The following is a paper I recently wrote for “Critical Thinking in Politics”, a class I’m currently taking.
I looked at Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and ABC to see how â€œliberalâ€ and â€œconservativeâ€ media outlets covered Obamaâ€™s first 100 days in office, in particular the rise of the Tea Party protest movement. I expected extreme bias from all sides, as that had been my impression during the last 18 months of sifting through news.
In April of 2009, irate taxpayers across the country gathered in front of city halls, capitol buildings and in Washington DC. The protest was dubbed the Tea Party, as protestors saw themselves as â€œTaxed Enough Alreadyâ€. (Protest signage)
Mainstream media initially dismissed the protestors, â€œThereâ€™s been some grassroots conservatives who have organized so-called Tea Parties around the country, but the idea hasnâ€™t really caught on.â€ (Chuck Todd, NBC, April 15, 2009) CNNâ€™s Susan Roesgen attended a protest and not only cast aside any attempt at objectivity but openly provoked and baited the people she was supposed to be interviewing, â€œDo you realize how offensive that is? It’s anti-government, anti-CNN, since this is highly promoted by the right-wing conservative network, Fox.â€ (CNN April 15, 2009)
In an article dated April 16, 2010 from CNN, â€œexpertsâ€ say â€œLetting disgruntled citizens vent is important to national security, but some messages emanating from angry Americans in recent weeks have pressed the boundaries of free speech.â€ The article quotes â€œexpertsâ€ on Free Speech and its inherent dangers. Steven Best, philosophy professor and press officer for the Animal Liberation Front, a group the government â€œconsiders a terrorist outfitâ€ is quoted as saying “There’s something about them [Tea Party protestors] I can almost admire”. (CNN, April 16, 2010) Many viewers and readers would see an implied comparison between the movement and radical extremists.
Gradually, media outlets like CNN became openly contemptuous of the movement. Anderson Cooper made a reference to a sexual practice in relation to protestors and the mainstream media quickly adopted the derogatory label. (CNN April 2009) MSNBCâ€™s Keith Olbermann hosted comedienne Janeane Garofalo, not an expert in politics or science and neurology, who spent the segment disparaging the protestors as “a bunch of tea bagging rednecks â€¦ this is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up.” She further claimed that any protestors were brain damaged. (MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, April 2009) Keith Olbermann agreed. (It can be argued that his is not designed to be an objective report.)
The protests were not simply about what the people felt were unfair taxes. Citizens were voicing their anger over seemingly unchecked government spending. They were against the stimulus bill. They were against the version of the health care reform bill that was eventually passed. But the media chose to report on what they deemed â€œracistâ€, â€œviolentâ€ and â€œdangerousâ€ protesters. Eventually, even Obama began disparaging the protesters, calling them â€œteabaggersâ€ in a November 2009 interview with Jonathan Alter, author of â€œThe Promise: President Obama Year Oneâ€; and joking to a Democratic Party fundraising event that they â€œshould be thanking meâ€ for not raising taxes. (Fox News, April 2010) The media, which seemed to have become enamored of the president during the election, was quick to paint any criticism of Obama in a negative light.
This contrasts drastically with Fox News. Fox has traditionally been considered a conservative media outlet, while painting itself as â€œFair and Balancedâ€. Fox embraced the Tea Party and all of its criticisms of Obama, quite often encouraging it. Fox had been the only network devoting any significant time to reporting on the protests. But Fox may have taken it to the other extreme, somewhat saturating their broadcast with coverage. Obama, perhaps, fed into the media bias by refusing to appear on Fox News, openly criticizing the network as being too critical of him. Foxâ€™s criticism of the president was at a parallel with the protesters, perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that the two would look on each other as allies.
Fox Nation hosted a â€œVirtualâ€ Tea Party for those who were unable to attend a rally. (Fox Nation April 2009) Sean Hannity broadcast live from a rally on tax day 2009 in Atlanta, GA. Just a year later, his scheduled broadcast from a rally in Cincinnati was canceled when Fox owner Rupert Murdoch stated that Fox News should not be supporting the Tea Party movement.
In April 2010, when Arizona passed a new immigration law, which many in the Tea Party movement support, Fox ran a comparison of media coverage on immigration protests and Tea Party rallies. Fox presented evidence that mainstream media painted the immigration protests as â€œpeacefulâ€ despite evidence of rioting and violence and several arrests, while the tea party protesters were violent and angry. (Fox, April 2010, Oâ€™Reilly Factor and Megyn Kelly) Fox sought to draw attention to what they have labeled liberal agenda of mainstream media.
A list.serv (in this case, essentially a chat room) called Journolist, comprised of mainly liberal journalists, was discovered recently. The archives of the posts made by journalists reveal that they actively conspired to bury, minimize or downplay any criticism of Obama during the election and campaign. They openly talk about their desire for government intervention in shutting down Fox News.
The point of journalism is to collect and report on the facts without interjecting the reporterâ€™s or the media outletâ€™s political agenda or personal feelings. This tenet seems to have become the exception rather than the rule. It is a rare thing to find a truly objective reporter in todayâ€™s political climate.
The media was once considered the watchdog of government. I wonder if there is such a thing as objective journalism any more; is the media capable of being a â€œwatchdogâ€? The rise of bloggers, both liberal and conservative is one response. And more people are turning to them for news every day. But is there objectivity there? I think in most cases, no.
I have found it next to impossible to keep my personal bias from coloring my view on this topic, and I am not so different from many of todayâ€™s bloggers. I think the main problem, at least that I face, is setting aside emotions to come at a subject objectively. Even when I think Iâ€™m being calm and objective, when itâ€™s a topic that I strongly believe in, my views will definitely be colored. Despite my personal bias on this particular subject, I think it is fair to say that media coverage has been extremely biased either for or against the Tea Party movement.
1. CNN April 16, 2010 Experts: Angry rhetoric protected, but can be disturbing http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/16/protests.protected.speech/index.html
2. CNN Anderson Cooper 360 April 15, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6TecmKi_Hg
3. Washington Post April 18, 2010 ‘Tea partiers’ more wacky mavericks than extremist threat http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/17/AR2010041702652.html
4. CNN State of the Union with John King, transcript, discussing Roesgenâ€™s report from the protest, April 19, 2009 http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0904/19/sotu.02.html
5. MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, video via Youtube.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAAHMDpk7Ik
6. Fox News coverage on Obamaâ€™s appearance at Party fundraiser April 16, 2010 http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/04/15/obama-renews-bipartisanship-takes-jab-tea-partiers/
7. Jake Tapper, ABC News, blog http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/05/president-obama-gop-opposition-to-stimulus-helped-to-create-the-teabaggers.html
8. Fox Nation http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/04/08/welcome-foxnews-anti-tax-tea-party-coverage/
9. Fox A Tale of Two Protests April 2010 http://dailyradar.com/beltwayblips/video/youtube-msm-s-tale-of-2-protests-immigration-vs-tea/
10. Fox Oâ€™Reilly Factor April 2010 http://video.foxnews.com/v/4167737/immigration-protests-vs-tea-parties
11. The American Thinker compiled list of Journolist participants http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/07/known_journolisters_1.html