I recently attended the Walter Duranty Awards for Journalistic Mendacity, a highly entertaining event aimed at calling attention to the past year’s most egregious instances of mainstream-media bias. Sponsored jointly by The New Criterion and PJ Media, the awards are named after the most notoriously corrupt journalist of all time: the New York Times Moscow correspondent, Soviet apologist, and 1932 Pulitzer winner who pushed the Stalinist line that reports of the great famine in the Ukraine—brought on by forced collectivization and causing an estimated 6 million deaths—were nothing more than “malignant propaganda.”
Needless to say, many contenders vied for the Duranty. While the judges ruled ineligible, “because we could not determine culpability,” the unnamed NBC News producers whose editing of the tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call completely distorted its meaning, the winners were eminently worthy. Second runner-up went to blogger Andrew Sullivan, for his campaign against “what Sullivan calls ‘genital mutilation,’ or as most of us refer to it, ‘circumcision’”; for his “never-ending and relentless crusade to prove that Sarah Palin was not the mother of her Down Syndrome baby, Trig”; and “for being Barack Obama’s greatest cheerleader.”
Bob Simon of 60 Minutes was the first runner-up, for his Israel-bashing report, “Christians of the Holy Land,” wherein he blamed the Jewish state for the exodus of Christians from the region while completely ignoring the horrors visited upon them by the Arabs. “Not for him the subtle misrepresentation, the quiet fudging of a fact, the deft deployment of misleading innuendo,” as presenter Roger Kimball observed. “No, Bob Simon started with a doozy: the ‘one place where Christians are not suffering from violence’ in the Middle East, he reports, ‘is the Holy Land.’” The grand prize went to Joan Juliet Buck (writer) and Anna Wintour (editor) for Vogue’s “A Rose in the Desert,” an astonishingly ill-timed love letter to Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, described in the piece as “glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. . . . She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement.”
Of course, conservatives are keenly aware not only of the extent of media bias but of the degree to which it shapes the national conversation. The venerable Media Research Council has presented its DisHonors Awards for 25 years, at its most recent ceremony awarding Chris Matthews the “Obamagasm Award,” NBC’s Ann Curry the “Damn Those Conservatives to Hell Award,” and Sean Penn the “Barbra Streisand Political I.Q. Award for Celebrity Vapidity.” Additionally, the MRC confers the William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence, honoring media conservatives who’ve made special contributions in getting out the other side of the story. This year’s went to the late and sorely missed Andrew Breitbart. And on the Web, various commentators and blogs make a point of identifying those liberal journalists whose bias is especially glaring, including but hardly limited to Soledad O’Brien, Paul Krugman, Christiane Amanpour, Piers Morgan, Joe Klein, the entire MSNBC lineup, and, most recently, Candy Crowley.
These are all useful and admirable endeavors. But it strikes me that conservatives might also go out of their way to honor other journalists: the relative handful in the mainstream media who diverge from the pack to commit fair-minded journalism. Because these reach an audience not generally accessible to Fox News, talk radio, and other right-of-center media outlets, they often have a considerable impact on general perception. More to the point, in a business in which the overwhelming majority of their peers are committed liberals—and in which the aim is more to impress fellow journalists than to inform viewers or readers—it can take genuine courage to break ranks.
Who are some who have lately distinguished themselves in this regard? There’s Gretchen Morgensen, the Market Watch columnist for the New York Times and coauthor of Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon, about the origins of the housing meltdown. Morgensen plays it straight down the middle, not hesitating to name names on either side. Indeed, the most villainous figure in her book is former Fannie Mae CEO James A. Johnson, a longtime Democratic operative.
Then there’s Jake Tapper of ABC News. Beginning his current tenure as the network’s senior White House correspondent by breaking the story on Tom Daschle’s non-payment of taxes that killed Daschle’s appointment as Health and Human Services secretary, Tapper has since distinguished himself by his tenacity in pursuing stories that others shy away from. Indeed, his pointed, discomforting questions to Press Secretary Jay Carney often seem a rebuke to reporters around him sitting on their hands in the White House briefing room. “Given the fact that so much was made out of the video that apparently had absolutely nothing to do with the attack on Benghazi, that there wasn’t even a protest outside the Benghazi post,” he recently asked Carney, “didn’t President Obama shoot first and aim later?”
No reporter has been more intrepid in reporting on the turmoil in the Middle East, from both the battlefield (and, horrifically, Cairo’s Tahrir Square) and the home front, than Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent of CBS News. Her recent 60 Minutes report “The Longest War,” about Afghanistan, pointedly took the Obama administration to task for promoting the politically useful fiction that the Taliban and al-Qaida are on the run. As she noted in a widely reported speech shortly afterward: “There is this narrative coming out of Washington for the last two years,” pushed by “Taliban apologists,” maintaining “they are just the poor moderate, gentler, kinder Taliban. It’s such nonsense!”
Sharyl Attkisson, also of CBS News, raised the ire of the White House and the Department of Justice with her lonely, dogged pursuit of the story behind the Obama administration’s Fast and Furious gun-trafficking scandal. “They say the Washington Post is reasonable,” she told Laura Ingraham, “the L.A. Times is reasonable, the New York Times is reasonable, I’m the only one who thinks this is a story, and they think I’m unfair and biased by pursuing it.”
To this list we can add three highly unlikely candidates: former New York Times public editors Daniel Okrent and Arthur Brisbane and the current occupant of the position, Margaret Sullivan. All three have taken the paper to task for the systematic bias evident to most of the world yet unacknowledged within the paper itself. Okrent, the first to hold the position, even faulted star columnist and liberal icon Paul Krugman for his “disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.” Brisbane, in a widely circulated farewell column, wrote of the “political and cultural progressivism” that “virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times. As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.” And just last week, as the terrorist assault on the Benghazi compound dominated coverage elsewhere, Sullivan headlined her column with a damning, vital question: WHY WASN’T LIBYA HEARING ON PAGE A1 OF THE TIMES?
It’s likely that most, if not all, of these people are politically liberal. But that’s precisely the point: based on their reporting, we don’t know, which is as it should be. So what should such an award be called? How about the Russert?