Trying to be fair

From a book—a book I strongly recommend, for its on-going relevance—about press coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign:

It is an unwritten law of current political journalism that conservative Republican Presidential candidates usually receive gentler treatment from the press than do liberal Democrats. Since most reporters are moderate or liberal Democrats themselves, they try to offset their natural biases by going out of their way to be fair to conservatives. No candidate ever had a more considerate press corps than Barry Goldwater in 1964, and four years later the campaign press gave every possible break to Richard Nixon. Reporters sense a social barrier between themselves and most conservative candidates; their relations are formal and meticulously polite. But reporters tend to loosen up around liberal candidates and campaign staffs; since they share the same ideology, they can joke with the staffers, even needle them, without being branded the “enemy.” If a reporter has been trained in the traditional, “objective” school of journalism, this ideological and social closeness to the candidate and staff makes him feel guilty; he begins to compensate; the more he likes and agrees with the candidate personally, the harder he judges him professionally. Like a coach sizing up his own son in spring tryouts, the reporter becomes doubly severe.

— Timothy Crouse, The Boys in the Bus, 1974 (1973), pgs. 355-56

Crouse has a point; certainly in my case. I was a journalist and a columnist in high school and college, and even today I want above all to be accurate and fair. I was a staunch Republican until a few years ago (and would still be one if the party hadn’t changed so much).

And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been harder on Republicans than Democrats. I’ve learned that I can’t trust my instinctive reactions to the ideas of Democrats and liberals, so I tend to go easier on them, because I want to be fair. Plus, I expect more from the GOP, because, even now, I identify with it, and see it as my party. Is Tom DeLay more of a sleaze than, say, Tony Coelho was? I don’t know. But he’s a sleaze who represents a part of me, and he angers me in a way that Coelho never did.

Did similar emotions account for the rough treatment the press gave Bill Clinton?

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