Matt Labash is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, where he has worked since 1995. He has also worked for Albuquerque Monthly, Washingtonian magazine, and The American Spectator. Labash was named by CJR as one of “Ten Young Writers on the Rise” in 2002. He lives in Owings, Maryland, with his wife, his sons Luke and Dean, and his dog, Leviticus. He spoke with Campaign Desk as part of our continuing series of interviews with reporters, editors and commentators covering the election.
Brian Montopoli: Is there a sense among conservative journalists that the media is becoming increasingly liberal?
Matt Labash: I don’t see how the media could be growing more liberal than they’ve been in the past, considering that these days, there are seemingly hundreds of full-time beat cops on liberal media bias patrol.
There is, of course, such a thing as liberal media bias. I’m not saying there isn’t. But I don’t spend much time worrying about it, since I know that if Dan Rather’s eye twitches when he says Dick Cheney’s name, the blogosphere and any number of others will have him crucified by the time he suits up in his jammies that evening. It’s fine to point out liberal media bias when there are obvious instances of it. And even not so obvious. I just worry that some conservatives grow obsessive at times. Especially when the news doesn’t unfold as they want it to, such as in Iraq. The danger is that it becomes a nervous tic, instead of a well-founded critique. It’s like when liberals start talking Halliburton. It’s tiresome, and kind of sad. I suppose it’s good that there’s somebody there to obsess over bias, so as to keep everyone’s nose clean. But the subject, generally speaking, makes me very, very sleepy.
BM: Who got better treatment from the press: George Bush in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004?
ML: Who knows? I actually think Gore got pounded on a lot harder than Bush did in 2000. Then again, he earned it. Kerry’s tending to skate this cycle. It’s a hard thing to quantify, though plenty still try. Anyone who spends two years of their life running for president has two primary objectives: A) to re-make themselves as a minor deity and B) to cast their opponent as Beelzebub. This means they have to lie a lot, or at least embellish with some regularity. And my personal view is that whoever misleads the most should get the roughest treatment. This election, I’d say Kerry should take that honor. Though Bush, to be fair, has spent the better part of a year and a half painting smiley faces on Iraq, when it is still a festering sore, to put it charitably. So this cycle, whichever candidate suffers a good media pasting has it coming to some degree.
BM: Do you think Air America and the liberal documentaries that have come out this year will have much an effect on the election? And do you think conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh make much of an impact?
ML: I can’t imagine Air America won’t have a profound impact on both of its listeners. As for the documentaries and Rush-like commentators, I look at both as being lagging indicators more than leading ones. Both are outgrowths, more than catalysts, for existing sentiments. Both venues give the faithful sanctuary, a place to take communion. Will they turn voters out who wouldn’t have voted otherwise? Hard to say. I think they’re more effective at passing out sheet music so their respective sides know what to sing when inflicting their worldviews at dinner parties.
BM: Is it ever awkward writing for an opinion magazine with a pretty clearly demarcated ideological position? What happens when your opinions don’t quite square with those of your editors?
ML: I’ll never forget what my editor, Bill Kristol, said when I told him I thought the war in Iraq was a bad play. He looked at me, as a father looks at a son, and said, “Pack your things.” Actually, that doesn’t happen at The Standard. We like to think of ourselves as free thinkers. We are free to say what we want. We are free to make fools of ourselves within reason, as readers of my pieces can attest.