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The Media’s Over the Top Bias in the Virginia Governor’s Race

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Even casual purveyors of the news readily concede there is liberal media bias.  But the spin in this past year’s media coverage of the Virginia Governor’s race has been over the top.  From local Virginia papers to the Washington Post; from PBS to Time to MSNBC, the verdict is in: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is a radical tea party brute who wants to suppress women’s freedom and enact job killing policies in the name of ideological purity.  Terry McAuliffe, on the other hand, is a pragmatic moderate businessman whose involvement in scandals should be duly swept under the rug.

In the big picture, the bias boils down to an uneven distribution of negative coverage for one, versus positive coverage for another.

The local newspapers in Virginia have been especially lopsided in their coverage of the Governor’s race.  In the local newspaper coverage of the race, according to Media Research Council (MRC) research,  “Candidate Terry McAuliffe faced news coverage that was predominantly negative, with three times as many negative news stories (66) as positive ones (21). But that paled compared to the overwhelmingly negative spin faced by Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who saw only four news stories tilted in his favor, vs. 95 that were tilted against him, an astonishingly lopsided 24-to-1 margin.  GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli was labeled as a “conservative” 26 times (15 in news stories, 11 in opinion items) during the study period, while Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe was never once described as a liberal… Controversies swirled around both candidates, but ethical questions surrounding Ken Cuccinelli drew twice as much attention from these newspapers as those involving Terry McAuliffe.”

The bias in local media, as detailed above, has been overwhelming .

While  not as severe as some of the local media coverage of this race, national outlets like the Washington Post are no slackers in the slanted coverage of the race.

Consider a Post article from the start of the campaign – A November 29, 2012 story seems innocuous enough: “Narrowing field could leave stark choice in Va. governor’s race.”  But the title is misleading.  Right off the bat, we have bias by labeling – The Republican is an ideologue and the Democrat is a pragmatist: “Virginia’s gubernatorial races traditionally have been genteel affairs, featuring polite candidates extolling centrist views,” submit authors Haines and Vozzella.  But with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling dropping out of contention for the GOP nomination, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, “a conservative firebrand” will likely face off against “businessman Terry McAuliffe, who headed the national Democratic Party in the 1990s.”

Subtle, but the reader gets the nuanced message – one is a fire-breathing ideologue (Cuccinelli), the other candidate (McAuliffe) is the great political salve of our day – a pragmatic moderate who just wants more jobs for the commonwealth.

Of course, The Post’s bias didn’t stop with the kickoff of the campaign.  In a December 6, 2012  story, Post staff writer Ben Pershing continued the biased meme with his slanted treatment of liberal former congressman Tom Perriello’s announcement the day prior that he would not run for governor and that he would back McAuliffe.  At this point, the race is now between “Cuccinelli, a conservative who is loved by his party base, and McAuliffe,” [once again] a “businessman” who “previously ran the Democratic National Committee,” Pershing noted.  The term “liberal” was used twice in Pershing’s 17-paragraph story, in relation to Perriello. There was no exploration of the question of McAuliffe’s ideological leanings:

But perhaps more pernicious is a recent example of  the Post’s attempt to camouflage their bias through its so called conservative “Right Turn Blog” (“Right Turn: Jennifer Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective).  The conservative dressing falls apart when Jennifer Rubin complains that Cuccinelli is destroying himself and the Republican Party by advocating conservative principles.  In the Post’s January 31, 2013 op-ed page she was busy trashing Virginia’s Attorney General and GOP candidate for governor this fall: “It is not like I didn’t spot the Ken Cuccinelli train wreck coming up around the bend.”  And she starts her article by quoting from no less a non-partisan outlet as Politico: “Politico reports that he [Cuccinelli] is coming out with a “252-page tea party jeremiad of blistering attacks on government in general and President Barack Obama in particular that could make it difficult to broaden his appeal to the kinds of voters he needs to win in November.” And the rest of the blog is more of the same.

Sample other media’s sources regarding this issue and you will get more of the same.  As my colleagues at MRC have aptly pointed out – whether it is Time Magazine, PBS, MSNBC, the New York Times, or many other media outlets, no surprise here – the media are unequivocally biased in this year’s 2013 VA Governor race.  The voters deserve better from the news media charged with reporting the news.  It would be nice if these “reporters” didn’t pretend they were being fair and unbiased.

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