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Menendez Story Illustrates Difference Between Liberal And Conservative Media

Christian Patterson |
March 19, 2013 | 3:31 p.m. PDT


Shining a light on an incendiary story is not the same as manufacturing one. (Creative Commons, Talk Radio News Service)
Shining a light on an incendiary story is not the same as manufacturing one. (Creative Commons, Talk Radio News Service)
There is common sentiment among “people in the know” that media outlets sympathetic with liberalism, like MSNBC and Think Progress, are the equivalents of the Fox News and Drudge Reports of the world. This line of thinking implies, because each media outlet is seen through the same lens, that all partisan commentary has equal moral weight. It implies that Rachel Maddow is to Sean Hannity what Lawrence O’Donnell is to Bill O’Reilly, and so on and so on.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is completely off base. Rachel Maddow is not the liberal equivalent of Sean Hannity. Lawrence O’Donnell is not the left-leaning equivalent of Bill O’Reilly, and liberal media outlets are not the equivalents of the Fox News and Drudge Reports of the opposing side.

No story illustrates the absurdity of equating media on the right and the left more than the saga of Senator Robert Menendez. Originally broken by The Daily Caller – a website founded by conservative media personality Tucker Carlson – the story alleged that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez was engaging in illicit activities with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

All signs now point to the falseness of this story. The Dominican police, the Associated Press and the Washington Post all report that the women who made these claims were paid to make them in the first place. We do not know for certain that The Daily Caller was directly involved in paying these women to speak out against Senator Menendez. What we do know is that a slew of media outlets, including Politico, ABC News, the Star Ledger and the New York Post, all looked at the same evidence that the Daily Caller had access to and determined that there was not enough to substantiate its claims.

This occurrence goes to the heart of the difference between liberal and conservative media. Progressive outlets try to shine a light (albeit an incredibly bright one) on stories that make the other side look bad, while conservative media create these stories in the first place.

Many remember the scandal surrounding community organizing group ACORN after conservative activist Alex O’Keefe produced evidence of wrongdoing by the organization. What most people don’t remember is that California and New York authorities later declared that the videos O’Keefe provided were “heavily and selectively edited” and that ACORN was not guilty. Most also probably won’t remember that O’Keefe eventually paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit over his fabrication.

Others will remember the case of Shirley Sherrod, a Department of Agriculture official smeared as a racist by a video produced by the late conservative hero Andrew Breitbart. The full version of the video later cleared Sherrod and proved the false nature of Breitbart’s allegations. However, her vindication came only after her name was dragged through the mud and she was forced to resign her position.

These examples only add to a long list of stories manufactured by conservative media, a list that includes birtherism, swift boating and allegations that President Obama pals around with domestic terrorists. When MSNBC airs a documentary about a right wing extremist's murder of a doctor who provides abortions, or the Bush administration's false case for the War in Iraq, it is clearly delivering red meat to the faithful. However, the outlet isn't lying.

There is a reason that Mitt Romney didn’t immediately issue a statement accusing the Huffington Post and Mother Jones of doctoring the 47 percent tape. It is the same reason that Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin couldn’t disavow his offensive comments. The reason is fairly simple: liberals did not make these things up. Placing an inflammatory video clip on repeat and using it to paint the other side as out-of-touch may not be the cleanest way to criticize an opponent, but it is not the same as manufacturing a scandal.

No one is claiming that liberal media outlets don’t get stories wrong or make outlandish statements. They most certainly do. But when was the last time MSNBC or Think Progress accused a Senator of soliciting prostitution, brought down a non-profit organization or got an administration official fired with evidence that later turned out to be false? There is a difference between calling attention to a problem and creating a problem in the first place.

When MSNBC and Think Progress start making up stories and then fervently defend their veracity despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the equivalency drawn between these organizations will be a fair one. Until then, we’re still comparing apples and oranges.


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