Under the header "If Fox is partisan, it is not alone," the New York Times' John Harwood suggests that other cable channels are "partisan," just like Fox. Why does Harwood think this? Because their audiences lean to the left:
Fox News has attracted the most attention because of its "fair and balanced" challenge to its competitors and its success. But the audiences of its competitors have tilted sharply in the other direction.
In audience surveys from August 2000 to March 2001, Fox News viewers tilted Republican by 44.6 percent to 36.1 percent. More narrowly - 41.4 percent to 39.4 percent - so did the audience for MSNBC. The audiences of CNN, Headline News, CNBC and Comedy Central leaned Democratic.
By 2008-9, the network audiences tilted decisively, like Fox's. CNN viewers were more Democratic by 50.4 percent to 28.7 percent; MSNBC viewers were 53.6 percent to 27.3 percent Democratic; Headline News' 47.3 percent to 31.4 percent Democratic; CNBC's 46.9 percent to 32.5 percent Democratic; and Comedy Central's 47.1 to 28.8 percent Democratic.
This, it must be said, is inane. Harwood doesn't spend so much as a single word assessing or even mentioning the actual journalism of any of the channels in question. (There's a lot of that going around.) He just looks at their viewership, and concludes that the content of all the news channels is partisan.
That is a ridiculous way to assess whether a cable channel is "partisan." ESPN's audience probably skews Republican, too. Is ESPN a "partisan" Republican channel? Of course not.
Harwood also seems unaware of the possibility that the audiences at CNN and MSNBC are trending leftward for no reason other than that Fox is scooping up all the right wing viewers. If you assume a relatively finite universe of cable news viewers, CNN and MSNBC would see their viewership skew increasingly Democratic as Fox's skews Republican simply as a result of Republicans flocking to Fox.
Finally: Let's say you had three cable news channels. One was a bit to the right of center, one was slightly more to the right of center, and the third was far to the right of center. What do you think their viewership might look like? One would have a very Republican audience, and the other two would probably have audiences that lean Democratic. And John Harwood would tell you those two right-of-center channels were "partisan" because their audiences were disproportionately Democratic.
From the September 4 edition of MSNBC Live:
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While hosting MSNBC on Friday afternoon, John Harwood took a viewer question -- and, in his answer, provided a glimpse of the shallowness the mainstream media's attitudes about their own biases:
Viewer Question: You grew up in Washington, DC, so some people would probably consider you an "insider." How do you maintain your objectivity when reporting on politics?
John Harwood: Guilty as charged of being an insider. I did grow up inside the Beltway. Let me just say this about press bias and objectivity: The notion of liberal bias in the media is not a fantasy. It is a fact, if we're talking about the orientation of people who go into journalism. However, it's also true that conservatives whine about it too much, and it's less consequential than it's been in the past because people are more mindful of it, pay more attention, and try to make sure that their own biases and their own inclinations don't come across too clearly in their news reporting.
Note, first of all, that the questioner didn't say anything about "liberal bias." She asked about Harwood's status as a Washington insider affecting his objectivity. Harwood didn't address that; not even glancingly. He just stipulated to "being an insider," then put the matter aside, betraying not so much as a hint of recognition that his insider status might affect how he views and reports on politics and policy.
And, after blowing off the question about whether his insider status affects his reporting, Harwood answered a question that wasn't asked, about "the notion of liberal bias." That's how knee-jerk defensive reporters are about "liberal bias" -- they respond to such allegations even when they haven't been asked. Harwood dismisses conservative complaints as "whining" -- but his own defensiveness makes clear that whining has worked.
And Harwood's response displayed a stunning lack of recognition of the difference between "the orientation of people who go into journalism" and the content of the news reports those people produce. John Harwood's own New York Times, for example, absolutely savaged Al Gore throughout the 2000 presidential campaign -- often inaccurately and typically unfairly -- while giving George W. Bush a free pass. Then there's Judith Miller and the Times' coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war. After those two failures -- each of historic proportions -- it is simply absurd for any Times reporter to reflexively assume that the key question about the media is whether it displays a liberal bias.
And yet, that's exactly what reporters assume. They have internalized the conservative whining, and they have clearly not come to terms with the media's conduct during the most important events of the past two decades, from their treatment of the Clintons to the 2000 campaign and the Iraq war debate.
For those who wonder why a few progressive media critics -- Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler, me -- insist on bringing up the 2000 campaign and other past examples of media failures over and over again: This is why. The fact that a New York Times reporter upon hearing a question about media objectivity immediately starts talking about liberal bias rather than apologizing for what his paper did to Al Gore shows that they really don't understand what has happened over the past two decades.
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The New York Times' John Harwood wrote that Gov. Sarah Palin "assert[ed] that" Sen. Barack Obama's "relationship with Bill Ayers, the onetime Weather Underground figure, constitutes 'palling around with terrorists.' " But Harwood did not mention that two days earlier, in an article that Palin herself referenced, the Times itself reported that "the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers."
MSNBC hosts Tamron Hall and John Harwood did not challenge the false "contrast" that McCain campaign political director Mike DuHaime purported to draw between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Barack Obama on earmarks. DuHaime claimed that Palin has "cut half a billion dollars in spending when she was governor using her veto," whereas Obama has "asked for a billion dollars in earmarks." In fact, Palin, by her own account, has requested hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for Alaska in her two years as governor.
In his latest New York Times article, CNBC's John Harwood continued a pattern of repeatedly and uncritically referring to Sen. John McCain as a maverick, without noting his own role in promoting that reputation or noting McCain's rightward shift on high-profile issues or acknowledging his numerous falsehoods. Harwood has also frequently referred to McCain as a maverick while reporting on the primary and general election campaigns for NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.
On MSNBC, John Harwood described Sen. John McCain's apparent willingness to consider raising Social Security taxes -- a reversal from his previously stated position that there would be "no new taxes" in a McCain administration -- as an example of McCain's engaging in "truth-telling" and "candor." Harwood added: "That's the Straight Talk Express, which people got to know so well about John McCain in 2000."
On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough mocked Sen. Barack Obama's work as a community organizer, saying, "Most people are like, 'what's a -- what's a -- get a job -- what's a community organizer?' " and later asked The New York Times' John Harwood, "What did you do when you were a young man, John Harwood? Were you a community organizer?" Rather than note that two days earlier, his own newspaper had published a front-page article providing details that answered Scarborough's question about what Obama did as a community organizer, Hardwood responded that he "played Little League baseball" and "saw a Beatles concert."
In articles on Sen. John McCain's reversal on offshore drilling, The New York Times reported that McCain "cast" his position "switch" as a "bold action in response to gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon," while The Washington Post suggested that McCain's position is a response "to ease the crunch for consumers." Neither article pointed out that the Department of Energy has determined that offshore drilling would not impact gas prices for many years.
On Morning Joe, John Harwood once again described Sen. John McCain as a "maverick," claiming that McCain's criticism of the media is in part "a way for John McCain, who has been such a maverick, to try to unify the Republican Party." Harwood has repeatedly referred to McCain as a "maverick" or having a "maverick brand."
The New York Times' John Harwood wrote that Sen. John McCain "prevailed over a field of Republicans who almost unanimously shared his support for the Iraq war, embrace of President Bush's tax cuts, skepticism toward government-run health care and opposition to abortion rights," while Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton "both staked out opposite ground from Mr. McCain." But neither Obama nor Clinton has proposed "government-run health care"; the Times has previously pointed out that McCain has "inaccurately described Obama's and Clinton's health care proposals" by likening them to "government-run health care systems."
On Morning Joe, John Harwood described Sen. John McCain as a "maverick" without noting any of the numerous actions McCain has taken that undermine that characterization. Harwood later asserted that McCain "voted against Bush's tax cuts" without noting that McCain reversed his position on the tax cuts and now calls for making them permanent, or that he has since offered a different explanation about why he voted against them than he gave at the time.
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On Hardball, John Harwood stated: "John McCain's brand ... has been pretty well-established since 2000. He's likable. He's a maverick. He's a war hero. All of that redounds to his benefit." But while citing McCain's purported "brand" as a "maverick," Harwood did not acknowledge his own role in promoting that "brand." Nor did he point out any of McCain's actions that challenge that "brand," such as McCain's rightward shift on high-profile issues such as immigration and taxes, and his growing list of falsehoods.