The Media’s Ben Carson Bias

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Presidential candidate, retired brain surgeon, and champion squinter Ben Carson has had a big couple of weeks. Now the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he’s facing a level of scrutiny he had apparently not previously imagined, which suggests that this isn’t just the first presidential campaign he’s ever run, it’s the first one he has ever seen.

The coordinated media conspiracy to discredit Carson began when they fact-checked his autobiography, a totally unprecedented, shockingly underhanded attack. CNN found that Carson’s tales of a violent youth spent trying to murder his immediate family — presumably played up to set his the triumph of his religious conversion into sharper relief — were not entirely true, and Politico found his tale of being offered a scholarship to West Point by General William Westmoreland in Ronald Reagan’s living room while Barry Goldwater played the piano while Ayn Rand sang “Silent Night” did not strictly actually literally happen.

Even as Carson confirmed that Politico was correct, and admitted that the names of the people he said he’d attacked were “fictitious,” he was attacking the media for holding him to a different standard than other candidates:

I do not remember this level of scrutiny for President Barack Obama, when he was running, in fact I remember just the opposite, I remember people just said, oh we won’t really talk about that relationship, oh, Frank Marshall Davis, oh we don’t want to talk about that, Bernadine Dorne, Bill Ayers, we don’t want to know about that, all the things Jeremiah Wright was saying, ehh not a big problem.

Goes to Occidental college, doesn’t do well, somehow ends up at Columbia University, I dunno.

His records are sealed. Why are his records sealed? You’re not interested in that? Can somebody tell me why? I’m asking you why are they sealed? Don’t change the subject. Will someone tell me please why you have not investigated that.

Any honest person who has ever paid even glancing attention to a presidential campaign at any point in their lives, and particularly the ones that Obama was involved in, would have to admit that this notion — that he is the first presidential candidate to be aggressively vetted in the press — is laughable on its face. The road to the presidency is littered on both sides with the roadkill of candidates brought low with media-reported scandals: Gary Hart, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Eagleton, Ted Kennedy, Herman Cain, Jesse Jackson, Michael Dukakis, Ed MuskieSarah Palin, to name only a few. But even they suffered only a fraction of the ongoing, endless fishing expeditions that the last three presidents endured during and after their campaigns.

I know that Bill Clinton knew a woman named Gennifer Flowers, that he invested in property in Arkansas, and that he had sex with an intern. I know that George W. Bush was a coke-snorting drunk till he was 40, that he ran an oil company into the ground, and that he was investigated for insider trading. And I know that Obama had drinks with a couple of ’60s radicals in his early political career, that his pastor has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about white people, that he smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine in college, that his father was a Muslim from Africa. (I admit, I never heard of Frank Marshall Davis until last week.) I further know that the current Democratic frontrunner used a private email server to conduct government business as Secretary of State, that her nearest rival once dabbled in erotic fiction, and that one of the other Republican candidates closed one of the world’s busiest bridges to satisfy a personal grudge.

I know all these things, and you know all these things, because the media has made it impossible for us not to know these things. Each of these stories was presented breathlessly across the whole spectrum of news media with the defining bias of 21st century media: the one toward breaking stories that will pull enough ratings/clicks/retweets/shares to keep the lights on for another quarter.

The Clintons, the Bushes, and Obama have not had the successful political careers they’ve had because the media “gave them a pass,” as Ben Carson is so fond of suggesting. The media did what the media is supposed to do: they reported the facts as they found them. Certainly, each of these matters generated commentary and discussion and interminable editorializing on both sides. But if the media had given any of these candidates “a pass,” then I wouldn’t know about Donna Rice or the Alaska Independence Party or Whitewater or Rielle Hunter or Chappaquiddick at all.

News media as we knew it is crumbling. It is a money-losing enterprise, under increasing pressure from its corporate masters to turn red ink black. The idea that a supposedly left-leaning news outlet like CNN, or even an avowedly left-leaning outlet like MSNBC would suppress a bombshell, campaign-ending scoop just to ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House is silly; they would report that she eats fetuses on the half-shell if it would get them a single week’s dominance in the 18-35 demo.

If anyone gave Obama a pass on Bill Ayers, or is giving Hillary Clinton a pass on Benghazi, or gave George W. Bush a pass on his military service, or gave Bill Clinton a pass on Monica Lewinsky, it most certainly wasn’t the media — it was the voting American public. The media reported all these things until it was blue in the face. It’s just that when they did, no one really gave a shit.

The story that George W. Bush stayed out of Viet Nam because his daddy pulled strings to get into an elite Air National Guard unit, and then — and this is the important part — couldn’t even be bothered to show up for it, said awful, disqualifying things about his character. Granted, this was in the runup to the 2004 election, so he’d disqualified himself several times over by that point. But still, I thought it was shitty and I voted accordingly. But Bush was re-elected, because apparently a majority of my fellow voters did not agree with that assessment. I didn’t like it, but I would be crazy to argue that the media had given Bush a pass. They reported (and reported, and reported), we decided.

More recently, I don’t think anyone could argue that Donald Trump’s campaign has not been sufficiently covered by the media, or that his statements have not been fact checked, or that his more questionable ideas have not been made public knowledge. I’ve lost count of how many times the media has breathlessly reported something Trump said that was supposedly sure to end his campaign, only to see his poll numbers go up. They reported, GOP primary voters decided.

When the cause or the candidate that you voted for does not win, it is tempting to believe that the majority didn’t agree with you because the media failed to make them agree with you. Obama wasn’t elected because the media gave him a pass. The media has dutifully passed along every bit of half-baked horseshit Obama’s enemies have flung at him over the last eight years. We heard about it. All of it, over and over and over. We just thought it was bullshit.

The media is not biased against Ben Carson becoming president; it is biased in favor of the monster ratings/clicks/meowmeowbeenz that the bizarre shit coming out of Ben Carson’s mouth is generating.

Oh and also, Obama’s records are not fucking “sealed.”

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