CNN's Lou Dobbs raised the question of whether it was a reflection of the mainstream media's purported "liberal bias" that Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's lampooning of President Bush at the White House correspondents' dinner "was not more heavily criticized." But Dobbs's assumption that the media tilts to the left is contradicted by the imbalance on his own show, which regularly hosts far more conservative guests than liberal ones.
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On the May 2 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs raised the question of whether it was a reflection of the mainstream media's purported "liberal bias" that Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's lampooning of President Bush at the April 29 White House Correspondents' Association dinner "was not more heavily criticized." But Dobbs's assumption that the media tilts to the left is contradicted by the imbalance on his own show, which regularly hosts far more conservative guests than liberal ones. Even the panel that Dobbs assembled on May 2 -- and subsequently questioned about the media's liberal bias -- featured two conservatives and one liberal.
Media Matters for America recently conducted studies of guests appearing on the three major Sunday morning talk shows, MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, and MSNBC's Scarborough Country. In each case, these surveys determined that conservative guests have far outnumbered liberal ones. The outcome was no different with Lou Dobbs Tonight: An examination of all episodes airing in January and February 2006 found that "Republicans and conservatives have dominated" the show's guest list. Among the central findings:
- A total of 63 percent of guests who were identified with a political party were Republican, while only 37 percent were Democrats.
- Among elected and administration officials who appeared on the show, 70 percent were Republicans, while only 27 percent were Democrats.
- Of the journalists and pundits who appeared on the show, conservatives led progressives 45 percent to 32 percent.
- Excluding neutral guests, Republicans and conservatives accounted for 60 percent of solo interviews, while Democrats and progressives accounted for only 40 percent.
- Panels that tilted right accounted for 45 percent of all panels -- more than double the number of panels that tilted left. Only 21 percent of panels tilted left, while 34 percent were balanced.
Indeed, Dobbs's May 2 question regarding whether the media's coverage of Colbert's performance reflected their "liberal bias" came before a panel consisting of conservative talk radio hosts Mark Simone and Martha Zoller and liberal radio host Stephanie Miller.
As the featured entertainer at the annual awards dinner of the White House Correspondents' Association, Colbert delivered a satirical "tribute" to President Bush, in which he lampooned the president and the mainstream media. According to Editor & Publisher, his routine "left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close."
Dobbs commented that while Colbert is "obviously one of the funniest people in entertainment ... many people said he went far too far." Dobbs likened Colbert's routine to that of radio host Don Imus, who drew criticism after performing at the 1996 Correspondents dinner. In his act, Imus made light of President Clinton's supposed extramarital affairs and raised questions concerning then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's financial dealings. Dobbs went on to ask Zoller, an Atlanta radio host, whether "it's a reflection that ... the media has a liberal bias, Martha, that Colbert was not more heavily criticized, say, than Imus years ago with Bill Clinton?"
But in suggesting that media resisted criticizing Colbert, Dobbs ignored the numerous negative reviews of Colbert's performance in major media outlets. For example:
- On the May 1 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said, "I just think he wasn't terribly funny and he had the misfortune of following Bush, who actually did put on one of the better performances of his presidency."
- Time.com political editor Mike Allen panned Colbert on the May 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, saying his routine "went over about as well as David Letterman at the Oscars."
- New Republic senior editor Noam Scheiber wrote in a May 1 post on the magazine's weblog: "I laughed out loud maybe twice during Colbert's entire 20-odd minute routine. Colbert's problem, blogosphere conspiracy theories notwithstanding, is that he just wasn't very entertaining."
Perhaps Dobbs's impression that Colbert had not been criticized resulted from the fact that numerous reports on the Correspondents' dinner highlighted only Bush's comedy routine, while omitting any mention of Colbert. These included the April 30 editions of ABC's This Week, NBC's Sunday Today, and NBC's Nightly News; the May 1 editions of ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today, CBS' Early Show, and CNN's American Morning; and a May 1 article by New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller. As Media Matters noted, this dearth of coverage stands in contrast to the media's reporting of Imus's highly critical performance.
From the May 2 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
DOBBS: I want to, if I could, please, ask us to roll a clip from the White House correspondents' dinner this weekend. Some years ago, Don Imus had a -- he was just besieged because he was very tough, in the minds of many, on President Bill Clinton. I want to just show you what Stephen Colbert -- just a sample of what he did at the White House press correspondent dinner.
COLBERT (video clip): The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man's beliefs never will.
DOBBS: Colbert, who is obviously one of the funniest people in entertainment, is -- on Saturday night, many people said that he went far too far. I wanted to ask you, Stephanie, what you thought with what many called an unrelenting attack on President Bush?
MILLER: Lou, let me take a moment to say: Go, Stephen! It's your birthday! It's your birthday! I thought he was great. I thought he was great. If that's not speaking truth to power, I don't know what is, and I thought -- I thought it was fabulous.
DOBBS: You did? And there was -- in the dinner, there was a strained reaction amongst the press. It was interesting. Mark?
SIMONE: Well, first of all, that arrogant phrase that people use, "truth to power," it's your idea of truth, not necessarily the real truth. And I don't understand that character at all. He looked exactly like Keith Olbermann, sounds exactly like him, talks like him, but it's supposed to be a takeoff on [Bill] O'Reilly. I still can't figure the character out. And, you know, the idea of these things is you got to singe, not burn. This guy just was a flamethrower with that material.
DOBBS: Do you think it's a reflection that the liberal still has -- the media has a liberal bias, Martha, that Colbert was not more heavily criticized, say, than Imus years ago with Bill Clinton?
ZOLLER: Well, certainly there is a liberal bias, and he is picking on George Bush, who the media doesn't like, versus Imus, who was picking on Clinton, who the media loved, OK? And so, you really see a little bit of a bias. What came to mind after seeing flight -- United 93 this weekend is 9-11 was a Tuesday, so that was -- and he probably didn't even think about that, but for me, having lost friends in the World Trade Towers, that was the first thing I thought of.