A joke has President Bush and the Pope sailing down the Potomac on the Presidential yacht. The wind blows the Pontiff's cap off and it falls into the water. President Bush orders the yacht stopped, gets off and walks across the water to retrieve the Pope's cap.
The next day's headline in the New York Times reads: BUSH CAN'T SWIM.
It is hard to know whether media bias is getting worse or whether the mainstream media are just getting caught more often because of alternative sources of news like Fox News, talk radio and a growing number of Internet sites. Twenty years ago, CBS News and Dan Rather might have been able to continue to bluff their way out of the forged documents scandal because the other members of the big-three broadcast networks were unlikely to press the issue.
The biggest mistake of Dan Rather and CBS News was in not realizing that it was not 20 years ago any more.
According to the Drudge Report, an official of ABC News recently sent out a memo saying that "Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done" and that ABC News needs to "help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying" in the public interest.
Apparently none of that "We report, you decide" stuff for ABC News.
There is always a temptation for the media to go beyond the role of reporting to the dicey role of spinning -- and to do that, not just in opinion columns, but in what are presented as news reports. The front page of the New York Times is perhaps the most blatant example of editorials disguised as news reports, but by no means the only one.
A gimmick used increasingly to avoid even discussing some arguments on public issues is to focus on the emotions -- or presumed emotions -- of those making the arguments, rather than on the arguments themselves.
This gimmick was widely used in news reports of Democratic Senator Zell Miller's devastating recitation of all the anti-military votes of Senator Kerry over the years. Whether Senator Miller's facts were accurate or his conclusions logical was a question either not addressed at all or buried under discussions of his anger.
A recent New York Times review of the book about John Kerry in Vietnam -- "Unfit for Command" by John O'Neill -- simply ignores or arbitrarily dismisses the book's charges while calling O'Neill "curdled with hatred for Kerry" and having "a fixation on attacking Kerry."