Woodward, bias and Bear

I saw journalist Bob Woodward on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and have had the chance to leaf through – but not read – his latest book on the Bush administration.
And the one lasting impression I have of the reaction to “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III” is that it’s all a reflection of the state of the nation. If you’re a supporter of President Bush, the Woodward dissection of the administration’s handling of post-invasion Iraq is just another example of Democrat-loving media vultures out to get the President.
Hold on a minute.
Isn’t this the same Bob Woodward whom liberals were accusing of being co-opted by the administration after two books that portrayed Bush as a focused, take-charge wartime president? (I understand that the Republican National Committee thought enough of those books to tout and sell them on its website.)
I’m an admirer of Woodward, part of the generation of journalists spawned by Watergate, though I never had a big desire to be an investigative reporter. The man can get an interview and, as you watch his appearances on news and talk shows, you can see him listening, a skill that far too few journalists have mastered.
And while he’s become sort of a one-man corporation in the last few decades and is a Washington Post editor in name only, he still has what journalists must have – credibility. Whatever spin is put on his recent books by critics from the left and right, there hasn’t been much room to assail his accuracy.
And I believe he’s essentially apolitical, a stance difficult for partisans of any stripe to understand. He says his bias is, like any good journalist’s, against secrets. Here’s a link to a good recent Chicago Tribune interview with him.
To me, the reaction to the books just proves what I’ve learned in a couple decades working for and being around newspapers – that people see in journalism just about what they’re looking for.
I don’t claim that all accusations of media bias are without merit, but many do exist only in the imagination of the media consumer. These complaints – the “MSM” are always against whatever you’re in favor of – have come mostly from the right in my years of media experience. But increasingly there are aggrieved folks on the left who think that newspapers, TV, etc, have a profoundly conservative bias.
I think it all depends on how we calibrate “bias,” and it also reminds me of a story – probably apocryphal – that I once heard about famed University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
One fall Saturday afternoon the Crimson Tide were on the road somewhere in the Southeastern Conference, and – in the coach’s view – weren’t getting nearly enough calls or respect from the officials.
Finally, Bear decided he had had enough and called over the young referee who was heading that day’s officiating crew.
“Son,” he addressed the official that intimidating grumble-rumble of a voice. “I just want to know one thing – are you referees for me, or against me?”
The young referee looked at the coach, puzzled. “I’m sorry, coach. What did you say?”
“I want to know if you’re for me or against me.”
The referee replied, “Coach Bryant, you know that game officials are supposed to be impartial. We watch the game and make calls based on what happens, not whether we like someone or not.”
The coach walked away in disgust and was heard to mutter, “It’s just like I thought. They’re against me.”


About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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