Politico and Centrist Media Bias (22 Years Late)

One of the supposed attractions of the news site Politico is that every so often they give you a peek behind the media curtain, trying to explain how Beltway journalism works. So they don’t just obsessively cover Sarah Palin–they explain why they obsessively cover Sarah Palin: “For the media, Palin is great at the box office.”

John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei offer a similar piece (2/7/11) that takes aim at thesupposed turnabout in Barack Obama’s political fortunes after the midterm election. Part of the answer is thatthe White House is doing things they know the media will cheeron asa return to “centrism” and a triumph for Beltway bipartisanship:

This three-month metamorphosis says something about Obamaâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s survival skills, but the turnabout says even more about the mainstream media: Obama is playing the press like a fiddle.

He is doing it by exploiting some of the most longstanding traits among reporters who cover politics and government–their favoritism for politicians perceived as ideologically centrist and willing to profess devotion to Washingtonâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s oft-honored, rarely practiced civic religion of bipartisanship.

They add:

Conservatives are convinced the vast majority of reporters at mainstream news organizations are liberals who hover expectantly for each new issue of the Nation.

Itâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s just not true. The majority of political writers we know might more accurately be accused of centrist bias.

While their definition of press-approved centrism seems a little off (“they believe broadly in government activism but are instinctually skeptical of anything that smacks of ideological zealotry and are quick to see the public interest as being distorted by excessive partisanship”), the larger point–that reporters are more favorably disposed towards policy that is endorsed by leading figures from both major political parties–seems right on the money.

And, for the record,a far more forceful explanation and critiqueof centrist mediabiasappeared a mere22 years ago in Extra! (10-11/89), courtesy ofFAIR founder Jeff Cohen.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.