At Taranto's request, Media Matters debunks his theory of media bias


James Taranto issued a challenge to test his theory that the "mainstream media" are "generally biased in favor of liberals and Democrats, but this ends up helping conservatives and Republicans by breeding complacency on the Democratic side." Taranto asked: "Can you find a similar article ... speculating about the possibility of a Republican landslide in 1994, when there actually was one?" Media Matters for America answers Taranto's challenge.

In his May 30 "Best of the Web Today" column, Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto criticized a May 29 Associated Press news analysis article by political writer Ron Fournier titled, "Democrats Eye November Landslide," and issued a challenge to test his theory that the "mainstream media" are "generally biased in favor of liberals and Democrats, but this ends up helping conservatives and Republicans by breeding complacency on the Democratic side." Taranto asked: "Can you find a similar article -- that is, a news story, not an opinion column, preferably written months before the election -- speculating about the possibility of a Republican landslide in 1994, when there actually was one? How about in 1980?"

Media Matters for America answers Taranto's challenge.

A Nexis search of newspaper articles from May 30-October 31, 1994, turned up the following results:

  • "Democrats Struggle to Build Damage-Control Strategy for Fall Elections" [Washington Post, 6/26/94]

Facing losses in the House and Senate that could cripple President Clinton's legislative majorities, White House and Democratic Party officials are struggling to develop a strategy to contain the potential damage in the November elections.

These efforts have been hampered by White House preoccupation with health care legislation in Congress, lack of clear coordination and strategic disagreements over whether candidates in the South and West should distance themselves from Clinton in their fall campaigns.

Some party officials believe the Democrats are in danger of losing control of the Senate and that their losses in the House could leave the Republicans holding the largest number of seats since the mid-1950s.

  • "Prospects Look Rosy, But Republicans Warn Against Self-Destruction" [AP, 7/21/94]

Looking ahead to November, the Republicans said they are becoming more convinced that they can pick up the seven seats necessary to take control of the Senate. And the troubles of Clinton and the Democrats in much of the country have Republicans believing they can surpass the average gain of 14 House seats for the party out of power in an administration's first midterm election.

Barbour said the party considered 175 of the 435 House races to be competitive, an unprecedented number. Asked for predictions, he said a GOP House takeover was unlikely but not out of the question. Capturing the Senate will be tough but not impossible, either, he said, adding that major gains would give Republicans "working control" of Congress on many issues even if they lacked a numerical majority.

  • "GOP going great guns for the fall elections / Democrats standing on shaky ground" [USA Today, 8/5/94]

With a little more than three months until Election Day, Democrats are facing their worst congressional elections since the Reagan landslide of 1980.

Political pros no longer laugh when optimistic Republicans talk about regaining majority control of the Senate, which they lost in 1986, or winning 200 House seats, a level they haven't reached since the end of the Eisenhower administration.

"Not since 1980 have the congressional election stakes been so high," says Charles Cook, a non-partisan political analyst.

He predicts conservatives from both parties "will claim effective control of both the House and Senate after November" and that Republican control of the Senate and to a lesser extent of the House "is no longer just a gleam in the GOP's eye."

Says Senate GOP leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., "The polls look so good we wish (elections) were tomorrow."

  • "GOP Chances to Win Majority in Congress Distant, But Rising" [Christian Science Monitor, 9/30/94]

COULD it be? Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the ebullient Republican phrasemaking machine with the thick white bangs, as Speaker of the House?

With each passing week, the still-remote scenario of Republican gains in congressional races this November winning them control of the House, the Senate, or both, is becoming easier to imagine.

What could make it possible is what appears to be a trend toward even greater Republican gains than forecast a couple of months ago, combined with possible Democratic converts to the Republican fold -- lured by the promise of power through plum committee posts.

  • "GOP Stalks Democrats Who May Switch Parties" [Christian Science Monitor, 10/7/94]

AFTER 40 years as the minority party in the House of Representatives, Republicans are daring to dream that this could be their year.

Even if they don't make the net gain of 40 seats in the November elections needed to win an outright majority, Republicans hope that if they get close, they can lure enough conservative Democrats into changing their party affiliation to tip the balance. (GOP chairman predicts gains, Page 3.)

''A number of Democrats have come up to Newt and said, 'If you get close, I'll switch,' '' says Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia, who is in line to become House Republican leader in the next Congress -- and Speaker of the House if the Republicans take over.

  • "GOP Coup in Congress Could Have a Big Economic Impact" [The Washington Post, 10/12/94]

With less than four weeks before the congressional elections, the widely read Cook Political Report is about to publish a prediction that Republicans have an even-money chance to win a majority in the Senate and a one-in-three chance of capturing the House.

If the GOP does take both houses for the first time in 40 years, the effect on the economy -- and on individual businesses -- could be profound.

  • "GOP-Controlled Congress: The Powers That Could Be" [Christian Science Monitor, 10/21/94]

ALONG K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, in lobbyists' offices around town, polls showing Republican strength in House and Senate races have caused some pencil-sharpening over what the next Congress will look like and what it is likely to do.


Consider, for example, Jesse Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The conservative North Carolina Republican, a thorn in the side of many administrations of both parties, is ranking Republican on the committee and often a vocal opponent of US participation in international organizations.

On the other hand, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) - a set of proposed rules for world trade - might be law now if Senate Commerce chairman Ernest Hollings (D) of South Carolina had not been in a position to single-handedly block it. Senator Hollings' move has forced the Senate into a post-election session to vote on GATT.

Whether or not Republicans gain the seven seats they need in the Senate or the 40 seats they need in the House to become committee and subcommittee chairs, some characteristics of the next Congress are clear.

  • "Calculating Effects of a G.O.P. Congress: More Respect or More Deadlock?" [The New York Times, 10/26/94]

Suppose the Republicans took over Congress. What difference would it make?

To hear Democrats anxious to get their core voters out, it would mean the end of civilization as we know it, with Medicare dollars going to pay for arms spending, a leering Bob Packwood in charge of the Senate Finance Committee and the new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, third in line for the Presidency.

To hear Republicans tell it, putting them in control would let them cut the power of the Federal Government by undoing the excesses of years of Democratic rule. At the very least, they say, they could prevent any new excesses and establish themselves as the party that stood with the American people when Democrats and President Clinton were forcing gridlock on them and protecting the bad old days.

Then there are some scholars who think that whatever it did for the country, Republican control would be good for Congress and especially the House, forcing both parties to treat each other with greater respect and showing Republicans that power imposes responsibilities and can be much less fun than booing from the bleachers.

Wall Street Journal
James Taranto
Propaganda/Noise Machine, 2006 Elections
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