Time for another classic example of liberal bias in newspapers — this one involving Harry Reid.
I decided to compare the L.A. Times‘s coverage of Harry Reid’s racially insensitive remarks to the paper’s 2002 coverage of Trent Lott’s racially insensitive remarks.
The contrast is striking.
But first let me explain how this paper handles criticism it likes, and criticism it doesn’t like.
In 2004 I wrote of the L.A. Times:
When the paper disagrees with criticism of a [politician], it is portrayed as an attack by political opponents. When the paper agrees with the criticism, the criticism becomes a mysterious and disembodied (but ever-growing) entity. Doubts grow. Criticism emerges.
Sure enough, the L.A. Times spin on the Harry Reid story portrays the controversy as the GOP opening fire on Reid:
The story repeatedly discusses the controversy as an attack by the Republicans:
The Nevada Democrat — who, over the years, has called Alan Greenspan a hack, Washington tourists smelly and President George W. Bush a liar — was pummeled by Republicans on Sunday for impolitic comments about President Obama’s potential for winning the White House.
. . . .
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, led the charge.
. . . .
With Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) choosing not to run again, Reid is the largest target in [Republicans’] cross hairs.
(The paper has sent the original version of the story down the memory hole, along with that last quote — replacing the story with a new version at the same Web address. But the first two quotes remain in the current version. I figured they would do this, so I saved the original version of the story here.)
By portraying Republicans as attackers, the editors take the focus off Reid’s remarks, and allow him to play the victim. What’s more, the paper emphasizes that Obama has accepted Reid’s apology:
Although Reid apologized to Obama on Saturday for his “poor choice of words” — and the president accepted because “I know what’s in his heart” — his remarks dominated the Sunday talk shows, where Republicans called for the senator’s head.
Note again the stark image of Republicans as violent attackers.
Well, in 2002, after Trent Lott praised former segregationist Strom Thurmond, he too apologized. But that didn’t keep the editors of the L.A. Times from spinning that story in a very different way.
Lott was never portrayed as the victim of Democrat attacks. Editors didn’t describe Democrats as “opening fire” or “pummeling” Lott. They didn’t describe Tom Daschle as “leading the charge.” Nobody said Democrats were “calling for Lott’s head” or that they had Lott “in their cross hairs.”
Instead, the editors emphasized the bipartisan nature of the criticism of Lott. (To be fair, the criticism of Lott was more bipartisan, because Democrats circle the wagons in these situations and Republicans don’t.) In an effort to portray Lott’s remarks as a major gaffe, editors portrayed the controversy as a disembodied, ghostly entity that grew daily.
Thus, a December 10, 2002 story was titled Lott Tries to Quell Furor Over Remark. A December 14, 2002 story was titled Lott Decries Segregation, Struggles to Keep Post. A deck headline read: “Senator apologizes again for his remarks as GOP rumblings about his leadership role grow.” The story opened:
Scrambling to salvage his hold on power, besieged Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) on Friday offered his most extensive apology yet for comments that seemed to endorse segregation and spurred criticism from across the political spectrum, including from President Bush.
Despite Lott’s latest bid to defuse the controversy, Republicans say it remains uncertain that he will survive a growing clamor — from conservative GOP activists as well as from Democrats — for him to resign his leadership post.
Reporter Janet Hook wrote: “The spiraling controversy has caused trouble for Republicans in the aftermath of their triumph in the November elections, in which they seized control of the Senate and expanded their House majority.”
Phrases like “spiraling controversy” and “growing clamor” came straight from the playbook I described in my 2004 post, in which I said that criticism supported by the paper’s editors “becomes a mysterious and disembodied (but ever-growing) entity. Doubts grow. Criticism emerges.”
This pattern was repeated in story after story. Democrats were never portrayed as attackers. The controversy was always portrayed as ever-growing.
Keep an eye on this newspaper in coming days. See how many articles editors run about Reid’s remarks. And watch closely to see whether the controversy comes to be portrayed as a “growing” entity all on its own — or whether, as I expect, it will instead be portrayed as fueled by attacks from those damn Republicans.