A Continuum of Press Condemnation

As election day draws closer, complaints about a liberal bias in the press have intensified. On Oct. 6, a crowd at a Sarah Palin rally shouted abuse at reporters after the vice presidential nominee blamed CBS anchor Katie Couric for what Palin called a "less-than-successful interview with the kinda mainstream media." Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz has offered concrete examples of reporting that favored Obama. And probably the most strident moment came from McCain senior advisor Steve Schmidt who in September told reporters that The New York Times "is today not by any standard a journalistic organization."

Where do the current criticisms fit in with the history of national political leaders' relations with the press? Criticism of the press by political figures is hardly new. As far back as 1796, George Washington explained his decision not to seek a third term noting, among other reasons, he was "disinclined to be longer buffeted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers."

The criticism has not always come from the political right. During the Vietnam War, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon alike condemned the press for what they saw as undermining of their war efforts. Bill Clinton's relationship with the press, never good, soured further during the scandal over Monica Lewinsky, and variously included complaints about both liberalism and a right-wing media machine.

The more overtly partisan and ideological nature of the criticism -- that the press is liberal -- is relatively new. The modern critique by conservatives that the press is liberal first notably flowered in public in 1964 when former President Dwight Eisenhower raised the complaint at the Republican convention, to wild reaction. The criticism has become noticeably bolder since the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich, representing the second generation of movement conservatism, took power in the House. Yet it may have never been more pointed or personal than this year.

Read the full report A Continuum of Press Condemnation on the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Web site.  The report gives a timeline of key examples of political leaders attacking the press that offers something of a guide to how the rhetoric has evolved.

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