New York Times Says It Will “Report without Favoritism” the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign

By Dave Andrusko

Arthur S. Brisbane

I like, whenever possible, to end the day on a lighter note, even if the source did not intend to be humorous. Enter “A Hard Look at the President,” by Arthur S. Brisbane, who is the New York Times’ Public Editor, known as the Ombudsman in every other newspaper on the planet.

Brisbane offers just a handful of examples of the New York Times’s wildly pro-Obama coverage in 2008. Brisbane writes(miraculously, without tongue in cheek)

“Many critics view The Times as constitutionally unable to address the election in an unbiased fashion. Like a lot of America, it basked a bit in the warm glow of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. The company published a book about the country’s first African-American president, ‘Obama: The Historic Journey.’”

As if this needed to be added, Brisbane tacks on

“The Times also published a lengthy portrait of him in its Times Topics section on NYTimes.com, yet there’s nothing of the kind about George W. Bush or his father.”

The gist of the column (found at  www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/a-hard-look-at-the-president.html?_r=1) is that Brisbane has talked to the relevant political coverage types at the Times who tell him they are already treating Obama as someone beyond “Hope and Change”—in other words, as someone who is the incumbent with a record. Well, okay. Two quick things, beyond if you believe that I have some swampland in Florida for sale.

First, no doubt some of the reassuring words from people such as Richard Stevenson, the political editor overseeing  campaign coverage (including “we take very seriously our responsibility to report without favoritism”) are a reflection of a study produced by media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter. Brisbane writes that the two found that

“Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

“Writing for the periodical Politics & Policy, the authors were so struck by the findings that they wondered, ‘Did The Times, perhaps in response to the aggressive efforts by Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to seize market share, decide to tilt more to the left than it had in the past?’”

That’s hard even for the New York Times to ignore.

Second, Brisbane asks Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a co-author of “The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election,” what she thought “The Times should do to wring out bias in its 2012 coverage.” In addition to not making up sex scandals (as the Times did in 2008), she said,

“The Times should examine Mr. Obama’s record and campaign promises; monitor campaign messaging for deception; emphasize substantive policy matters over petty rhetorical combat; scrutinize the newly powerful ‘super-PAC’ groups, and take care not to let polls overdetermine the coverage.”

We will see, over the weeks and months to come. But the totally wrong-headed and irresponsible hit job they did a few weeks ago on Ann Romney, Mitt Romney’s wife, does not bode well for the future.

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