Still Liberal, Still Biased

How Big Media Helped the Left and Hurt the Right in 2003


Presenting Gay Bishop as a Courageous Pioneer: Religion is hardly a favorite topic for a largely secular media elite, especially news from within the potpourri of Protestant denominations — unless the topic is sexual. In August, U.S. Episcopal Church leaders voted to accept the election of an openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

august_textboxTrue to the secular liberal vision that making homosexuals part of the Christian clergy is merely the latest “civil rights” barrier to be broken by a courageous pioneer, Canon Robinson was the center of televised attention. A head count of guests included ten from the Robinson camp, one opponent, and one official spokesman for the Episcopal Church USA.

Between them, the networks’ daily and Sunday morning programs gave Canon Robinson six unopposed interviews to promote his gay-left platform. NBC’s Today gave Robinson four interviews (June 10, August 4, August 6, and November 4, the last one featuring his partner Mark Andrew and his delighted daughter Ella). ABC’s programs had two (the August 6 Good Morning America and the October 26 This Week with George Stephanopoulos), and CBS’s The Early Show had one (also August 6).

Only two segments featured opposing sides. On August 5, NBC’s Today featured two other Episcopal bishops — Robinson supporter M. Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts and Robinson opponent Edward Salmon of South Carolina. On the same day, ABC’s Good Morning America featured Rev. Susan Russell, a Robinson supporter, and Daniel England, a church spokesman, who didn’t oppose Robinson, but neutrally explained church procedures. Both of these interviews came on a morning when Robinson was being investigated briefly for inappropriate touching, charges the church dismissed.

Not only did Robinson and his partisans get the lion’s share of interviews, CBS and NBC never described Robinson’s partisans as liberals, while reporters regularly tagged his opponents as “conservative.” On the August 6 World News Tonight, substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas framed the two sides as being either “inclusive” or “conservative.” She relayed: “Some conservative Episcopalians say homosexuality is contrary to scripture and therefore totally unacceptable. But supporters of the decision call this a step toward a more open and inclusive church.”

The same insistence upon labeling only one side of the debate occurred earlier that day on the morning shows:

  • ABC’s Good Morning America. Claire Shipman: “After weeks of lobbying and controversy, the Episcopal Church has elected its first openly gay bishop, and some conservatives are threatening to leave the church rather than accept the Reverend Gene Robinson.

  • CBS’s The Early Show. Cynthia Bowers: “The vote was close and, as anticipated, a group of conservative bishops walked out saying they cannot abide by this decision.” 

  • On NBC’s Today. Ann Curry pounded home the imbalance: “ Shockwaves from the vote are deeply dividing the Church with conservative, conservatives, rather, saying their grief is quote, ‘too deep for words.’ NBC’s Jim Avila reports.”

Later that morning, Curry did it again: “Conservative members had threatened to leave the Church if Robinson was elected. Well, earlier on Today, Matt asked Bishop-elect Gene Robinson about that rift....But conservative bishops unhappy about last night’s vote are asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene.” She repeated in another news update: “Conservative bishops who oppose the confirmation are now asking the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene. Robinson was elected after being cleared of last minute allegations of sexual misconduct.”

On ABC, Tamala Edwards did use the L word in two stories. On the August 3 World News Tonight/Sunday, Edwards reported “Conservatives argue that most Episcopalians, who are part of the world’s 75 million Anglicans, believe the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as a sin....A split could cause the church to lose members and influence around the world. Church liberals are hopeful they will win, and that the church will stay united.” On the next night, as the charges against Robinson surfaced, Edwards concluded: “Now, no matter how this turns out, it appears the dividing lines have grown only deeper between church liberals and conservatives.”

The most interesting double standard that emerged in the Robinson story comes from his encounters with God’s will. Over the years, reporters have mocked religious-right figures like Pat Robertson for describing how God sent them a message — as in Robertson’s declaration that God told him President Bush will be easily re-elected. But Canon Robinson can say God is guiding him, and liberal media figures don’t blink.

On CBS’s Early Show, Robinson declared, “I felt this calling from God for a long time, and now I have been honored by being called by the people of New Hampshire to the office of bishop.” He later added: “I do believe that God is doing a new thing in the world, both in the — in the culture and in the church. And I think this is but a momentary blip on an ever-increasing inclusiveness in the society, and an acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full members of society and full members of the church, including its leadership.”

When God is seen as embracing the progressive view, His presence is somehow never in doubt.

TV Presents Environmentalists as Nonpartisan Truthtellers: When the Bush administration changed an EPA rule to let older power plants undertake some beneficial modernization without having to install complete air scrubbing devices as required by the Clean Air Act, the networks all emphasized the denunciations of liberal environmentalists. On August 27, CBS’s Wyatt Andrews gave the left-wing Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke a forum to attack the President’s policies, and Walke relished the moment.

“Today is the worst assault on clean air and the biggest enforcement scandal ever to rock EPA,” he declared.

“Ever?” Andrews helpfully asked.

“Ever,” Walke continued. “A gaping loophole has been carved out of that program and the public will suffer.”

Walke showed up on NBC, too, where correspondent Robert Hager broadcast his claim that “this action will result in hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, bronchitis attacks, heart disease, strokes and heart attacks among senior citizens, as well as Americans dying early from air pollution.”

In fact, the old EPA rule discouraged plants from introducing some less-polluting new equipment because any plant that did so was obligated to completely revamp its entire systems. Therefore, by making modernization easier and less expensive, the Bush action would result in less pollution-related disease, not more.

But the media took their cue from Bush’s liberal opponents. On August 31, CBS revisited the issue on Sunday Morning. After showing Bush stating his goal of protecting the environment, reporter Jerry Bowen undermined the President: “As he spoke, Mr. Bush had already rejected the Kyoto Treaty for controlling global warming, had weakened levels on arsenic in drinking water before reversing the decision under public pressure. He would try and fail to open ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling to meet America’s energy needs.”

The networks’ generosity towards left-wing environmental activists echoed another media-hyped flap that occurred in June, when ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN and NBC all treated the changing of a sentence in an upcoming EPA report, which few ever heard of and fewer ever would have read, as a major scandal worthy of full stories on their evening newscasts. The network stories all presented liberal stand on global warming as sacrosanct, and implied that only those who challenged it were playing politics.

On June 19 the New York Times ran a politically-loaded front page story by Andrew C. Revkin with Katharine Q. Seelye, based on internal documents fed to them by a disgruntled bureaucrat. Their lead sentence: “The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.”

According to the Times, environmentalists were mad that a sentence in the EPA report which read, “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment,” was replaced with,“the complexity of the earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change and diagnose causes,” a perfectly reasonable summary of why scientists continue to disagree about the causes and severity of any warming.

Networks committed to balanced environmental coverage would have interviewed one or more of the many respected scientists who dissent from the liberal line on global warming. But that night, all of the networks except the Fox News Channel sided with activists and treated the shift in EPA language as a major scandal. Aside from CNBC’s Forrest Sawyer, none of the networks questioned the assumptions of environmentalists, and all of them excluded scientists who disagree with the liberal global warming line.

CNN’s Aaron Brown even attempted an historical analogy to show how Bush’s EPA was trying to punish unpopular but correct scientific dissidents. “Once upon a time,” Brown told his NewsNight audience on June 19, “a scientist named Galileo said the Earth was round, and the political leaders of the time said, ‘No, no, Galileo it’s flat,’ and Galileo got life under house arrest for his little theory. Today, the vast majority of scientists will tell you the Earth is getting warmer and most would agree that industry is at least in part to blame. So far nobody’s gone to jail for saying that, which doesn’t mean the idea isn’t squarely at the center of a political dust up — and not an insignificant one at that because, if the charges leveled against the White House are true, an important environmental question is being twisted or ignored for the sake of politics.”

But Brown’s analogy fell flat on two accounts. First, Galileo’s true heirs in this debate are climatologists such as Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer, who challenge the left-wing orthodoxy that global warming is largely man-made, extremely dangerous, and can only be cured by a massive curtailment of modern industry.

Second, Galileo was born long after Magellan sailed completely around the globe, demolishing once and for all the idea that the world was flat. Galileo was actually punished by the Catholic Church for saying the Earth revolves around the sun. CNN viewers have yet to hear Brown’s correction.