In the media bias analysis business, we look at news pieces differently compared with opinion pieces or columns.
For news pieces, we expect the facts and allow for some context, although that’s where most of the bias seeps in. For opinion, we expect facts to be arranged in a way to make the writer’s case, and we award bonus points for at least attempting to explain the other side fairly.
But The New York Times and Washington Post can’t seem to operate even within these relaxed standards. They want to pose as “fair”– or something – so they hire allegedly conservative columnists.
But those conservative columnists are, with a few rare exceptions, not conservatives. And the ones who are conservative are lucky ever to see their copy anywhere but the back section of the website. A dead tree is reserved for those who understand their job is not to explain the world from a conservative perspective but to be the conservative who is first to make the case against conservatism.
The New York Times has three columnists it puts forth as its contribution to conservative commentary. David Brooks doesn’t even try anymore. He endorsed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. He declared himself “not a fan” of the Tea Party movement and the Whitewater scandal “overblown.”
Headlines on his recent columns have included “When the World Is Led by a Child,” “Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump” and “Donald Trump Poisons the World.” And this week, he wrote that “Republicans have to wrap their minds around the fact that the American people basically decided that health care is a right.”
Now there are legitimate conservatives with legitimate criticisms of the president. But “moral vacuum?” “Poisons the world?” Was he not here for the Obama administration? And unless the Constitution has undergone massive revisions in recent days, Obamacare still is not a right.
Even the Times could see Brooks’ brand as The Reasonable Conservative was not being taken seriously. So, rather than find an actual conservative or urge him to do his job, it brought in another supposed conservative – supposed because he previously worked for The Wall Street Journal – named Bret Stephens.
Stephens’ first act as a New York Times columnist was to settle all doubts over whether he would fall into the Brooks camp or the Ross Douthat camp. He’s with Brooks.
Douthat, a Times columnist who actually does attempt to explain American conservatism to the Times’ readers, albeit from a British perspective, accurately took aim at Republicans in his Sunday column for being an “election-winning machine that has no idea what to do with national power.”
Stephens, meanwhile, threw in with the global warming alarmists in his first New York Times piece and positively outdid himself on Sunday with a piece entitled, “The No Guardrails Presidency.” He’s agog about how “so many people who spent the past 50 years bemoaning the decline of morality and decorum become the agents and enablers of the most morally grotesque administration in American history?”
He didn’t leave conservatism, of course; it left him. “Every vote cast for Donald Trump was a vote for vulgarity,” he railed. “A more interesting question is how the conservative movement came to embrace it.”
Stephens then goes on to compare what’s happening now with the Trump administration to the riots of 1968. Leftist radicals attempt to overturn all American institutions equals, in Stephens’ mind, cleaning up energy, health, education and tax policy. Got it.
But the Times takes a backseat to The Washington Post in trying to pass off liberals as conservative columnists. It gives web space to Mark Thiessen, who has done the best job in the national commentariat of trying to explain President Trump to readers, but it almost never uses his work in print editions. Ed Rogers, a lobbyist, gets a little more play.
Other than that, the job falls to Trump haters George Will and Charles Krauthammer, whose conservative bona fides cannot be questioned, and should not, given their other work. But the most ink is spilled on the work of Jennifer Rubin, and it is puzzling how she plays the role she does.
Rubin was a liberal arts major at Cal-Berkeley – what could go wrong? – who spent some time as a more-or-less conservative blogger. But since the arrival of Trump on the political scene, she has positioned herself to the left of even some of its liberal columnists.
Here is just a sample of headlines from the last week:
- “It’s not Obamacare anymore. It’s our national health-care system.”
- “Trump’s iceberg looms.”
- “It’s not too early, or too nutty, to discuss grounds for impeachment.”
- “As Trump debases the presidency, the religious right looks away.”
- “Trump should fire Scaramucci, but he won’t.”
- “Do Republicans even care about coverage?”
- “Trump doesn’t bother to disguise his thuggish instincts.”
This from a columnist whose bio blurb reads: “Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering a reported opinion from a conservative perspective.”
You can be a conservative columnist and not be pro-Trump. But if you’re asking whether Republicans care about coverage, you are inserting Democrat Party talking points into a conversation about how Republicans are approaching legislation. You are not acknowledging – as virtually all conservatives do – that Obamacare has been a huge mistake for this country.
You can be a conservative columnist and have questions about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections. But if you are cheering for impeachment – trying to be the first to call for it without being called “nutty” – you are not a conservative.
You can be a conservative columnist and have concerns about the president’s rhetoric from time to time. But if you’re looking for conservative views, would you go to the woman who writes after Trump’s obvious jokes about how police should treat gangbangers:
“Unfortunately we don’t see such outrage from right-wing groups ostensibly concerned with the erosion of values and rule of law. Concerned Women for America? Nothing. The Family Research Council? Of course not. The National Review? Silence. Right-wing legal groups (e.g., Federalist Society, Alliance Defending Freedom) were mute. There is a long list of staunchly right-wing groups and individuals who were quick to condemn each and every one of Obama’s utterances about police-community relations.”
So what you have here is a conservative columnist who takes conservative groups to task for not piling on the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan. In 2017, under Jeff Bezos, this is what passes in The Washington Post for conservative commentary.
And he wonders why his brand is collapsing.