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.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.