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Political Animal

The Well-Known Liberal Bias

By Brian Morton | Posted 6/24/2009

Ever notice that in some types of modern comedy, the funny part is just saying brutal truths out loud?

Chris Rock has made a career of this: Just listen to his riffs about the Million Man March, where the most embarrassing part of the whole spectacle is that there's a crackhead (former D.C. mayor Marion Barry) on stage. Or his riff, popular on YouTube, about how "How to Not Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police?" ("Number One: Obey the Law").

Probably the most pronounced example of uncomfortable-truths-stated-as-comedy occurred back when Stephen Colbert served as the after-dinner entertainment for the White House Correspondents' Association dinner during the presidency of George W. Bush. The dinner has become a giant glitzy insiders' affair, replete with Hollywood stars and the corresponding corporate excess that accompanies events like the Oscars. Colbert, however, gave the assembled press a large dose of truth that went over in the room like a giant bucket of cold water to the face.

Edward R. Murrow once famously said that the press itself "doesn't have a thin skin--it has no skin." The huff that arose from the offended masses of the Insider's Village that is Washington calmed when it began to dawn on them that perhaps Colbert might have been on point with his criticisms of a cowed press that let a cowboy president railroad them into cheerleading for his war of choice. Nothing like the reality of chart-topping iTunes sales of Colbert's address to wake up the national press corps.

Fast forward to now, and you'll note that those who were wrong then are still the ones with the loudest voices in the national media. And those who were right all along are still the ones shut out of the mainstream discourse (with the glaring exception of the New York Times' Paul Krugman, who was finally granted an occasional seat on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos).

Someone at the Washington Post who continually kept the Bush administration's feet to the fire was Dan Froomkin, who for the last five years assembled a daily collection of media links with his own commentary in regards to the activities of the Bush White House. In essence, Froomkin did the same thing from the left that official Post media critic Howard Kurtz does from the right, except that Kurtz (and the paper) refuse to acknowledge Kurtz's conservative skew.  

Froomkin never accepted the administration's continued use of the words "enhanced interrogation" as a cover for torture, unlike the Post and much of the rest of the Village media. As First Amendment attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prominent television journalists such as NBC's David Gregory (who has since been elevated to the job hosting Meet the Press) argued that it isn't the job of the press corps to point out when an administration is balls-out lying. "It's not our role," Gregory said at the time.

Froomkin, however, held differently. "Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy," he said. "And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy."

Last week, the Post essentially fired Froomkin, declining to renew his contract even as he moved to the forefront of those criticizing the Obama administration from the left (a line which is frighteningly short). When the Obama administration stood up for the repugnant Defense of Marriage Act, or when Obama's Justice Department started slow-walking the release of memos regarding the torture program of the previous administration (in contrast to the promises of openness and transparency made by candidate Obama), Froomkin pointed it out in unsubtle terms. Just last week, Froomkin blogged that the Obama administration asked a court for an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that would allow it to refrain from disclosing any documents that might subject senior administration officials to embarrassment, an argument even the Bushies didn't have the gall to attempt.

The Post's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, last week blogged that, "With the end of the Bush administration, interest in [Froomkin's] blog also diminished. His political orientation was not a factor in our decision." Hiatt, of course, is also the editor who has stocked the paper's opinion pages with a Who's Who of conservative white men, including a soft landing spot for the multi-discredited William Kristol, who became a laughingstock of journalism after a single year of writing for the New York Times.

Colbert once famously quipped that "reality has a well-known liberal bias." With the firing of Dan Froomkin from the web pages of the Washington Post, it becomes very clear that what used to be a paper that made its name standing up to authority has made sure that authority need not fear any criticism from any point of view that doesn't lean slightly to starboard.

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Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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