It's only natural that leftists would take the media lovefest over John McCain's Trash Talk Express to mean only one thing. In The Nation, Eric Alterman asked: "Can we please put the 'liberal media' [insert barnyard reference here] to rest forever, now?" At the invitation of the Los Angeles Times, left-wing media critic Jeff Cohen declared: "The 'Straight Talk Express' may not roll over Bush, but it already has run over and killed the myth of the liberal news media."
Nowhere in their critiques did they consider that nowhere but nowhere have the mainstream press praised the Arizonan's votes to impeach Clinton, for tax cuts, for a missile defense, against abortion, or any other conservative stance he's (sometimes) taken. That would make you wonder about the liberal media.
But these radical rogues have some strange new company: network pundits trotted out as representative of "conservative" thinking. Alterman took glee in quoting Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who told The New Yorker "The whole idea of the 'liberal media' was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures." He noted Kristol said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" that "the press isn't quite as biased and liberal. They're actually conservative sometimes." Kristol didn't have an example of that alleged conservatism, nor was he asked for one, which neatly got him off the hook.
Kristol's colleague David Brooks - another "conservative" - said in a Newsweek column: "The movement consciousness is based on the idea that we are a band of brave, beleaguered souls under perpetual assault from the liberal mainstream media. These people detest McCain because liberals don't hate him."
But the award for liberal bias denial has to go to CNN pundit Tucker Carlson, yet another Weekly Standard staffer busily promoting McCain. On February 6, Carlson claimed Bush staffers "are doing this kind of Spiro Agnew thing, the liberal media loves McCain because he's liberal, or something. That's ridiculous. The press likes McCain for the same reason voters in New Hampshire like McCain, because he doesn't fear anything."
Four days later, Tucker was at it again on CNN: "There's been a huge amount of whining from the Bush people about how McCain has bought the press with doughnuts, et cetera, et cetera. It's ludicrous. The fact is McCain ran a better, more interesting campaign."
On February 22, after the Michigan results, CNN's Jeff Greenfield asked about the media favoring McCain, and Carlson put conservative media critics in black helicopters: "Sounds like a conspiracy to me. It also sounds like a pretty good Bush talking point, the idea that the liberal press is pumping up McCain in sort of a Spiro Agnew tactic." Then, after complaining for minutes about how "dishonorable" Bush's campaign in South Carolina was, Carlson concluded: So I think the big story - and I think it actually is a big story - of how poorly the Bush campaign behaved in South Carolina probably will never be told in the detail it deserves. So I mean, if there's a liberal media conspiracy, it's not doing a very good job."
If Carlson's McCain talking point wasn't so ludicrous, it would be hilarious. The news magazines alone called Bush's South Carolina campaign "deep in mud" (Newsweek), "ferocious even by South Carolina's down-and-dirty standards" (Time) and found Bush to be "a charged, sometimes shrill, campaigner laying down a withering barrage of fire" (U.S. News).
David Brooks declared in Newsweek that "The conservative McCain backers see themselves as rebels against the establishment" while their former allies represent "a conservative movement that has lost touch with mainstream opinion." But "conservatives" like Brooks are really emitting to paraphrase George Will, "the thin tinny arf of lapdogs" of the liberal media. They have lost touch with the conservative movement and now echo elite media opinion.
It would be tempting to declare that Kristol, Brooks, and Carlson aren't really interested in the cause of conservatism, but more in their own business interests. Perhaps each of these political analysts has forsaken loyalty to conservative principles and partisans on so many different issues in the interests of getting his own face and byline and paycheck in the plush environs of the liberal media corporations. Except by rattling off unproven blanket assumptions about other people's political sincerity, we'd be sounding and behaving just like their hero John McCain.
The day after McCain won in New Hampshire, Kristol wrote an obituary in the Washington Post: "Leaderless, rudderless and issueless, the conservative movement... is finished." At his magazine, that certainly seems to be the case.