Entry from October 28, 2008

What to make of the fact that Alessandra Stanley in today’s New York Times treats Fox News the way conservatives commonly treat the news shows on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — on all of which, reporters are now trying hard not to give free rein to their smug confidence that the election is in the bag for their man, Barack Obama? Of course, she doesn’t say that last part, but she does say this: “For viewers who feel unnerved by so much suppressed certainty, it’s an opportune time to check out the Fox News Channel. The election coverage there is not so much fair and balanced as it is a useful counterbalance.” Whoa! Back up there. Counterbalance to what, exactly? She goes right up to the point of saying that the other networks are as weighted to the left as Fox is to the right, but she doesn’t quite like to say it. Instead, she goes on about the wishful thinking at Fox, implying a comparison with that at the other networks.

On Monday talk turned to Ohio, where Senator Barack Obama has a five-point lead in some polls. “Yet at the same time, the polls in the last midterm election in 2006 — they were sort of all over the place,” the Fox anchor Jon Scott told a reporter from The Columbus Dispatch, with a glint of hope in his voice. “We could be looking at poll numbers here that aren’t exactly what everybody seems to think they are.” While CNN and MSNBC wallow in maps, charts and delegate counts, Fox is focused on the latest flare-ups that could still put a dent in Mr. Obama’s lead. On Monday Fox bore down on a radio interview Mr. Obama gave in 2001 in which he lamented that the civil rights movement had focused on the courts and did not do enough to further “redistributive change,” or as Mr. Scott put it, “the redistributive wealth thing.”

The question is, how far does she realize what she is doing? If it is suggestive of an anti-Obama bias for Fox to bear down on the “redistributive change” broadcast, isn’t it equally suggestive of a pro-Obama bias on the part of the other networks that they have never mentioned it?

Of course it would be foolish ever to underestimate the liberal media’s powers of self-deception. It is entirely possible that Ms Stanley could be indulging in her amused dissection of Fox’s bias in a state of perfect if wilful ignorance of her own. But then why would she make such a point of the other networks’ crossed fingers for an Obama victory.

Cable news and network anchors are not saying point-blank that the election is over. Instead they are saying, “We’re not saying it’s over …” with a “but” that speaks volumes. One week away from the election news anchors and commentators have the taut, self-conscious demeanor they don on election nights when the exit polls are in, but when they are duty-bound not to declare a winner. Sometimes, however, they can’t quite stifle the blue-stained maps in their minds.

Ostensibly, her point is that they all want to be the first to declare a winner. That is also Howard Kurtz’s point in a similar piece in the same day’s Washington Post: “Everyone wants to be the first to call it, to see the next thing around the corner,” he quotes another reporter as saying. But he, too, drops a broad hint of the connection between the media’s eagerness to declare victory for Obama and their bias in his favor.

Critics, including many conservatives, say the media have been too easy on Obama, and bias cannot be discounted as a factor. A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that from the end of the conventions through the debates, McCain’s coverage was more than three times as negative than [sic] Obama’s.

Both writers are teasing us, I think. Both know they’re biased, and by now they must know that we know it too. That’s why they can write about it in indirect ways without ever coming right out and admitting it. There remains an unbreachable protocol, still, against that. But Mr Kurtz also offers us the tantalizing prospect of a day, not far off, when he and his fellow Obamaphiles in the media could be driven to admit that the jig is up. “If the mainstream media are wrong about Obama and the voters pull a Truman, that is going to be the end of whatever shred of credibility they have left,” he quotes Tobe Berkovitz, the associate dean of Boston University”s College of Communication, as saying. That’s the best reason I’ve heard yet to hope for a McCain upset

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