The problem with modern journalism is that there are so few real stories out there that deserve the cable news hypercoverage treatment. In between wars and terrorist attacks and election nights, reporters have very little to actually report.
In the United States, political change happens very slowly, so slowly that few people outside the Beltway actually care about the day-to-day jockeying for position between the parties. Most congressional proceedings are insufferably boring, and most political campaigns are even worse. Thus, political types -- press secretaries, communications directors and the like -- have as part of their jobs convincing reporters that today's nothing-burger is actually a corker of a story.
Seasoned reporters make a good living sitting back and waiting to be pitched on the day's possible stories, and they grow accustomed to the spoon-feeding. Add to this natural human inclination toward laziness most political reporters' left-leaning political ideas, and you get the current state of political journalism.
Those who believe bias is the biggest problem have it wrong, I think. The biggest problem is that reporters are perfectly happy to let the stories come to them rather than going out and finding them. The vast majority of all newspaper articles, and political stories in particular, are based on press releases. That's all well and good, except that since reporters are generally more sympathetic to liberalism than conservatism, liberal candidates and organizations can always be guaranteed a more receptive audience for the "paper" they produce than their conservative counterparts. (It goes without saying that those few conservative-leaning journalists out there have the exact opposite problem, of course. If only there were more of them; it'd be a nice problem to have.)
A perfect example of this is the comparative media coverage of the 2004 election's two biggest "gotcha" political stories. The first was the efforts of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," who were strangely and uniformly ignored by the mainstream media until the blogosphere and talk-radio network made so much noise, elite reporters had to at least take a look at the allegations. Days, even weeks went by before the Kerry campaign was even asked seriously about the charges being made by the Swift Boat Veterans, and today, "swift-boating" has become synonymous with smearing. Most reporters, I think, would argue that Sen. Kerry handled the situation poorly but that the Swift Boat Veterans were engaged in dirty pool.
On the other hand, consider the wide-eyed reception the mainstream media gave to the so-called "Memo-Gate" story about the National Guard documents that allegedly proved President Bush was a slacker of a Guardsman. CBS was pitched the story by liberals who disliked Bush; the documents were so absurdly fraudulent that it took independent observers all of 30 seconds to smell a rat; yet CBS ran with the story and even seemed to stand by it after it was completely debunked. Memo-Gate was designed to bring down George W. Bush; instead, it brought down Dan Rather. But even that was only because conservatives, through blogs and talk radio, have a small outlet to make their voices heard through the cacophony of the mainstream liberal media.
This pattern holds every election cycle. Democrats have an easier time getting reporters to take their spin than Republicans do. This doesn't happen 100 percent of the time -- just the majority. In last week's stories about the Supreme Court's partial-birth abortion case, "partial birth" had quotation marks around it, a subtle nod to pro-abortion advocates. This past January, tens of thousands of pro-life activists marched, on a weekday, in the annual March for Life and got very little coverage; the following weekend, there was an anti-war rally a fraction of the March for Life's size, yet it received more extensive coverage. And on and on and on.
Reporters don't necessarily want to stick it to conservatives; it's just that the liberal arguments make more sense to them, so liberals are shown almost invariably in a brighter light than conservatives.
George Soros, upset with the slight inroads conservatives have made recently, has funded an organization called Media Matters for America, led by liberal muckraker David Brock. Brock's job is to serve as a constant rapid responder to any media report that fails to follow Soros' Shadow Party agenda. Brock is there to crack the whip any time a "one of us" liberal reporter steps out of line and to make sure reporters are instructed on how to take down any conservative leader or idea that starts gaining traction with the American people.
Ultimately, the problem isn't ideology but laziness. Conservatives who accuse reporters of doing liberals' work for them have it backward; the real problem is that reporters are too often willing to let liberals like Brock do their work for them.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.