The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004

Executive Summary

In a fit of candor back in July, Evan Thomas, Newsweek’s Assistant Managing Editor, blurted out the truth: most reporters want President George W. Bush to lose and John Kerry to win. Appearing on the syndicated program Inside Washington July 10, Thomas zeroed in on the adoring coverage most in the media, including his own magazine, were awarding John Kerry and John Edwards.

“The media, I think, wants Kerry to win,” Thomas explained. “And I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards — I’m talking about the establishment media, not Fox — but they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all. There’s going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources three months later, Thomas told the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz that he was wrong to peg the value of the media’s contribution at “maybe 15 points” for the Democrats, but said he “absolutely” believed the media preferred Kerry and Edwards. He speculated that media bias might be worth five points for the Democrats on Election Day.

Thomas’s observation fits with a poll taken by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press back in May. The group surveyed 247 journalists at national-level outlets, and found only a piddling seven percent would describe themselves as “conservative,” compared to 33 percent of the overall population. While the majority of journalists (54 percent) labeled themselves as “moderate,” one out of three national journalists (34 percent) called themselves “liberal,” a far higher rate than the regular public (23 percent).

Pew found that journalists’ ideology seems to affect how they approach their profession. In May, a mere eight percent of the national press believed the media were being “too critical” of President Bush, compared to nearly seven times as many (55 percent) who thought the media were “not critical enough.”

Journalists’ desire for more bad news about Bush contrasts with their feelings about the media’s treatment of Bill Clinton. Back in 1995, as recounted in the MRC’s June 1995 edition of MediaWatch, 48 percent of national journalists thought there was “too little” news about Clinton’s achievements in office, compared to just two percent who thought the press had given “too much” coverage to his achievements.

No matter who wins or loses this year’s presidential election, Campaign 2004 will be remembered for the unprecedented partisanship of the so-called mainstream media, as the Media Research Center has documented all year. Here are our awards for the ten most-biased episodes in Campaign 2004, along with commendations for those instances when journalists rose above their bias and approached their craft in a fair and balanced way.