Sandy Berger in trouble? Send in the media!

Posted: Jul 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Need another example of media bias?

First, credit goes to Newsweek's Evan Thomas, who, once again, acknowledged media bias. "Let's talk a little media bias here," Thomas said, "The media, I think, want Kerry to win. And I think they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards -- I'm talking about the establishment media, not Fox -- but they're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all, there's going to be this glow about them that . . . collectively, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points." Attorneys call things like this "admissions."

Earlier in Bush's term, Thomas also acknowledged the media's "pro-environment" bias: "Certainly the press is pretty green . . . pretty pro-environment. And I don't think there's any question that they, as a body, feel that Bush is wrong on the environment, with varying degrees of willingness to give him credit. And I'm excluding the conservative press. . . . But generally, the rank-and-file press is pretty green, and they're gonna use the Europeans to take the Bush's to task."

Consider the way the media treats the missing paper scandal involving former national security advisor Sandy Berger. In preparing for his appearance before the 9/11 commission, Berger, at former President Clinton's request, spent three days at the National Archives. Investigators now think Berger illegally took papers from the archives. But Berger calls his removal of the documents an "honest mistake." A key advisor to presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, Berger promptly resigned from Kerry's campaign. The day the story broke, The New York Times online placed it on page 17. On television, CBS's Dan Rather cautioned viewers that the story "was triggered by a carefully orchestrated leak about Berger, and the timing of it appears to be no coincidence."

Now examine how the media -- on its own -- lowered Berger's stature in the Kerry campaign.
Way back in May 2004, The Washington Post called Berger "a top Kerry advisor." After the scandal, the Post busted him down to "informal advisor." Similarly, the Los Angeles Times in May called Berger a "Kerry foreign policy advisor." It now tags him as an "unpaid consultant." The Boston Globe in May called Berger a "top advisor." Now the paper relegates him to "informal advisor."

Still in denial about media bias?

Last year, Tim Groseclose of UCLA and University of Chicago's Jeff Milyo did a study to measure bias in U.S. television networks, newspapers and magazines. Groseclose and Milyo examined the voting records of U.S. senators and representatives, as rated by the well-known Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a self-described liberal lobbying group. On a 1-100 scale -- with 100 being most liberal -- the median House member scored an ADA rating of 39. Therefore, the researchers used 39 as a reasonable measure of a centrist position. (Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has a low conservative score of 4, whereas Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., scores a high, liberal 80.)

Next, they measured the tendency of Senate and House members to favorably cite in speeches a view presented by one of 200 prominent think tanks. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was cited by the more conservative legislators (average ADA score 6). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, was mentioned by the more liberal legislators (average ADA score 80). The researchers then measured the tendency of various media outlets to cite the same 200 think tanks in their 1990 to 2003 "news stories" -- not editorials or letters to the editor. If the news story frequently mentioned a liberal think tank, the researchers characterized the publication or program as liberal. If the story frequently mentioned a conservative think tank, the researchers labeled the publication or program conservative. So, in effect, the researchers assigned an "ADA rating" to the news outlets.

"Fox News Special Report" earned a rating of 27 -- 12 points more conservative than the median House member's 39 rating. Only one other major outlet scored a right-of-center rating -- the Washington Times at 34. On the other end, Newsweek scored 72 -- or 33 points more liberal than the median. Time magazine, The New York Times, "CBS Evening News," USA Today and "NBC Nightly News" ranged from 62 to 64, about 25 points above the median.

A recent Pew Research Center survey also noted the press corps' lopsided liberal ideology. Pew found that 54 percent of national journalists self-describe as "moderates," down from 64 percent in 1995. Only 7 percent of national journalists call themselves "politically conservative," well below the 33 percent of the general public who call themselves "conservative." National journalists who call themselves liberal increased to 34 percent, compared with 22 percent in 1995.

For more on media bias, read my latest book, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies, and the Special Interests That Divide America," and send me your examples of media bias. For some people, examples are worth a thousand studies.