We frequently hear journalists discussing the Republican primary in ways that seem to belie their claim of being unbiased. For example, in reports on the Republican race, we often hear stuff like: “Romney needs to convince conservatives”, “Conservative are saying that they are not yet comfortable with Romney”, and even before the first caucus was held, we were hearing reporter-pundits ask “Why can’t the Republicans figure out who their nominee is already?”, apparently wishing that rank-and-file Republicans would simply yield their support to the evident choice of the party establishment. And just this week, Reuters published a report under the headline, “Santorum win in Michigan could be chaos for GOP”.
News outlets might try to defend this as merely reporting on campaign strategies. The defense fails for two grounds. First, some aspects of campaign strategy are not good subjects for objective reporting. It is unsettling to see that journalists (particularly the ones that sound like they are trying to meld public opinion) are so conversant in manipulation techniques. Second, the evident bias cannot be so easily explained away. It seems clear that some of this stuff comes from journalists who are deeply interested in a particular outcome in the primaries and caucuses.
Journalists who align with either political party (or any third party, or none at all) should fairly report meaningful facts. Journalists ought to leave punditry to those who do not profess neutrality. Journalists who cannot do journalism should find new careers. And don’t even get me started on the practice of newspapers—the free and independent Press guaranteed us by the First Amendment, the stalwart defenders of American freedom and constitutional rights, the Bastion of Objectivity, the Voice of the People, without which this Government of the People, by the People, and for the People should perish from the face of the earth—endorsing candidates. It is not the purpose of journalism to tell citizens who they should vote for.
But why should Big News be so supportive of Romney over Santorum? Is it because Romney is closer to them on social positions? Are Romney’s bi-committal history and current moderate-to-liberal stances on social issues like abortion, homosexualism, and healthcare mandates what attracts there support? To some extent, yes. Do liberal journalists prefer Romney because they calculate that he is less likely to win in a match up against Obama? I don’t know; I suspect that some liberals might see things that way; but reportedly, most see it the other way, which brings me to my second point.
Recently, some Democrats are meddling in favor of Santorum in something called Operation Hilarity. These democrats claim that Santorum would be easier to beat. I seriously doubt that; Santorum does better in polls than Romney in a match up against Obama. A Romney nomination would likely be as successful as the McCain nomination was because moderates don’t do as well as conservatives do against liberal presidential candidates. But clearly those meddling in favor of Santorum disagree. Fine, let them disagree. But even Democrat activists, who do not pretend to any journalistic objectivity, should stay out of the Republican primary.
At least one Democrat blogger agrees and is calling foul on Kos’ Operation Hilarity. I know that Rush Limbaugh pulled a similar stunt four years ago to try to keep Hilary Clinton, the “inevitable” nominee, embattled as long as possible against the unlikely hopeful from Chicago. But Rush was wrong to do this. Not only was Rush wrong, but his interference in the other party’s primary process may have helped to bring about a presidency even worse that a Clinton II presidency would have been. Meddling Democrat pundits, too, might rue their involvement.
The Republican primary is a contest between Republican candidates and between Republican party factions. It is not an appropriate playground for faux-journalists and for activists from other parties.