Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) addressed the ObamaNation conference on the subject of media bias. Smith is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the founder and head of Congress’s Media Fairness Caucus.
Rep. Smith reminded the conference, “Our national media should be held accountable just like every other institution.” In holding the media accountable, Rep. Smith emphasized, “We need to remind the media of their profound obligation to provide the American people with the facts, not tell them what to think.”
He cited several studies supporting the view that the media need constant reminding of their duty to inform, not persuade. In 2008 Investor’s Business Daily noted, “the amount of money journalists contributed in the last Presidential election cycle favored Democrats over Republicans by a fifteen-to-one ratio.” And other examples of media bias are plentiful when comparing economic “news” today with similar coverage during Republican administrations.
During the Q&A portion of his speech, Rep. Smith explained an easy test to detect media bias: “Ask yourself this question—and this is a question that I hope the American people will ask themselves more often. This is a good way to gauge whether the media is biased or not. The question is this: Would the media treat Republicans and Democrats the same way?”
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and the founder and head of Congress’s Media Fairness Caucus and the Reclaim American Jobs Caucus. In 2011, Congressman Smith was named Policymaker of the Year by Politico for his work on patent reform legislation. He is a former chairman of the House Ethics Committee, and currently serves on the Homeland Security Committee and the Committee of Science, Space and Technology.
Obamanation: A Day of Truth
Accuracy in Media Conference 9/21/2012
Introduction by Don Irvine and Roger Aronoff
Remarks by Rep. Lamar Smith
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts
REPRESENTATIVE LAMAR SMITH (R-TEXAS): Thank you, Roger. As Roger already indicated, we share something in common: We come from the same state. Nice to be introduced by a fellow Texan who actually grew up in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas, which I still represent—at least until next January, after which the redistricting process kind of takes over. I do have some formal comments I’d like to make. After that, I look forward to your questions or observations—your suggestions, as well. And on the way there, let me not only thank Roger, but Don—where did Don go, he just walked by—right in front of me, okay! Don Irvine has just been such a wonderful person to work with. Obviously, AIM does great work. Don is nice enough to put my weekly column on the subject of media bias on his website every week. It’s a very much of a joint effort in that regard. And the organization—I just don’t know that anyone does a better job of combating the liberal media bias that is just so palpable today than AIM, so I appreciate everything that they’re doing.
Over three years ago, I started a new organization in Congress called the “Media Fairness Caucus.” Its purpose is not to censor or condemn, but to urge the media to adhere to the highest standards of their profession, and to provide the American people with the facts, balanced stories, and fair coverage of the news. Through the Media Fairness Caucus, members of Congress point out media bias, and encourage others to do the same. I often make what are called “one-minute speeches,” short speeches on the House floor, indicating, at least to me, the worst example of media bias of that week. But we do use floor statements, op-eds, a weekly newsletter, social networking, and other means of communication to highlight media bias at the national level, and encourage the American people to become engaged and really educated consumers of the media. The caucus regularly meets with representatives from conservative media outlets to discuss initiatives that we can take. This isn’t an exclusive list but I just want to thank individuals who come from The Washington Examiner, Townhall, Human Events, Daily Caller, Investor’s Business Daily, Washington Times—The Weekly Standard, I think, has been there, maybe even National Review. A lot of these publications, every week, give examples and write stories—sometimes they’re shorts—of media bias, and all that is very, very helpful. One suggestion that has come from meeting with these conservative media outlets is that what they’d like for us to do—and I guess I’m speaking more as a member of Congress, but it could apply to a lot more than just me who are in the room today—and we need to remember that when we have exclusives, when we have news, that we, frankly, give that exclusive to some of these conservative media outlets. It will help them build their own credibility, it will help others focus and have to go to them for information. So I’d like to do more than we have in giving these conservative media outlets more exposure, more credibility.
Americans deserve, of course, a balanced media. When the media doesn’t report the facts, or reports it in a biased manner, Americans can’t make educated decisions—and when Americans can’t make educated decisions, at least in my view, that threatens our very democracy. The encyclopedia Wikipedia says, “The term ‘mainstream media’ denotes those generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity,” but the opinions expressed by the media are neither widespread, nor are they accepted by the majority of the American people. To call today’s national media “mainstream” is simply inaccurate. They are better described as the “liberal national media.” To me, the term “mainstream,” frankly, should not be used, and that’s why I always refer to them as the “liberal national media.” The New York Times’s outgoing Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, admitted [last] month that the headquarters of the Times is, quote, “powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds,” end quote. This one-sided worldview leads to biased reporting that favors their views. Brisbane said that the paper has a, quote, “political and cultural progressivism . . . [and] that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of the Times,” end quote. It was easy for him to say that as he was leaving, by the way, and it’s appreciated no matter when he did.
Such progressivism spreads through more media outlets than just The New York Times. This summer, Politico’s Executive Editor, Jim VandeHei, admitted that, quote, “The mainstream media tends to be quite smitten with the Obamas,” end quote. In 2008, Investor’s Business Daily found that an analysis of federal records showed the amount of money journalists contributed in the last Presidential election cycle favored Democrats over Republicans by a fifteen-to-one ratio.
Finding evidence of a liberal slant in today’s national media is as easy as picking up a newspaper or turning on the TV. For example, the national media wants Americans to believe that the economy is improving. It feeds this narrative with biased statements like “The Economy is Gaining Steam,” as The New York Times headlined. The Associated Press headlined that the economy was on a “hiring surge” when, in fact, the number of new jobs did not even keep up with the population growth. When jobs declined, the Associated Press headlined, quote, “U.S. Jobs Market Took a Break from a Hiring Binge,” end quote. The market does not decide to simply “take a break.” Real Americans are forced to leave the workforce, or become so discouraged that they give up looking for jobs. When the numbers were, “less than economists expected,” according to Bloomberg News, it labeled it a “rounding error.” Time magazine called the negative report “statistical noise.” The media’s downplaying of a record 43 months of unemployment over 8% provides little comfort to the 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed.
The national media also repeatedly gloss over the rising cost of gasoline. A recent study by the Business and Media Institute found that news coverage of rising gas prices is four times less likely under the Obama administration than it was under the Bush administration. Under the previous administration, gas prices were “skyrocketing” as wallets were “running on empty.” People were forced to make the “‘tough choice’ between food or fuel.” Today the media only reports that “We’re seeing gas prices creep up.”
A biased media can determine the outcome of elections. By the way, what could be either worse or more concerning than that, that the media itself is determining the outcome of elections? In her column “The Influence of the Media in Politics, Campaigns and Elections” Laura Lane states that the media is able to dictate what issues are relevant, what candidates will get the most coverage, and what criteria they should use to evaluate candidates.
Professor Tim Groseclose of UCLA provided extensive research on the issue of liberal media bias in his book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Let me tell you real quickly about Professor Groseclose: He’s an economist. In this book, he quantitatively shows the impact of that biased media. If you want to buy a book and read a book, read that, Left Turn. He told us—he appeared before the Media Fairness Caucus this last year—he said he has challenged anybody to show where any statement he made in the book, or where his analysis, was flawed. He said nobody has come forward. Nobody can critique his analysis. He persuasively makes the case that if there had been no media bias, John McCain would have been elected President with 56% of the vote. In my view, if the media was objective, Mitt Romney would win in a landslide.
A Gallup survey conducted last July indicates that Americans’ confidence in the media is at an all-time low. The survey found that 38% of Americans have, quote, “very little or no confidence in television news.” This is the highest percentage found by Gallup since it began to ask that question twenty years ago. Another recent Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans do not have confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Americans’ lack of confidence in the national media will continue until the national media provides the American people with fair and objective coverage of the news.
Our national media should be held accountable just like every other institution. We need to remind the media of their profound obligation to provide the American people with the facts, not tell them what to think. Through organizations like Accuracy in Media, we can work together to increase awareness of bias in the media and encourage Americans to confront it and demand more objective reporting. I thank you all for your interest in this subject. No subject could be more important and, once again, I thank you for Don Irvine and Accuracy in Media, for all they’re doing to help us confront that national liberal bias. Thank you all, and I’d be happy to try to answer some of your questions.
ARONOFF: We don’t have our cards down yet, so let’s try and take a few questions.
REP. SMITH: Okay.
ARONOFF: We have a manageable crowd here.
REP. SMITH: Unscripted questions—this could be dangerous!
ARONOFF: Yes! Let me try the first one, though.
REP. SMITH: Okay. Right.
ARONOFF: I know last week your committee held a hearing on the . . . what?
REP. SMITH: You anticipated just what I was going to say, but go on.
REP. SMITH: Go on and finish there.
ARONOFF: On the executive abuse—
REP. SMITH: Yes.
ARONOFF: —I guess, by the Obama administration, and both in terms of how much media coverage that got, and what was the substance of it—why did you do it?
REP. SMITH: Yeah. I was actually going to use that as an example, so thanks for bringing it up. The full Judiciary Committee last week, we held a hearing on the subject of the abuses of power of the Obama administration. We had Constitutional experts, we had individuals talking about how no other administration has ignored laws like this administration, and, quite frankly, the President doesn’t have that option: He can’t pick and choose which laws to ignore, or which laws he’s going to obey, or which laws he’s going to enforce. Other people go to jail for doing things like that. We had this wonderful panel, three—two or three—Constitutional law experts, and we went through all these precedents. You know what they are. It could be the President saying, “Well I don’t care what the Senate says, they’re really out of recess despite the fact that the Senate says they’re in recess, and I’m going to make these out-of-recess appointments.” Or he ignores immigration law provisions, or welfare law provisions, or educational law provisions, and on and on and on.
Ask yourself this question—and this is a question that I hope the American people will ask themselves more often. This is a good way to gauge whether the media is biased or not. The question is this: Would the media treat Republicans and Democrats the same way? Last week, for example, we got no national coverage on a full committee hearing talking about the abuses of power of the current administration. Now ask yourself, if these were Democrats talking about a Republican President, what kind of coverage would that hearing have gotten? That’s just another indication of the bias. But again, if you ask that sort of threshold question—How would the media have treated Republicans or Democrats, depending on the issue?—you get a sense of what’s going on.
Thank you for bringing that up, Roger. Yes?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: My name is David Powers, and this not a hostile question. In my lifetime, growing up in the New York area we had seven daily newspapers. Overwhelmingly the Republicans, including the Republican [unintelligible] conservatives than [unintelligible]—
REP. SMITH: Yeah.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: —and I remember—and this was probably fairly true nation-wide, that overwhelming media wouldn’t print [unintelligible] supportive of conservatives and Republicans, but Democrats—
REP. SMITH: Yeah.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: —so, skipping a lot of verbiage, it seems to me that—I agree with most of what you say. The media’s overwhelmingly not objective.
REP. SMITH: Mm-hmm.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: However, maybe part of it is the message. There may be something more than just media taking, you know, the Left side and using their influence openly. There may be more to it than that, and I think that we kid ourselves around the axle of “the media is fully responsible” [unintelligible].
REP. SMITH: Okay. That wasn’t a question, that was more of a statement. You mentioned message. Anybody can always do a better job, perhaps, of explaining their views, or, in politics, going on the offense, or whatever, but I can’t tell you how many news conferences I’ve held, how many news releases I’ve put out. We average almost one a day because of being Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Almost all are ignored by the media. It’s interesting to me that oftentimes, when you see a story that—you know, at one point I was told, well, several years ago, that “You guys are in the minority. Republicans are in the minority. We’re not going to cover you because you really don’t have any power. The Democrats are the majority, and we’re going to cover them.” I didn’t think that was a good excuse not to give the American people both sides, but that was the justification by some in the media. Then, when Republicans became the majority, and supposed they had some influence, we didn’t get any different treatment—so apparently that was just an excuse not to cover us. But there’s already been mentioned—the media seems, to me, to be almost intentionally trying to play up every weakness or misstatement by Mitt Romney, and, oftentimes, ignoring very parallel types of misstatements by either the President or the Vice President. That would just be one example—and, actually, that’s just not my opinion. You have these ombudsmen of various newspapers—I mentioned one, The New York Times. A lot of even liberal journalists are acknowledging that there’s a bias, and it’s real, and it needs to be addressed.
So I think it’s really up to us to go to the American people and get them to, as I mentioned a while ago, be more educated consumers of the news. But more than that, we need them to take action. When they see a biased article in the newspaper, they need to write a letter to the editor. If, on the newscast some evening, they see a biased story they need to call the producer. If the American people would speak out—and I know it’s the cliché left over from years ago, but if the silent majority would not remain silent, I think you would see the media respond. But as it is, in my view, the national liberal media is paying a price. I gave you some of those statistics from the various polls. Their credibility is in shreds. They’re losing viewership and readership. The American people don’t trust them. They don’t think that they’re presenting the news accurately. By a two-to-one ratio the American people think the media are liberal, not conservative. You’ve got all that, and it should be abundantly clear to the media, if they want to try to improve their credibility, or be taken more seriously by the American people, they need to do a better job of of presenting the news more fairly, in my view.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Back in 1972, when the front page stories in The Washington Post about Watergate and the break-in—I heard, personally, Hale Boggs, the late Hale Boggs, talking about impeaching Nixon after the election, if he wins. Now, with all of the abuses of power—and you’ve alluded to some of them—are the Republicans even considering the possibility that if Obama wins this election, that, perhaps, somebody should call for articles of impeachment—whether he wins or not.
REP. SMITH: Republicans are hoping that the election will settle that for us. Yes?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: What is your opinion as far as how to combat the bias [unintelligible] journalists—
REP. SMITH: Oh, you are so right. The education of voters, and making them aware of the bias, does need to start early, whether it be high schools, or colleges, or law schools, or wherever, and there are various organizations that are helping to train future journalists to be more objective, and not tell the American people what to think. But all I can say is, everybody in America who is either a future or present consumer of the news needs to be made more aware of the bias and, again, asked to take steps themselves. But that’s really up to us to get the word out. We’re aware of it. We’re in positions to try to do so. We just need to do a better job of it, I think.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4 : Is Fox News at risk?
REP. SMITH: Fox News is not at risk, and one of the reasons it’s not at risk is because it’s probably the most fair media outlet. It has this reputation for being conservative, in some ways it is—I wish it were more conservative—but the most recent poll I saw on what media the American people think is the most fair and the most objective was Fox. That really says it all. I think—I mean, obviously, all these programs have their opinion segments and Fox is conservative in those areas, but when it comes to reporting the news, they’re pretty much straight down the middle. I’ve never been asked tougher questions than I have by Fox, when I’m interviewed by Fox. I kept saying to myself, “Why don’t you ask me easier questions?” So I consider Fox to be the best, and, obviously, they lead cable. But, you know, I hear that from the other side—“Well, you’ve got Fox, so you’ve got plenty of time and exposure.” But they forget that the network news—ABC, CBS, NBC—is still watched and relied upon by over half the American people for all their news. Those three outlets are demonstrably biased, and their viewership is something on the order of ten times greater than Fox, so even if you conceded that Fox was conservative like they’re liberal—which I’m not willing to concede—it’s not a fair fight as far as the number of people who rely upon those outlets for news.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: But I do hear threats against Fox, of the government shutting them down—Executive Order, or FCC—
REP. SMITH: I’m not saying there aren’t some people who would like to do it, I just don’t think they’re going to be successful. Is that—any other questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: I wanted to follow up on your response to the gentleman down here about hoping the election will settle the issue.
REP. SMITH: Yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: I represent former Lieutenant Colonel Terry Lakin, and I’ve spoken to my Congressman, Andy Harris, directly about this. He said the exact same thing. My response to him was, “Sir, if you think he’s wrong now, on all these issues, why won’t you stand up in Congress tomorrow and say that? What difference does it really make, sir, whether it’s now, or after the election? The egregious behavior of the President is still the same.”
REP. SMITH: By the way, that was not a coordinated answer that we’ve been asked to give—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: No, absolutely not. I’m just saying—
REP. SMITH: —but I’m glad the other Congressman said the same thing!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: But this is a—do you understand my question?
REP. SMITH: Yes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: It’s wrong—
REP. SMITH: I understood your question. Let me try to respond the best I can. I’ve been through one impeachment process: I was on the House Judiciary Committee when President Clinton was impeached. It is a long process: It took two years back then. You have a high standard to meet, and that is not something that, even if it could be justified, is not something that is going to be accomplished between now and the election. So rather than answer a hypothetical question, I really think the better answer is to turn the attention to the American people and saying, “If you feel that strongly about the President, one way to register that discontent is to vote for the other person.”
ARONOFF: We’ve got one more question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Does it further demonstrate the liberal bias of the media that the President who was impeached during that process you just described, Bill Clinton, has been so rehabilitated that he was the featured speaker at the Democratic Convention, and nominated Obama for President?
REP. SMITH: By the way, that touches on something that I just said recently, which is along the lines of the point you’re making, which is, “Was there a single national media outlet who, when Bill Clinton was giving a major address at the Democratic Convention, mentioned that he was the only President to have been impeached in the last 120 years?” I don’t recall hearing a single national media make that point. Again, as I said a while ago, ask yourself, “If this were a Republican former President who had been impeached, don’t you think they’d be saying it every other sentence?” That gives you an example.
Thank you all for your interest.