Is Bias <em>Always</em> Biased? In McCain's Case, Maybe Not

Several days ago, John McCain made the most eye-popping comment I have ever heard uttered by a candidate for the White House.
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As the host of Fox News Watch for ten years, I struggled not to let my biases show. I think I succeeded. For the entire decade, viewers wrote e-mails telling me they couldn't figure out my political affiliation. I was proud of their bewilderment.

I also struggled not to let the program itself show bias. Again, I think I succeeded. Several years ago in a Vanity Fair article blasting the Fox News Channel, James Wolcott cited Fox News Watch as one of the two shows on the network most worth watching.

The purpose of the preceding two paragraphs is not self-promotion (although it certainly plays as such), but to establish myself as someone who believes that both news and punditry should be as objective as human beings can make them.

Because of this, I have been distressed lately at how far to the left one of my favorite news programs has gone. MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann has become less a newscast than a crusade against the Bush variety of Republicanism. And the new program following Countdown, The Rachel Maddow Show, is following the same path. The same warpath.

Of course, numerous programs on Fox are on their own warpaths, heading in the opposite direction---and I ask myself why. Why has so much of TV news become so partisan in the last decade.

And then it hit me. Or, rather, I hit myself---the heel of my hand smacking my forehead and my lips uttering a Homer Simpson-like, "Doh!"

Fox is a topic for another article, and another writer. I will not go into my experiences there. But why are Olbermann and Maddow so biased?

Because the Republicans are providing them with so much material that their bias is, at its core, a form of objectivity. They are not partisan so much as perceptive.

I do not reveal my own choice for president when I state that, several days ago, John McCain made the most eye-popping comment I have ever heard uttered by a candidate for the White House.

The topic was the economy. "My friends," he said to a gathering in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on September 19, "this is the problem with Washington. People like Senator Obama have been too busy gaming the system and haven't ever done a thing to actually challenge the system.

"We've heard a lot of words from Senator Obama over the course of this campaign. But maybe just this once he could spare us the lectures, and admit to his own poor judgment in contributing to these problems. The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling, and he was square in the middle of it."

Uh . . . yes he was, Senator McCain. Senator Obama was square in the middle of it for less than three years! But you have been square in the middle of it for 22 years! If Senator Obama is too inexperienced to be President, as your campaign has many times suggested, how could he possibly have made such a powerful contribution to the plundering of the American marketplace?

Nobody in McCain's audience laughed when the candidate charged Obama with being an economy-wrecking Washington insider. Nobody snickered when the Washington insider accused the relative outsider of maliciousness beyond his years. Or his ability. Or his record.

I take it back. Somebody snickered. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were among them. So was I.

And so now I ask myself, how hard is it these days for news programs be objective when the material on which they report sounds as if it were produced by writers for Saturday Night Live, and then rejected on the grounds of its being too preposterous to be funny?

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