Simple fixes are rarely good fixes. Case in point is the Washington Post, which has admirably jumped into the world of the blogosphere feet first (we counted eighteen blogs on its site today), but which seems to be trying to flex that blog muscle to shed itself of a long-standing criticism of the print paper.
That criticism is the simple-minded “liberal bias” charge, and while it might seem ludicrous on its face to those incensed at the Post for its editorial support of war in Iraq, the mantra has staying power, fed as it is almost daily by right-wing blog chatter.
Yesterday, the Post launched “Red America,” a brand new blog written by Ben Domenech, a movement conservative and co-founder of RedState.org. Domenech’s triumphal opening words — “This is a blog for the majority of Americans” — should reassure conservatives that a genuine faux-populist, “MSM”-hating red-meat wingnut has finally been signed to the Post’s blog roll. (Not that Domenech is without company on the print pages of the Post, which regularly publishes op-eds by the likes of conservative majordomos Charles Krauthammer, George F. Will and Robert Kagan.)
Now, sometimes a blog is just a blog, and we think any addition to the Post’s growing stable is good news. There’s a delicious irony to the whole thing, though. In trying to appease conservatives with its new blog, Washingtonpost.com has succeeded in arousing the moribund left. It’s become a commonplace that conservative bloggers slam any reporter or any other blogger that they think is biased, and, for once, a conservative is getting the same treatment from the left, which rose up on its hind legs at the very sight of Domenech. Media Matters slapped back yesterday, writing that there are no “progressive bloggers — and certainly no left-of-center political operative — on Washingtonpost.com to provide balance to Domenech.” Greg Sargent over at the American Prospect’s “Tapped” blog also let the arrows fly, emailing the editors at the Post demanding some sort of explanation for the hiring of a blatantly activist political hack.
There’s considerable chatter in the blogosphere that the hire is meant to offset Post blogger Dan Froomkin, whose “White House Briefing” columns have led many conservatives to brand him a liberal. But Froomkin is an honest-to-God reporter who actually researches and reports his blog entries, and supplies readers with copious links that leave them free to base their own conclusions on their own research. Domenech is the polar opposite, someone who’s looking for a bully pulpit and who has found it. Still, on opening day, waving his partisan views around and about like a battle flag, he somehow managed to squeeze in a good point, in between bouts of bluster:
“[E]ven in a climate where Republicans hold command of every branch of government, and advocate views shared by a majority of voters, the mainstream media continues to treat red state Americans as pachyderms in the midst, an alien and off-kilter group of suburbanite churchgoers about which little is known, and whose natural habitat is a discomforting place for even the most hardened reporter from the New York Times.”
Once you discount the purposeful exaggeration for effect, it’s clear Domenech is onto something there. He knows why he was hired. And while his simplistic construction of a monolithic “mainstream media” is lame and intellectually disingenuous — the media have never been more variegated (some might say splintered) than they currently are — his contention that too many too big-city reporters and editors are clueless when it comes to conservatives rings true.
As we all know, the New York Times tried to address that problem two years ago with the creation of a “conservative beat,” staffed by a reporter with a mandate to search out and report back on those “pachyderms in the mist.” Public editor Barney Calame recently wrote about it: “The original mandate for the beat was to examine conservative forces in religion, politics, law, business and the media. The goals of the beat, [Times editor Bill] Keller said last week, continue to be identifying ‘the thinkers and the grass roots they organize’ and exploring ‘how the conservative movement works to be heard in Washington’ … Basically, he said, ‘we wanted to understand them.”“
Last time we checked, this type of thing already had a name: It was simply called “journalism,” and it didn’t require a beat. There’s nothing wrong with a reporter covering conservative grassroots groups (considering the unparalleled organizational powers of the conservative movement), but isn’t that something that would logically grow out of any decent campaign or political coverage? Keller saw as much when the job was created, telling the New York Observer’s Sridhar Pappu in February 2004 that he “winced” when he saw the announcement by national editor Jim Roberts about establishing the position “because it was a little like the New York Times discovers this strange, alien species called conservatives, and that’s not what this is about.”
Isn’t it? Why, then, is there no “liberal beat” at the New York Times or anywhere else? But we digress. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the rabid partisans being brought on at a number of news organizations, not just the Post. (See CNN’s hiring of conservative radio host Glenn “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore” Beck and Bill “you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down” Bennett in order to add “balance” to the raving liberals on its staff, like … umm, like … never mind.)
For his part, Domenech is off to an auspicious start, fudging the facts and generally just making things up. “Red America’s citizens are the political majority,” he wrote yesterday. “They’re here to stay.” We know that being a blogger gives license to make all sorts of claims, but Domenech seems stuck back in November 2004 — in particular, on that election day that saw George Bush swept back into office by a clear, if narrow, margin. We don’t know where Domenech has been for the past 16 months, but a few things have happened since then, and a Pew poll taken in February shows that “[t]he public believes the Democratic Party could do a better job than the GOP on a host of policy issues. The Democrats hold a huge advantage on the environment and health care, and smaller but still significant leads on several other issues, including deficit reduction (12 points), taxes (11 points) and education (11 points).” And let’s not even dwell on the president’s recent approval ratings, which seem wedged somewhere between 34 percent and 39 percent.
But for now, we’ll keep checking in on Domenech, in hopes that he’s able to sing in more than one octave:
“MSM bad. MSM biased..”
In fact, we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.
So, welcome to the MSM, kid. Where the linemen are bigger, the running backs faster, the quarterbacks throw bullets and your own tactics can — and will — be used against you.