Media don't always live up to the `liberal' label - remember Al Gore?

March 30, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

STANDING IN A room of Jeannier's Restaurant just off the Johns Hopkins University campus, Bob Somerby gave his take on that "l.b." thing - liberal bias in the media.

Who the dickens, you may wonder, is Bob Somerby? The brief bio on his Web site says he has had articles appear occasionally in The Sun. He was also a fifth-grade teacher in Baltimore public schools, which means he must be one of the bravest souls around. He puts out an online publication called The Daily Howler, which tells folks what varmints we news media types really are.

Somerby also does stand-up comedy about political issues. But the Maryland Press Club didn't invite him to Jeannier's on Tuesday afternoon to tell jokes. Somerby was quite serious as he tried to refute the notion that a liberal bias exists among the news media.

"Conservatives have put forward this sweeping claim [of liberal media bias]," Somerby said. "If the press corps was driven by liberal bias, they would favor Democratic candidates." Somerby then argued that the press corps in the 2000 presidential race was "hostile to [then-Vice President Al] Gore," the Democratic candidate for president.

Somerby pointed to several incidents from the campaign of 2000. The first was how some journalists in the press corps booed Gore from a private viewing room during his debate with Democratic challenger Bill Bradley during the primary season. Not a particularly good example, Somerby was quick to note, because Bradley was more liberal than Gore. But Somerby had others.

In July 2000, a study was released of press coverage of Gore and his Republican opponent, George W. Bush, for the five-month period from February through June. The study showed the Bush stories had a 5-4 positive ratio and a 5-1 negative ratio for Gore.

Most revealing, according to Somerby, is that "inventing the Internet" claim the news media said Gore made. Somerby stressed that Gore never used the word "invented" but said in Congress that he led the initiative in supporting Internet technology. Departed Republican House Majority leader Newt Gingrinch, according to Somerby, said in September 2000 that Gore's assertion was true.

"If `I took the initiative' meant `I took the leadership,' his statement was perfectly accurate," Somerby said.

For two full days, Somerby said, Gore's statement drew no dispute. On the third, the Republican National Committee sent out press releases contending that Gore had claimed he invented the Internet. It was then that the press launched, in Somerby's words, an "overt and ludicrous war against Gore." The leading Gore-basher was The New York Times, the paper most guilty, according to conservatives, of liberal bias.

Does Somerby have a point? Observers might suggest he has some bias of his own in this matter: He and Gore bunked together at Harvard. Maybe Somerby just likes Gore and finds it hard to believe other people don't.

Remember, we're talking about a guy who, in 2000, couldn't even win his home state in the general election. If folks back home didn't like the man, why should the press corps? Why should anybody?

For all the talk about how Republicans "stole" the 2000 election (a real knee-slapper of an accusation, coming from Democrats who apparently forgot the 1960 presidential election), the sad truth is that Gore would be president today if he had simply won Tennessee. He wouldn't have needed Florida. How many presidential candidates have lost their home states? Well, South Dakota's George McGovern did in 1972, but he got creamed everywhere, winning only the People's Republic of Taxachusetts - er, uh, Massachusetts - and the District of Columbia, two places where Satan could win running as a Democrat.

Putting Gore aside (and let's, please) there are other examples of the news media skewing toward the liberal side. New York Times editors recently eighty-sixed two columns that didn't toe the correct liberal line about whether Tiger Woods should boycott the male-only Augusta National Golf Club.

Locally, virtually all news media outlets insist on repeating that the University of Maryland study on the death penalty said there was racial disparity in how capital punishment is meted out. In several passages, the study said quite the opposite, but why let facts get in the way of a cherished fantasy?

The truth is, we can all find bias - liberal and conservative - anywhere we want to find it in the news media. It's not bias that matters, but fairness and balance. Now, how many media outlets - liberal and conservative - could pass that test?

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