Ben Carson, Barack Obama, and "bias": Unraveling the right's "liberal media" security blanket

NRO's John Fund spies a "double standard" in the media's Carson coverage as proven by... Jeremiah Wright?

Published November 9, 2015 7:01PM (EST)

  (AP/Carlos Osorio)
(AP/Carlos Osorio)

Ben Carson’s ascendance to the top of the Republican 2016 field and the intensified media scrutiny that comes with it have given conservatives an opportunity to indulge in one of their favorite pastimes: impotent griping about media bias. The assumption that the mainstream media is really a pernicious cabal of anti-conservative activists is one of the core beliefs of the modern conservative movement, and its chief purpose is to allow conservatives to shield themselves and their preferred candidates from information that conflicts with their worldview. Belief in the power of “liberal bias” has become increasingly important to the right over the past decade, serving as a catch-all explanation for why a dangerous, anti-American radical like Barack Obama could be easily elected two times running.

This belief enjoys full expression in a National Review article written by John Fund, who argues that Carson is absolutely correct to complain that reporters are investigating his background with far more enthusiasm and verve than they ever showed when Obama ran for office. There is no actual way to quantify or demonstrate this specious argument, but Fund gives it a try by earnestly contending that, but for the media, Obama would never have been elected president in the first place:

It’s worth revisiting just how much the media gave Obama a pass in 2008. Take the infamous videos of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s Chicago pastor. Brian Ross’s ABC News report on Wright didn’t air until March 13, 2008, after more than 40 states had voted in the Democratic nomination contest and Obama needed only 225 delegates to wrap up the race against Hillary Clinton. Ironically, the videos of Wright’s speeches had been hiding in plain sight, easily obtainable in the gift store of Wright’s church. “After the videos hit, Obama narrowly limped home to the nomination as Hillary outperformed him badly, 302 to 171 in delegates in the final three months,” noted media critic Dan Curry earlier this year on his blog, Reverse Spin. If the Wright videos had hit prior to the Iowa caucuses, he says they “would undoubtedly have been devastating and fatal to a largely undefined Barack Obama.”

Already we’re grappling with a spectacularly dumb premise. The mainstream media gave Obama “a pass,” argues Fund, as demonstrated by the fact that ABC News (a longstanding pillar of the mainstream media) broke the Reverend Wright story in the middle of the Democratic primary as opposed to the beginning. I’m not even sure what the supposed “bias” is supposed to be here – if there was interest in going easy on Obama, wouldn’t ABC have just sat on its hands instead of sending their chief investigative correspondent to poke around? And the network broke the Wright story just eight months before Obama would have to face John McCain in the general election. Fund has transformed a TV network’s explosive and damaging Wright scoop into an act of bias in favor of Barack Obama, and his only evidence is that the Wright story didn’t end Obama’s candidacy as it might have under different circumstances.

It doesn’t make any sense, and it actually does a better job as an indictment of the conservative media than anything else. Outlets like National Review, Fox News, the Washington Times, Newsmax, and the like exist because conservatives feel the mainstream media can’t be trusted to report the stories that really matter – stories like Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory sermons. If the “easily obtained” Wright tapes had the potential to end Obama’s candidacy and were just sitting there waiting to be exposed, then why didn’t John Fund or any other conservative reporter track down the hot scoop? Why did they wait for ABC to dig it up? This gets to a key contradiction in the right’s obsession with “liberal bias” in the media – many of the stories they accuse the media of ignoring to protect Obama were dug up by the “mainstream media” to begin with. When those stories failed to destroy Obama as a political figure, the only explanation available to conservatives was that the same outlets that broke them also somehow covered them up.

The remainder of Fund’s piece follows this same pattern: identifying stories about contradictions or “scandals” from Obama’s past that mainstream reporters did cover but, according to Fund, didn’t cover hard enough. (As part of his weak case, Fund approvingly cites Jack Cashill, a bona fide lunatic who popularized the “Bill Ayers ghostwrote Obama’s memoirs” conspiracy theory.) “Let’s stop pretending that there isn’t a glaring double standard in how presidential candidates are treated if they depart from the mainstream media’s ideological premises,” Fund writes as his conclusion. He hasn’t proven this double standard by any stretch, but he doesn’t have to because most conservatives believe it exists no matter what the evidence says.

By Simon Maloy

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