Friday, June 24, 2005
Media analysis -- Durbin vs. Rove: What's really interesting about Rove's liberals-are-soft-on-terrorism remarks is the play that it has received from the establishment press. The New York Times ran a brief -- three paragraphs -- on Sen. Richard Durbin's slander comparing American servicemen to the Nazis and Soviets buried inside the paper. When Durbin finally sort-of apologized, they ran an AP brief.
Let me make this perfectly clear -- the No. 2 ranking Democrat leader in the U.S. Senate compared American troops to the guards of the Soviet gulags and the murderers of the Nazi regime who sent millions of men, women and children to their deaths -- and the New York Times gives it a thimbleful of ink and relies heavily on wire copy.
Just days later, Rove calls liberals -- not Democrats specifically, though the two definitely overlap -- soft on terrorism and the Times produces a staff-written report. The next day, Democrats come out in force to assail Rove, and we get another staff-written report with a photo.
The two situations are eerily similar -- though I would argue that the slander of the American servicemen is more egregious than a political attack on your opponents -- yet the Times' treatment of the two incidents is incredibly disparate.
Former public editor Daniel Okrent won some praise for his honesty when he admitted that the Times was a liberal newspaper (on social issues). When he looked at the paper's political coverage of the 2004 presidential election, he could find no bias -- it was there, he just couldn't bring himself to see it.
The New York Times is a Democrat Party paper -- and it needs to admit it. The Times' professed "fairness" is a farce. These two incidents -- so similar in proximity and content -- should have received similar treatment. I think the Times' coverage of Rove's comments has been just right. It's lack of coverage of Sen. Durbin's comments, however, is journalistic malpractice at best and hackery at worst.
The New York Times, though it no longer deserves it, has long been held in high esteem by the journalistic establishment and much of the American public. When the Times abandons even the facade of fairness, respect for all journalism in America suffers.
Sadly, The Washington Post is only marginally better. The Democrats' call for Rove's head appears on the front page of today's Post. A search through the Post's archive turns up this defiant Durbin story (June 17, Page A11), a Durbin "clarifying" brief (June 18, A5), Sen. Bill Frist demanding an apology (June 19, A6), a brief mention of Durbin in a larger story about a GOP Congressman calling Democrats anti-Christian -- a statement he retracted within the hour (June 21, A4), and finally Durbin's non-apology apology (June 22, A6). [Note: I only included stories that appeared in paper edition of the Post -- Web stories were not included in determining play -- though you can find all of the stories using this search.]
While the Post did a much more complete job covering Durbin's comments, the stories appeared in the middle of the A section. The closest any mention of the story got to the front page was a one sentence mention on A4 in a story about the quickly-retracted logorrhea of a GOP Congressman.
A slander of American servicemen makes its way inside the Post's A-section, but calling Democrats weak on terrorism makes the front page. It must be a slow news day.