Conrad Black: The Long History of Media Bias

Roundup: Historians' Take

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at

After I watched a debate between Eliot Spitzer and Brent Bozell about whether Spitzer is a biased commentator, on his CNN program this week, I was starkly reminded of how insufferable a public personality Spitzer is, and also of how routine and brazen in their partisanship and unevenness the liberal media are. Spitzer and Bozell discussed three separate allegations that Bozell had made in his publication against Spitzer, and the former governor admitted that he was a liberal, but claimed that this did not lead to biased coverage if people of other views managed to hold their own with him in discussion (as Bozell did). Of course, this is nonsense, because the choice of subjects is Spitzer’s, most of his guests agree with him, and a good part of the program is a commentary monologue by him that is never anything but a diatribe in favor of the left-liberal line that made him so profoundly unpopular a governor even before the incident that led to his resignation....

The most egregious occurrence of this sort of thing in recent years was the saga of Deep Throat in the Watergate affair. In 2005, he identified himself as Mark Felt, former senior official of the FBI. He was duly lionized as one of the heroes of the Left, and the whole Watergate business was replayed again. What was almost entirely unmentioned in the mainstream national liberal media was that when Felt and an FBI colleague, Edward Miller, were accused in 1980 of criminally violating the privacy of members of the urban-terrorist Weather Underground by authorizing break-ins in their homes, Richard Nixon, although he suspected Felt was Deep Throat, offered to help them pay their legal fees and volunteered to testify on their behalf. They had the decency to decline, saying that they doubted Nixon would be helpful before a largely African-American jury in Washington, D.C. Not to be put off, Nixon required the prosecutors to call him, though he made it clear that he would be supporting the defendants. He appeared on Oct. 29, 1980, amid demonstrators outside the court and hecklers within, who were forcibly removed by U.S. marshals at the judge’s order.

Under constructive cross-examination by defense lawyers, Nixon made a strong case for “warrantless searches” and pointed out that in his first year as president there had been 40,000 bomb scares, and 3,200 bombings that killed 23 people, injured hundreds, and did $20 million of property damage. He defended the conduct of Felt and Miller as necessary to defend the lives of the innocent. They were convicted anyway, but Nixon successfully lobbied incoming President Reagan to pardon them, and sent them champagne and congratulatory notes when they were pardoned. Felt in his memoirs made no mention of this, or of his status as Deep Throat, and when he came out of that closet in 2005, his coronation was not sullied by reference, in the major media, to Nixon’s determined help to his chief accuser. The irony alone should have made it a compelling story. But it was ignored, not to say stifled....

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