American Prospect Dismantles Right-Wing Media's “Liberal Bias” Accusation After Routine Vetting Of Ben Carson's Autobiography

The American Prospect's Paul Waldman debunked right-wing media who “continue to insist that only Republican candidates get scrutinized by the press.” Right-wing media, Waldman writes, are following the lead of conservative candidates who cry liberal bias to “pla[y] on their supporters' sense of victimization and deflect away from the substance of the questions being asked.”

After routine vetting unearthed some inconsistencies in Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's biography, conservative media lashed out at outlets who looked into Carson's stories, claiming Democrats are not as thoroughly vetted or harshly criticized as Republicans. However, allegations of media bias when it comes to vetting presidential candidates have been thoroughly debunked.

In a November 8 article for The American Prospect, Waldman pointed out that claims of liberal media bias, while “a longstanding belief in conservative circles,” are “unencumbered by anything resembling evidence.” Although Carson accused the media of “not only being unfair to him, but also of giving Barack Obama a free ride in 2008,” Waldman recalled the media's intense scrutiny of Obama's connections to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, digging up hundreds of relevant stories in 2008 by just The New York Times. Waldman further dissected claims of “liberal media bias,” writing that "[c]onservatives' real objection isn't that these matters weren't investigated and discussed extensively in the press in 2008, but that Obama got elected anyway":

Ben Carson now faces the intense scrutiny every front-running presidential candidate gets, and he doesn't like it one bit. Carson is now facing allegations that he has exaggerated, embellished, or even made up parts of his oft-told life story, not to mention extended discussion of his more outlandish statements. But to all this, Carson has a ready answer, one he knows will send conservative heads nodding in agreement: The liberal media is out to get me.

In an unusually combative (for him) press conference on Friday, Carson charged the media not only with being unfair to him, but also of giving Barack Obama a free ride in 2008. “I do not remember this level of scrutiny for one President Barack Obama when he was running,” he said. “In fact, I remember just the opposite.”

This is a longstanding belief in conservative circles, but if you pay close attention you'll notice that it is unencumbered by anything resembling evidence. Nevertheless, other conservatives are rallying to Carson's side. National Review, for instance, brought all the sophisticated media analysis they could muster to his defense, arguing that all this pestering comes from “the same reporters who were not just incurious about the details of Barack Obama's background in 2008 but actively hostile to those who asked reasonable questions about his relationship with admitted domestic terrorist Bill Ayers and his years of religious instruction from Jeremiah 'God Damn America' Wright.”

How terribly incurious those media were! Indeed, it's a wonder that anyone at National Review even knows who Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright are, given the media conspiracy in 2008 to hide their identities and connections to Obama ... by writing literally thousands of articles about them.

I'm guessing you remember Wright and Ayers, too, because you heard about them quite a bit back then. Just to refresh my memory, I searched The New York Times -- a single newspaper, and the one conservatives consider the spear point of the liberal media -- for stories mentioning Jeremiah Wright between the beginning of 2008 and election day that year. Did they mention Wright at all? Dismiss him with an article or two so they could say they covered the story? Not exactly: In that campaign, Wright was mentioned in no fewer than 419 stories in the Times. William Ayers was mentioned in a mere 130 Times stories in 2008. That was some censorship campaign.

But let's be honest: Conservatives' real objection isn't that these matters weren't investigated and discussed extensively in the press in 2008, but that Obama got elected anyway. They find it inconceivable that the voting public heard about Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, but still voted the way they did. So they assure assure themselves that if people had really grasped the true depths of Obama's villainy, there's no way he could have won.

That's why in 2012, a conservative billionaire got together with a bunch of Republican strategists to mount an advertising campaign they were sure would bring Obama down. And the silver bullet? Jeremiah Wright. “The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” read their plan. For the first time!

Today, in the wake of one front-page story after another on Hillary Clinton's emails -- did you miss the widely ignored story on how there wasn't actually any highly classified material in them? -- conservatives continue to insist that only Republican candidates get scrutinized by the press. And why is that? The allegation certainly has political utility, since it plays on their supporters' sense of victimization and deflects the discussion away from the substance of the questions being asked. But it's more than that. They actually believe it.

It's called the “hostile media effect,” a well-established finding in communication research wherein people tend to see media coverage as hostile to their own point of view, particularly on politically charged subjects. You can show the same article on abortion or the Israel-Palestine conflict to people on either side of those issues, and they will all say the article was too favorable to the other side.

It also applies to coverage that plays out over an extended period, like a presidential campaign. The coverage that seems perfectly fair to us doesn't stick in our memories like the stories that made us mad. And particularly when your candidate loses, you'll be motivated to construct a retrospective retelling of the campaign, in which he was the victim on an unjust media that withheld the truth from the voters.