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Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

In Corporate Media, Democratic Populism Always a Danger

One of the most consistent rules in corporate media's political coverage: If you're talking about Democrats, you should point out that those who drift too far to the left could find themselves in trouble (Extra!, 7/06).

With Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren out promoting a new book, you can expect to hear this line. "The left is looking for a fighter and a fiery populist," ABC's Jeff Zeleny explained on This Week (4/27/14).

He went on:

Some moderate Democrats fear her economic populism is a dead end for the party. But to her admirers, she is a political celebrity. And even if her name is not on the ballot, her ideas may still drive the race.

All right–so some people think she'd lead the party into a dead end, but people who like her say she's a celebrity.

It's worth asking: What exactly are the policies that Warren is proposing that could be so dangerous? If it's banking regulation and consumer protection, it's hard to imagine issues that could be more popular with the public.

If Zeleny's critics are really saying that Warren's criticism of Wall Street would hurt the party with industry donors, then perhaps there's something to it. A graphic ABC flashes on the screen is from a Wall Street Journal op-ed by two professional Democratic centrists, who think the smart move is to start talking about the funding crisis in Social Security and Medicare.

But here's a bigger question: Do you ever hear reporters arguing that these center-right Democrats are a "dead end" for the party's electoral chances? There's a good case to be made that Democrats who don't take forceful populist positions are more likely to pose serious risks to the Democrats' success. But a reporter who made that case would be attacked for being "biased"; when you say it about the party's left wing, though, it's just media conventional wisdom.

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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