While many Americans believe the national press is biased toward the left, a more damning charge is now being debated: Are U.S. media outlets actually corrupt? Those who believe they are point to the cheerleading of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and to the recent reportage on the tea party movement.
As you may know, the tea party people have been branded in some media quarters as a bunch of racist, far-right loons. TV commentators on MSNBC and CNN have actually called the tea party folks dirty names on the air all in an attempt to diminish the growing influence of the movement.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the gutter. Regular Americans have apparently opted to decide for themselves about the tea party, and the polling is interesting. Despite all the rhetorical madness on TV, a new Gallup poll says 28 percent of Americans support the movement, 26 percent oppose it and 38 percent have not yet formed an opinion about support or opposition. Thus, there is a persuadable factor in play, and that is what the liberal media fear the most.
This time last year, there was no tea party. Now, it is perhaps the most vibrant political force in the country. If millions more Americans sign on, liberalism will take a huge hit. By the way, Gallup also reports that the tea party movement breaks down this way: 49 percent Republican, 43 percent Independent and 8 percent Democratic. The issue that binds the tea party folks together is fear of big government.
When the Founding Fathers granted the press privileges beyond those of everyday citizens, they did so with some trepidation. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, opposites in political thinking, both loathed the early press in America because it often operated irresponsibly; that is, it was not unusual for money to change hands in the production of a news story.
But Jefferson, Adams and their peers understood that the people needed information in order to make informed decisions at the voting booth. Therefore, the greater good was served by allowing a free press in the hope that the honest journalists would outnumber the dishonest ones.
Today, we have a problem in America. Entire news operations are devoting themselves not to reporting events honestly, but to promoting a certain ideology or party. The Fox News Channel, where I work, has been accused of this. But a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that FNC's coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign was tough on both candidates, while most other news networks blatantly favored Obama.
Now we have a systematic media campaign to demean the tea party movement. At first, organizations like The New York Times ignored the movement. Then they mocked it. Neither worked. As the rallies grew larger, the liberal press got meaner. There was little reporting being done it was all about bashing.
This isn't bias; it's corruption. News organizations are supposed to be watchdogs, not attack dogs. The tea party should be scrutinized like every other political movement. But that's not what's going on here. A large part of the national media is out to destroy these folks. And that's flat-out wrong.
Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor."