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Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.
Every once and a while, I manage to convince myself that I may be giving the mainstream media a hard time, and that they aren’t actually as biased as I might think. Perhaps, I often think to myself, I’m just being nitpicky, and I should cut them a break.
It isn’t long before I come to my senses, though. All it takes is a few headlines.
Take, for example, the stories I was treated to on Monday, covering the political battle in Texas over a proposed voting reform bill. “Texas Democrats stage walkout over restrictive voting bill,” read the headline in NBC News. “Texas Democrats block restrictive voting bill by walking off the floor” was the headline in the Washington Post.
It goes beyond headlines, of course. In the Post story, reporter Amy Gardner cast the Democrats as brave warriors for freedom who had “staged a dramatic walkout,” while sneering at the dastardly Republicans for trying to make it “easier to overturn election results.”
The absurd, panic-stricken hyperbolic reaction didn’t end there. The “dramatic walkout” line was echoed by virtually all the legacy press, from the New York Times, to USA Today, Yahoo! News and many others. NPR’s headline also took sides, saying the Texas lawmakers were walking out to “block voting restrictions.”
Isn’t it interesting that the focus of these headlines and stories always seems to side with the Democratic perspective? Have we ever seen the press write headlines that say things like, “Democrats obstruct bill that would increase ballot integrity”?
I sure haven’t seen it.
Writers, whether they are conscious of it or not, come to their own judgments about political issues, and those judgments seep into their stories.
When talking about Republicans, or Republican ideas, it is a virtual guarantee that you will see judgmental adjectives that have a negative connotation, like “restrictive.” When talking about Democrats, you will almost always see them cast as heroic soldiers fighting the good fight.
Imagine for a moment the situation was reversed. Think of how the press would have written about this incident in Texas if it were Republicans who were protesting liberal voting reform proposals, like H.R. 1 in Congress.
Would Republicans fleeing the Capitol to obstruct a vote through quorum technicalities have been described as dramatic, or would we have seen words like “run” and “hide” littered all over the page?
We know, with a lot of experience, that things just wouldn’t happen that way.
Federally, there has been a debate in Congress as to whether to set up a commission to investigate the riot at the capitol on Jan. 6, and Republicans have blocked passage through the use of the filibuster.
There is legitimate debate as to the wisdom of setting up a commission like this. Democrats have been saying they want an independent investigation. Republicans fear (rightly) that the commission would be a politically motivated witch hunt intended to electorally hurt the GOP headed into the midterms.
No one who has ever followed politics is naive enough to think that it is as simple as either of those two arguments, but the press seems uninterested in even attempting to be even handed.
The New York Times, for instance, was quite harsh, declaring that “Senate Republicans Filibuster Jan. 6 Inquiry Bill, Blocking an Investigation” while going on to say in their subhead that “the vote killed the best chance for an independent accounting of the deadly Capitol attack.”
Not only is that not true — real investigations should be conducted by non-political investigatory entities like the FBI — but it is blatantly unfair to the intricacies of the issue.
Perhaps you think I’m quibbling here with this complaint, but believe me, this is a central problem plaguing America today. Not just in the problems it creates for honestly understanding all sides of an issue, but in the poisonous resentment that “perspective bias” fosters among the people.
That resentment is at the heart of the dramatic loss of trust by the American people — and especially the political right — in not only the news media, but also other institutions, from academia to government and beyond.
You can spend your time dismissing and ridiculing the millions of Americans who feel those frustrations, and regard them as ignorant, stupid or thick headed. But consider how you would feel if you lived your life to see your opinion and perspective constantly under siege by what feels like the entirety of the elite institutions of America.
You may not feel like this is a problem, but you likely feel that way only because the bias is not directed — all day, every day — at you.