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WaPo Ombudsman Addresses Bias Complaints Written in Anti-Obama 'Rage'

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Unread 05.04.09, 06:23 PM
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WaPo Ombudsman Addresses Bias Complaints Written in Anti-Obama 'Rage'

05.04.09 12:00 PM

New Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander addressed the question of a liberal bias for the first time on Sunday, and the subject was the goopy "smartest kid in class" Tom Shales review of the Obama 100-days press conference. Alexander seemed to insult the readers heís dealing with:
To "disbelievers" who accuse Obama of wanting to expand the size of government, Shales said "many are just the predictable strident voices of the kind of partisan pedantry that Obama has said he abhors."

Some of those "predictable strident voices" contacted the ombudsman in a rage, citing Shales's piece as evidence that The Post is in the tank for the president.

Alexander underlined that the Post didnít identify Shales with an explicit "critic" or "commentary" label (although regular readers should know that the writerís name in bold capital letters above the title says "column.") But Alexander strangely let Shales deny he discusses policy, which he explicitly did in the passage Alexander had just quoted:
"I never talk about policies," Shales told me. "I talk about how [Obama] comes across on TV. I like him based on what I see on television."

Shales had insulted people who think Obama wants to grow government as strident partisan pedants. Thatís a*very political* judgment, and a strange one: even liberals would admit Obamaís dramatically expanded government spending in his first 100 days. Thatís not the same as grading the flow of Obamaís sentences. Shales seems to think if he doesnít explicitly talk "policy," as in endorsing Obamaís budget blueprint, he hasnít sent a partisan or political message.

Conservative Post readers should be aware that Shales is paid to be a TV critic Ė but not every TV critic is so infatuated with the president that he described him as "President Wonderful." Thatís why Alexander admitted Shales "has written frequently Ė and flatteringly Ė about Obamaís television appearances. But he also wrote glowingly of President Ronald Reaganís command of the cameras."

Does Alexander have an example of that Ė or is he taking the word of Tom Shales? I know Shales was softer than the usual Postie on Reagan, but is Alexander doing a thorough job?

Shales has betrayed a liberal bias (including policy) for a long time. Hereís one golden oldie, from the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings on October 12, 1991:
Thus did Rita Braver look ridiculous on CBS when she told Rather, earlier, that there'd been nothing said by Hill that was likely to have changed the mind of any Senator who'd been watching. Hey -- what about the Coke can? And what about the fact that Hill maintained such dignity and stamina in such sordid and sleazy surroundings? It had to occur to some viewers as they watched the way she handled herself that she would have made a much better Supreme Court nominee than Thomas does.

Alexanderís apparent distaste for conservative readers and their perceived ideological blinders came through as he insisted like a true media elitist that reporters and editors "see themselves" as fair, but the readers are biased:
Most reporters and editors see themselves as impartial truth-seekers. But many readers who oppose Obama see them as hopelessly influenced by ingrained anti-Republican, anti-conservative ideology.

Post reader Dean Dykema of Laurel, who frequently complains about coverage, said he sees a "bias by omission" in failing to report "anything that might make Obama look bad."

Increasingly, readers complain about what isn't in The Post. They see a story elsewhere -- often another publication or Web site that mirrors their ideology -- and cite it as an example of The Post suppressing news.

Alexander quoted James Hamilton of Duke University saying that "a proliferation of media choices [has] accentuated the perception" of bias. But he made no attempt to explain whether the Post has practiced bias by omission, and entertained no example that Dykema may have provided.

Itís not as easy as Self-Proclaimed Objective Reporters vs. Ideological Readers. The self-perception of fairness can be as questionable as the reader perception of bias. Take Tom Shales, who thinks heís somehow on strong factual ground that he doesnít discuss his opinions on policy issues.

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