democratic Party wonk. "To the extent that anyone is engaged in public life these days, you're engaged with what's going on at the state level rather than something abstract like the Bush tax cuts," Democratic pollster Ed Reilly is quoted as saying in Tumulty's piece. "It's not an abstraction when your kid's teacher gets laid off."