By: Sonya Moore
Conservatives have long complained about the media’s “liberal bias.” Increasingly, liberals claim that much of the media actually tilts right. Whatever the truth, political and media analyst Paul Waldman declares a fundamental difference: liberals in the media tend to at least pursue objectivity while conservatives rarely bother. And President Bush, he told E&P, effectively exploits this gap. “Most reporters who are liberal,” he said, “will bend over backwards to prove that their work is not biased.”
In fact, Waldman’s new book, “Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn’t Tell You,” published by Sourcebooks Inc. on Thursday, was inspired, he said, by e-mails he sent (as early as 2000) to friends and family asserting that the media was letting Bush get away with so much.
Waldman, the former associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, now works as executive editor for The Gadflyer (gadflyer.com), a politically progressive Web magazine which will make its debut in March. He left Annenberg earlier this year because he felt it was “inappropriate for me to be there” considering the large amounts of non-partisan scholarly work he did for the center, as well as his wish to focus more on The Gadflyer.
In his previous work, “The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists and the Stories that Shape the Political World” (co-authored by Kathleen Hall Jamieson), Waldman tackled the general topic of the relationship between the media and politics. In “Fraud,” Waldman looks to specifically address why Bush did not receive more scrutiny from the press.
“Bush proved you don’t have to show them the real man, you just have to show someone who looks like the real man,” Waldman said. Bush’s widely publicized habits of providing nicknames for reporters produced the “illusion of intimacy” and his oft-reported verbal mishaps first seemed like a liability, but soon became an asset, Waldman said. He believes that the press let Bush escape accountability for his words because they believed him to not be intelligent enough to lie.
This was in contrast to the treatment of former Vice President Al Gore, Waldman explained, who he said received intense press scrutiny because his articulate speech gave people the impression that he was the calculating one. Waldman said the sentiment among reporters was, “[Gore’s] the smart one, so he’s trying to lie.”
More than three years later, it’s hard for conservatives “to argue with a straight face that the media has treated him [Bush] badly,” Waldman said.
Waldman said that Sept. 11, 2001, also made the media hypersensitive to public opinion and more careful about questioning the White House. “Going against the mood” is something reporters are afraid to do, he said. “I do think they fell down on this one,” Waldman said about the performance of the press during 9/11 and the war on Iraq. “Reporters could’ve done a much better job asking, ‘What is it they’re trying to say and where’s the proof?'”
“I’m not trying to bash the press,” Waldman added, especially when he takes into account deadline pressure. But to him, “What looks like objectivity is giving him [Bush] the path to lie.”