Since the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, there's been plenty of sturm und drang about media bias. Republican candidates and conservative commentators have piled on the CNBC moderators for their questioning.
Many in the major media have responded with odd defenses, some claiming that there is no such thing as media bias, and that the Republican candidates were just upset about tough questioning.
This mainstream response is wrong, and the quicker my colleagues in the press come to terms with this, the better off everyone will be.
So, first a general point about the media's slant, then some specific points about the debate.
Yes, the mainstream media has a clear Leftward slant
It is almost incomprehensible to me and other conservatives that some in the media deny that there is a strong liberal bias in the mainstream media.
Here's CNN's Chris Cuomo dismissing the idea:
the idea that all media is biased is silly. pols blaming media for state of play also silly https://t.co/9aLNzR4ygt— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) October 29, 2015
The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC — the largest media outlets with the exception of Fox News — all slant clearly left. So do a vast majority of other major newspapers and magazines. I'm not talking about their opinion pages, but about their news operations.
I don't think it's deliberate, or that any collusion, deception, or bad intentions are at play, except in the rarest circumstances. I also think very highly of many of the journalists whose personal views are significantly to the Left of the American political center. Many of them do an excellent job of reporting the news fairly and trying to understand political viewpoints all around the spectrum.
But the vast majority of journalists at these major outlets are generally liberal, and this ends up slanting their coverage. Cuomo is a perfect example.
Cuomo's father was Democratic governor Mario Cuomo. His brother is Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is a daytime host and reporter, not an explicitly liberal host, such as Piers Morgan or MSNBC's evening hosts.
This is the norm in the media: People with distinctively liberal or Democratic pedigrees and resumes are hired as straight news reporters (see Jake Tapper, Nick Confessore, Annie Lowrey, Alex Seitz-Wald, most of whom are excellent and fair journalists). In 2014, the Media Research center counted 30 former reporters as Obama officials. It's far, far rarer to find the opposite.
While Tapper, Confessore, and Lowrey do a very good job of making sure their coverage is fair, the norm in the major media is slanted coverage — slanted to the Left. For instance, Linda Greenhouse was long the Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, and now she's a liberal columnist about the Supreme Court whose factual errors consistently cut against the Right.
Reporters at the major outlets are almost entirely liberal on cultural issues. See the coverage of the gay marriage ruling, where the Supreme Court stretched the language of the Constitution to find that states couldn't limit marriage to heterosexual couples. The country seems to be split evenly on gay marriage, but the major media are nearly unanimous. I don't think this is really a matter of debate. In 2013, the Washington Post's ombudsman basically admitted as much, with even more revealing comments by anonymous Post reporters placing Christian teaching on marriage on the same level as racism.
You see it with abortion, too, where journalists always ask difficult abortion questions of pro-life politicians, and nearly never ask difficult abortion questions of pro-choice politicians.
But it's also true on questions of regulation, government spending and taxation. (I should add the media also has a very strong bias, which is neither liberal nor conservative, towards deficit reduction, which most journalists don't realize is a bias.) I could give a thousand examples, but one good one was from the New York Times reporter, Jonathan Weisman, who spent the most time on the Export-Import Bank at the time, making it clear he was totally unaware about conservatives' and libertarians' economic arguments against export subsidies, while he was well versed in the talking points of industry and the liberals.
I won't belabor the point that the press is biased to the Left, because it seems totally obvious and not really up for debate.
I think the bias stems not from a conspiracy or a desire to tilt the playing field, but from a cloistering effect, and a subsequent unfamiliarity with conservative arguments, which leads us to Wednesday's debate.
CNBC's bad debate
First off, many of the questions from CNBC moderators were appropriately tough and probing. Becky Quick tried to get Ben Carson to explain whether he would cut government enormously in order to make his low-rate flat tax work.
But many of the questions were weirdly hostile in their wording ("You've been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s…" or, "Let's be honest. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?"). This is not unique to a Republican debate — Hillary Clinton was asked a similarly pointless, "Will you say anything to get elected?"
The bias did show up in factual errors, such as Becky Quick premising a question on clearly false "working women in this country still earn just 77 percent of what men earn," that is traditionally waved around by the Left.
But remember, the nature of media's liberal bias is mostly this: they are themselves liberal, and they know very few conservatives, so they find it hard to see things from the conservative perspective.
As a result, the biggest manifestation of bias in the debate: Almost no questions were asked from a conservative perspective.
This is a debate for the Republican nomination. A clear majority of GOP primary voters identify as conservatives (84 percent in Iowa, 53 percent in New Hampshire, and 68 percent in South Carolina, for three examples). Why not ask of the candidates the sort of questions the voters would ask?
They could have asked Kasich: "Why did you increase Medicaid under Obamacare in Ohio?" They could have asked Trump, "How can eminent domain for corporate gain be squared with free-enterprise views?" They could have asked Rubio about sugar subsidies, or Cruz if his "defund Obamacare" fight did any good, or Jeb Bush about his support for more immigration. They could have asked Christie about his liberal court appointments.
They instead asked for price controls and regulations, they asked about the social compact in entitlement spendings, they asked why not to support budget-busting deals. Most questions were either non-ideological, and many were from a liberal perspective. When they asked about marijuana legalization it wasn't from an anti-drug perspective or a libertarian perspective, but a "more government revenue" perspective.
The only questions I could find, across two hours of debate, from even a remotely conservative perspective are these, and I was generous in my reading:
1) Harwood to Paul: "Do you oppose that budget deal because it doesn't cut those programs enough?"
2) Harwood kind of asked Kasich about his subsidies for Ohio companies, but it was really challenging Kasich for not agreeing with Obama on the Export-Import Bank.
3) Harwood asked Rubio about his desire to increase high-skilled labor.
4) Santelli to Carson: Why do you support ethanol subsidies?
5) Quick to Paul: Was Reagan right to oppose Medicaid?
And here was a very telling moment: When Carlos Quintanilla tried to ask a question from a conservative perspective, it was embarrassingly clumsy. Quintanilla pointed out that Carson served on the board of Costco which offered benefits to the same-sex partners of gay employees, and then asked "Why would you serve on a company whose policies seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality?"
He just assumed that someone who personally holds to a Christian idea of marriage and opposed the Supreme Court forcing gay marriage on states would distance himself from any business that chooses to acknowledge same-sex couples.
Conservatives are a foreign species to reporters. Some of the reporters treat conservatives with hostility, but usually, they end up just not getting us. As a result, we have a debate where most of the questions range from silly to irrelevant.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.