On March 13, 2008, ABC News broke the story that Barack Obama's longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had made a number of incendiary statements from the pulpit of Obama's church in Chicago. The most inflammatory of those remarks was Wright's notorious "God damn America" sermon.
The news set off a media firestorm. "God damn America" was in the papers, magazines, the Internet, television, radio. It was everywhere, except one place: the news pages of America's most powerful newspaper, the New York Times. In the days, weeks, and months following the ABC report, the Times' news pages repeatedly failed to inform its readers that Wright had ever uttered those infamous words.
The quote did find its way into a few columns and a (pro-Obama) editorial. But in the news pages -- the ones which report "All the news that's fit to print" -- months went by with no word of "God damn America." It was not until Sept. 24, 2008, six months after the story originally broke, that an article in the Times -- it was about anti-Obama political ads -- reported Wright's notorious words. For half a year, the paper's editors simply ignored a key portion of one of the biggest stories of the presidential campaign.
Now, the Times has failed to report another story, this time one that led to the resignation of a White House official much loved by many on the left, "green jobs" czar Van Jones.
Times readers didn't know it, but the causes for Jones' departure included the fact that he signed a 2004 petition supporting the so-called "9/11 truther" movement; that he was a self-professed communist during much of the 1990s; that he supported the cop-killer Mumia abu-Jamal; that in 2008 he accused "white polluters" of "steering poison into the people of color communities"; and that earlier this year, speaking to a friendly crowd in Berkeley, Calif., he called Republicans "a--holes."
When controversy erupted, Jones apologized for the "truther" episode and his remarks about the GOP, but the Times, having not reported the original story, also failed to report the apologies.
Beyond Jones and Wright, there have been other instances in the recent past in which the Times did not report stories of real political significance.
Early in the Obama administration, the Times did not tell its readers about a controversy raging over the proposed choice of Charles Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council. Some conservatives opposed Freeman for his ties to the Saudi government, as well as things he had said about Israel. The Times ignored the story for weeks until it was over, publishing a report only after Freeman withdrew his name from consideration.
Then, of course, there was the case of John Edwards, the former 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee and 2008 presidential candidate. Despite mounting evidence, the Times did not report Edwards' affair with a woman he hired to produce campaign videos until after Edwards himself publicly admitted it.
Wright. Jones. Freeman. Edwards. For simplicity's sake, I've focused on the Times' coverage, but other top news outlets also ignored or underreported some of those stories. Why?
Certainly there's bias involved. Given what we know from the formal and informal polling of journalists at mainstream organizations, most of the people involved in political reporting are liberals, and likely Democrats. They want the Obama administration to succeed.
But the question may not be so much who they are, as who they hate, or at least who they intensely dislike.
The first words of the Times' story on Jones' resignation were, "In a victory for Republicans and the Obama administration's conservative critics. ..." One news anchor suggested Jones was "the Republican right's first scalp." Other coverage called the Jones affair a victory for Glenn Beck, Fox News, right-wing blogs, and even Sarah Palin, who played no role in the matter.
If you throw in Rush Limbaugh, you have all the bogey-people of the conservative world. To some on the left, including some journalists, denying them a victory was a top priority, no matter what Van Jones had said and done.
There was a day, not too long ago, when the Times and other influential news organizations could kill a story -- could deny the bad guys a win -- simply by ignoring it. Sometimes they still try. But it just won't work anymore.