After an incredible 24 years as moderator of CBS’ Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer called it a career on Sunday at the age of 78. Schieffer sat down with Fox News’ Howard Kurtz to reflect on his five decades as a journalist, and it wasn’t long before the subject turned to Barack Obama.
“Would you agree,” asked Kurtz, “that the media gave Barack Obama an incredibly easy ride in 2008 and for much of his presidency?”
Schieffer said, “Well, I think the whole political world was struck by this fellow who kind of came out of nowhere with this very unusual name. And when he won in Iowa, I think people sat up and took notice.”
Not satisfied, Kurtz pressed Schieffer to admit that those in the news business did not do their job when it came to the president.
Schieffer said, “I don’t know, maybe we were not skeptical enough. My feeling is, it is the job of the opponents to make the campaign.” In other words, it was up to Republicans to play adversary to Obama and not necessarily the role of journalists.
Think of that what you may, there is at least one former colleague of Schieffer’s who would disagree. Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson made a splash last year with her bombshell book Stonewalled, which chronicled the many ways in which the media was failing the American public.
“Many in the media,” Attkisson writes in the book, “are wrestling with their own souls: They know that ObamaCare is in serious trouble, but they’re conflicted about reporting that. Some worry that the news coverage will hurt a cause that they personally believe in. They’re all too eager to dismiss damaging documentary evidence while embracing, sometimes unquestioningly, the Obama administration’s ever-evolving and unproven explanations.”
Attkisson explained that one of her bosses at CBS had a rule: if conservative analysts were on the broadcast, they had to be identified as such. But if liberal analysts were brought on, they got to keep the generic title of “analyst.” That was only one of many ways she said the liberal media would look out for their own.
Of course, political ideology doesn’t tell the whole tale. There are benefits to being a brown-noser, and access alone will often steer a journalist away from asking the tough questions. That’s especially true with this administration, which has become one of the most opaque in history. Up-and-coming reporters don’t want to risk getting thrown out of the news business by pressing their luck with a humorless White House. Just ask Attkisson what happens when you go after Obama.
The rise of Fox News has likely contributed to some of this as well. When it debuted, Fox was a long-needed counterbalance to the liberal onslaught coming from the usual networks. Twenty years later, Fox has proven its dominance in the cable ratings and the internet has exploded with conservative thought. A recent survey showed that the conservative Drudge Report was the biggest drivers of traffic on the entire Web. This shift in the media market has changed things. Journalists are as apt to think of themselves as ideological warriors as they are reporters.
And that’s the real problem, regardless of the cause. Perhaps in Schieffer’s heyday, politicians and journalists were too “cozy,” as Kurtz mentioned in the interview. Despite that coziness and despite their political leanings, however, the journalists of yesterday felt an obligation to report the truth. The problem today isn’t that our media is too liberal or too infatuated with Obama; it’s that they let those things get in the way of the only goal a journalist should ever have: to find and expose the truth.