By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The host of a MSNBC program that bears her name shredded the history of a great nation on July 1, presenting what she characterized as “my footnote for the fourth of July.”
It was not Rachel Maddow, but Melissa Harris-Perry, who said, “The land on which they (the Founding Fathers) formed this Union was stolen. The hands with which they built this nation were enslaved. The women who birthed the citizens of the nation are second class. … This is the imperfect fabric of our nation, at times we’ve torn and stained it, and at other moments, we mend and repair it. But it’s ours, all of it. The imperialism, the genocide, the slavery, also the liberation and the hope and the deeply American belief that our best days still lie ahead of us.”
In what is now designated “Quote of the Year” in the Notable Quotables “competition,” Harris-Perry delivered a perspective about American history stressing that “imperfect fabric.”
She is representative of prevailing orthodoxy in the national press corps.
Rarely do such individuals turn the rough jewel of our shared history — contemporary or past — to deliver context and balance. Harris-Perry is typical of the mindset among those working in the “legacy media” for broadcast and cable news programs, and at most newspapers.
Results in the annual “Notable Quotables” from the Media Research Center were released Monday. Each year the group unveils the “best” (i.e. worst) examples of news stories, commentaries and other media excesses undercutting American traditions, and making a mockery of old school news media standards.
A compilation of this year’s “greatest hits” is available online from MRC.
The bad news is that deeply biased views and commentary continue to dominate national mainstream “news” coverage. The good news is that MRC researches, documents, archives and critiques that bias with knowledgeable and experienced professionals, including even me.
I agreed with “judicial” colleagues across the country who chose Harris-Perry’s comments as quote of the year, but must admit that the competition was fierce.
For example, consider this gem — my second choice for quote of the year, and “winner” of the “Denying the Obvious Award.”
On the New York Times “Freakonomics” podcast last Feb. 16, host Stephen Dubner, interviewing editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, reflected, “There is a kind of, I think, common analog, I hope I’m not overstating it by saying that it’s common, that Fox News is to the right what the New York Times is to the left. I’m guessing you would see that as a false equivalency on a lot of levels ….”
There are a lot of ways Rosenthal could have defended his newspaper, but this is what he actually said:
“The word I want to use here … begins with ‘bull’ and ends in ‘it’ and you can figure out what comes in between. I think it’s absolute pernicious nonsense. … Fox News presents the news in a way that is deliberately skewed to promote political causes, and the New York Times simply does not.”
I read The New York Times regularly, and appreciate many of its strengths, even when all the news that’s fit to print doesn’t make a particular edition. I watch Fox News, as well, and appreciate its many strengths, even when “fair and balanced” remains a goal rather than an achievement.
However, the pretense that there is no bias in the reporting ranks of the Times is … well, it’s a word that begins with “bull” and ends with “it.”
And so it goes.
MRC categories for 2012 were varied, including “Throwing Granny off a Cliff Award” for portraying the GOP presidential ticket as heartless, the Obamagasm award in which winner Chris Matthews described our president as “the perfect father, the perfect husband, the perfect American,” the Ku Klux Con Job for smearing conservatives with charges of racism, the Damn Those Conservative Awards and the Media Hero Award.
Then, there’s the Barbra Streisand Political IQ Award for Celebrity Vapidity, which went to actor Jamie Foxx for comments at the Soul Train awards which designated the president “our Lord and Savior!”
And, to be sure, there is the “Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste” award. My favorite — and the ultimate category winner — was an ABC News segment pointing to a Colorado tea party member as shooter in the Aurora movie theater shooting.
That information was wrong, and eerily foreshadowed the news media’s initial handling of last week’s awful events at a school in Connecticut — including the designation of the wrong man as shooter, inaccuracies about his mother’s role as a teacher and other problems.
MRC’s judges cover the gamut of those who dissent from liberal orthodoxy in the news media, among others including Erick Erickson of RedState.com, Eric Fettmann of the New York Post, Quin Hilyer of The American Spectator, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, Kate O’Beirne of National Review, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas and economist Walter Williams.
To be clear, every journalist has a point of view, a way of looking at the world that influences her or his treatment of a news story, a commentary, or any presentation of information. Objectivity is largely a noble myth, but fairness should not be.
The antagonism that conservatives, libertarians and even pro-life liberals face from the American mainstream media was already pervasive during the 1980s when I worked in the nation’s capital as a legal researcher and journalist at the late Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation.
Looking back at the quotes and stories that shocked or merely frustrated me “back in the day” has become an important exercise in context. The newspaper and broadcast journalists then still worked within a framework that more often than not rewarded fairness and held up balance and depth of sourcing as the benchmarks of good work.
Reporters and commentators as diverse as Robert Novak and David Broder, until just a few years ago, embodied that tradition.
Each had a point of view, one largely conservative, the other largely liberal. But day after day and week after week, they were equitable and even-handed in the vast majority of their news stories or commentaries.
That was then, this is now, and now is not better.
Today, my chosen profession is afflicted, at the national level, with not only bias against a broad swathe of American activists and citizens, but also ignorance of or willful disdain for the best practices of the past.
And, once in awhile, I work with Media Research Center’s passionate and committed staff, people who hold up to professional scrutiny and the light of day – the best disinfectants in a free society – the excesses of too many in the legacy media.
Contact Patrick B. McGuigan at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.