When the Right says jump, the media apologize for not jumping sooner

Like clockwork, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt joins the parade of journalists buying into the right-wing attacks that because they were supposedly slow to cover the Most Important Story in the World (that would be ACORN, of course) that means they demonstrate liberal bias.

Like Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander and others who have recently taken up this theme, Hoyt manages to get through an entire column about the possibility that the Times is biased in favor of liberals without ever once mentioning the paper's coverage of the 2000 election or the run-up to the Iraq war, to pick just two of the most obvious counter-examples.

And like Alexander, Hoyt manages to avoid quoting or paraphrasing anyone arguing against the premise that the media in general and the Times in particular suffer from “liberal bias.”

Hoyt does, however, break a bit of news:

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

A few years ago, the New York Times created a conservative beat -- a reporter assigned full-time to reporting on the conservative movement (the paper didn't bother assigning anyone to cover the progressive movement.) Now, in response to right-wing whining, they're assigning an editor to brief them regularly on Glenn Beck's latest ravings. I'm sure that will make for some excellent journalism.

Hoyt's column ends with a quote from Pew's Tom Rosenstiel:

Rosenstiel said The Times has a particular problem with conservatives, especially after its article last year suggesting that John McCain had an extramarital affair. And Republicans earlier this year charged that the paper killed a story about Acorn that would have been a “game changer” in the presidential election - a claim I found to be false.

“If you know you are a target, it requires extra vigilance,” Rosenstiel said. “Even the suspicion of a bias is a problem all by itself.”

This is mind-blowingly clueless. The suspicion of bias will never go away. These efforts to bend over backwards to appease the Right -- people who will never be appeased -- no matter how ridiculous their complaints, in which newspapers like the Times fret over the suspicion of bias regardless of the merits of the complaint, are exactly how the paper ends up handing a presidential election to George W. Bush -- and then handing him his Iraq war on a platter.

And the idea that conservatives have “particular” reason to dislike the Times because of an article that may have implied John McCain had an affair is laugh-out-loud funny. I seem to have some vague memory of the Times suggesting a certain Democratic president was less-than-faithful -- and doing so more directly and more frequently than anything the Times published about John McCain. I seem to remember the Times -- a decade later -- trying to tally up the number of times the Clintons slept together in a given month, a task they never undertook with John McCain.

And conservatives have “particular” reason to dislike the Times because it ignored an election-year story about ACORN? Come. On. After what the New York Times did to Al Gore during the 2000 election -- making up a quote Gore never said in order to accuse him of being a liar was only the most sensational of the paper's offenses -- you have to be completely clueless to think conservatives have “particular” reason to distrust the paper's campaign coverage.

Oh, and there's still the little matter of the Iraq war. The Times implied John McCain was having an affair? Well, boo hoo. Thousands of Americans have died in an unnecessary war in part because the Times was insufficiently critical of the Bush administration's Iraq claims.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: The news media's disparate treatment of media critiques from the Left and from the Right pretty much disproves the idea of “liberal bias.” If they really were biased in favor of liberals, liberal concerns about their coverage of huge matters like Iraq and Gore/Bush would get far more play than conservative complaints about whether an article about ACORN should have come a week earlier.