A Lott of Byrd brains in the media

Flash back to December 2003. The Senate is celebrating the birthday of Strom Thurmond. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is at the podium heaping praise on the 100-year-old Thurmond. Lott commends Thurmond's long and distinguished career, noting his dedication to his state and his country. He even goes as far to say that Thurmond would have made a great president of the United States. The drinks were flowing, the audience was laughing, the prehistoric senator looked happy. What Lott didn't realize was that he just kicked off a media firestorm. Lott came to the party as a senator thankful for Thurmond's service. He left as a marked man, labeled by the media as a racist. After all, Thurmond was a segregationist back in the 1940s. A few weeks and many interviews later, Lott resigned from his position as Senate majority leader, disgraced by his irresponsible statement.

Fast forward to April 2004. It is the 1,700th vote of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.). Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is on the Senate floor heaping praise on the ridiculously old Byrd. Dodd thanks Byrd for his service to the country and mentions that Byrd "would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation ... I cannot think of a single moment in this nation's 220-plus-year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country." Never mind that at one point in this nation's 220-plus-year history Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, Dodd is thanked for his kind remarks, walks off the Senate floor and continues his day. The media yawn.

Wait, what? Get the rulebook out - something is not fair here. Two former racists. Two complimentary remarks. One controversy. Where was CNN? NBC? CBS? ABC? The New York Times? The Washington Post? The Los Angeles Times? Bueller? Bueller?

It looks to me like The Eagle is the only newspaper in America picking up this story - and on the editorial page, to boot. Now, I know The Eagle is an important media outlet here at AU, but I think this story deserves a wider audience. Like the entire country.

Imagine if Byrd was the president of the United States instead of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 could very well have been vetoed. After all, Byrd voted "no" on the act. I wonder if he had the contempt for civil rights that he now has for President Bush's judicial nominees. But that's a story for another editorial.

What other policy changes would occur under President Byrd? My guess is the U.S. Treasury would be relocated to Charleston, W. Va. This is only reasonable since all those tax dollars used to build Byrd shrines would be closer to their destinations. Soon every bridge, post office and airport in America would be named after the esteemed king of pork.

Yet while Byrd is great fodder for jokes, his only crimes are a horrible record on civil rights and a penchant for wasteful spending. Lott and Dodd are also spared of any guilt outside of making rash comments. After all, neither of these two senators was in the Ku Klux Klan.

Who, or what, is really at fault here is the media. What led them to tear down Lott and let Dodd walk away? Maybe Dodd didn't have the Ken-doll hair. Or maybe it was because he didn't have a Southern accent. Nothing is more sensational than calling a southerner a racist.

Enter bias in the media. It's the debate to end all debates. Based largely on personal opinion, perceptions of the media can be debated for days on end with little agreement. The intellectual would argue that bias is unavoidable - and he or she would be right. Everyone has a bias, including me, and I believe that "the media are biased." But it is not one anchor's bias that is the problem. It is the trend in liberal bias from many anchors. The media as a whole fall into habits of reporting or not reporting particular news items. Their discretion is enormous and the lack of reporting on Dodd's comments is Exhibit A.

According to polls from Public Perspective, self-identified liberals outnumber conservatives in media professions 4 to 1. When comparing Democrats to Republicans, the ratio expands to 7 to 1. In fact, a whopping 90 percent of the media favor abortion rights. Who cares, right? Everyone has an opinion. But combining enormous discretion with intense opinions does not always equal fair news. Try putting aside your personal feelings on an issue and think whether or not lopsided opinions belong in the media. Chances are you can't put aside your opinions. Apparently, many journalists can't either.

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