Liberals Turn on ‘Liberal Media’

Liberals say mainstream pundits are hewing too close to the establishment.

Josh Romney (left) talks to Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, about attracting young demographics to the Republican party during the "Conversations with the Next Generation Town Hall" at the Improve Comedy Club in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 29, 2012. 
National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Sept. 26, 2013, 3 a.m.

What star­ted as a firestorm on Twit­ter, turned in­to an angry pe­ti­tion and by noon on Wed­nes­day more than 1,000 pro­gress­ives had called NBC’s Wash­ing­ton bur­eau to tell people just how mad they were at Chuck Todd.

The NBC polit­ic­al dir­ect­or’s trans­gres­sion came dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion on Morn­ing Joe last week. Todd, in an ex­change with former Gov­ernor Ed Rendell about mis­in­form­a­tion that has pro­filer­ated about the Af­ford­able Care Act, said something that cre­ated a lib­er­al firestorm (em­phas­is ad­ded be­low).

Rendell: “I think the biggest prob­lem with Obama­care, it’s not a per­fect bill by any means, was the mes­saging. If you took ten people from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try who say they’re against the bill, sat them down, I’d love to have ten minutes with them and say, ‘Tell me why you are against the bill.’ If they told you any­thing, it would be stuff that’s in­cor­rect.”

Todd: “But more im­port­antly, it would be stuff that Re­pub­lic­ans have su­cess­fully mes­saged against it. They don’t re­peat the oth­er stuff be­cause they haven’t even heard the Demo­crat­ic mes­sage. What I al­ways love is people who say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the me­dia.’ No, it’s the Pres­id­ent of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

That was enough to set off lib­er­al crit­ics at Talk­ing Points Memo and oth­er lib­er­al out­lets, who ar­gued that by lo­gic­al ex­ten­sion he was shirk­ing the me­dia’s duty to cor­rect false­hoods. Where mem­bers of this crowd would usu­ally fo­cus their at­tacks on “lies” spread by Fox News or vari­ous right-wing per­son­al­it­ies, Todd’s com­ment had them turn­ing on a main­stream pun­dit.

The back­lash is con­sid­er­able. Nicole Belle, ed­it­or of the pro­gress­ive blog Crook­sand­Li­, launched a pe­ti­tion on CRE­DO­Mobil­ ur­ging the pres­id­ent of NBC News to is­sue a pub­lic apo­logy. The pe­ti­tion has garnered more than 133,000 sig­na­tures since it was pos­ted last week. An­oth­er ef­fort, en­cour­aging act­iv­ists to call NBC headquar­ters, has in­spired more than 1,500 phone calls.

Todd didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment but tweeted his de­fense:

Some­body de­cided to troll w/mis­ld­ing head­line: point I ac­tu­ally made was folks shouldn’t ex­pect me­dia to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA

— Chuck Todd (@chuck­todd) Septem­ber 18, 2013

He’s in an un­com­fort­able po­s­i­tion, but Todd does have some high-pro­file com­pany. An­oth­er tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity ac­cused of par­rot­ing es­tab­lish­ment talk­ing points, or at least the ap­pear­ance of do­ing so, is CNN’s Stephanie Cut­ter, a former Obama deputy cam­paign man­ager, who has been tar­geted for her White House ties by the left-wing me­dia watch­dog FAIR.

Cut­ter, who’s re­portedly still ad­vising the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on com­mu­nic­a­tions strategy, has ar­gued that her re­la­tion­ship with the White House is ac­tu­ally an as­set. FAIR thinks it’s more an as­set to the ad­min­is­tra­tion than to CNN.

“A TV pun­dit is paid to say what she thinks,” the or­gan­iz­a­tion wrote in an “Ac­tion Alert” telling mem­bers to con­tact CNN about Cut­ter. “A polit­ic­al spin doc­tor is paid to say whatever line is most likely to pro­mote her cli­ent’s agenda. It’s a glar­ing con­flict between two very dif­fer­ent re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.”

The is­sue is that journ­al­ists have an im­port­ant role to play as crit­ics, and you can’t plaus­ibly do that if you’re too con­nec­ted to or un­crit­ic­al of the es­tab­lish­ment or if you just dumbly par­rot what you’re told. It’s a top­ic that James Fal­lows, who has long had a par­tic­u­lar in­terest in me­dia, has been writ­ing about for years.

Take, for ex­ample, his cov­er­age of the vote on Pres­id­ent Obama’s job bill in 2011. High­light­ing a Wash­ing­ton Post head­line that read, “Sen­ate Has Be­come a Cham­ber of Fail­ure,” Fal­lows ex­cerp­ted a para­graph with the fol­low­ing in bold:

The Sen­ate’s top two lead­ers [Re­id and Mc­Con­nell] have spent the past nine months try­ing to trick, trap, em­bar­rass and out-man­euver each oth­er. Each is hop­ing to force the oth­er in­to a mis­take that will bur­den him and his party with a great­er share of the pub­lic blame. On Tues­day, as usu­al, it was hard to tell wheth­er any­one was win­ning.

Fal­lows in an art­icle titled “Chron­icles of False Equi­val­ence, Chapter 2,817” re­spon­ded thusly:

No, it is not hard to tell. Since Scott Brown’s vic­tory over Martha Coakley and the end of the Demo­crats’ 60-vote ma­jor­ity, Mitch Mc­Con­nell has flat-out won, and (in my view) the pro­spects of do­ing even routine pub­lic busi­ness have lost, by mak­ing the re­quire­ment for 60 votes for any­thing seem nor­mal rather than ex­cep­tion­al. And by even­tu­ally lead­ing our ma­jor me­dia to present this situ­ation as an “every­one’s to blame” un­for­tu­nate and in­ex­plic­able snafu, rather than an in­ten­ded ex­er­cise of polit­ic­al power by one side.

Dan Froomkin, writ­ing in The Huff­ing­ton Post earli­er this month, offered some timely in­sights in­to why writ­ing a neut­ral story on non-neut­ral is­sue is not, in fact, good journ­al­ism. His chosen sub­ject was the House vote to make deep cuts to the food stamp pro­gram and the en­su­ing cov­er­age, which fo­cused on the polit­ic­al play-by-play rather than the fact that the pro­gram has kept mil­lions of Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies from go­ing hungry.

The New York Times ed­it­or­i­al board this morn­ing said the vote ‘can be seen only as an act of su­preme in­dif­fer­ence,’ ” Froomkin wrote, “But that’s not the way the pa­per’s own re­port­ers covered it. Like those at es­sen­tially every oth­er main­stream news or­gan­iz­a­tion, they wrote it straight. They fo­cused on pro­ced­ure. They quoted both sides. And they called it a day.”

Looks like lib­er­als won’t let lib­er­als — or any­body — get away with that any­more. This is just the most re­cent ex­ample.

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