Is the Mainstream Media Biased against Cindy Sheehan?

I argue that the answer to this question is "yes," in my latest media column for the Rocky Mountain News. Even though the media fawn over Mrs. Sheehan, they are so tied to the narrative of the grieving mother that they fail to report Mrs. Sheehan's views which strongly challenge the status quo. While her far-left supporters and her right-wing opponents both give her the respect of taking her views seriously enough to report and discuss them, most of the MSM shields its audience from learning about Mrs. Sheehan's radical critique of the United States.

(Comments enabled solely to discuss media coverage of Cindy Sheehan. Trolls who want to reargue the Iraq War will be deleted.)

Although I've certainly not researched it and don't review all news sources, my sense is that MSM coverage of Ms. Sheehan is likely reasonable.

Her ideas are not unique (and hence not particularly newsworthy). What is unique (and hence newsworthy) is that she lost her son in the war and she is "camping out" and has vowed to follow President Bush until he meets with her (again).

As far as I know (and, of course, perhaps, my understanding is incorrect due to misleading MSM coverage which has failed to reveal extensive education or experience) Ms. Sheehan has no special expertise or training related to public policy, governance, history, warfare, terrorism, Islam, Iraq or related matters. Clearly she is an expert in some sense on what it feels to lose one's son in military action and how one person (her) may respond to that -- and that tends to be what the MSM rightfully focuses on. There is no particular reason that her views should be disseminated in detail by the MSM any more than the views of a parent on the "other" side of the debate who lost their son in Iraq and believes we should "stay the course" and to do anything else would actual be squandering their son's life.

I believe most everything Ms. Sheehan says which are not simply inflammatory attacks has been said long ago, and more eloquently, by those more qualified to understand and explain the larger picture. The MSM, to some extent, reports the views of these other people (to the extent they don't, it seems to me it is because the MSM finds that "human interest" stories get more audience share than responsibly analytical discourse).

None of this of course means that Ms. Sheehan doesn't have the right to speak, just that no entity, including the MSM, has an obligation to parrot what she says.
8.27.2005 2:46pm
sbw (mail) (www):
> they fail to report Mrs. Sheehan's views which strongly challenge the status quo.

But you don't tell us what views have not been reported. How is one to know?

[Read my article which I linked to. DK]
8.27.2005 2:47pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
An interesting way of framing the question. The charitable interpretation is that the mainstream media don't want to report a grieving mother saying things most people would think beyond the pale, but also don't want to deny her the right to speak and be heard entirely. That isn't "bias" exactly, but it isn't treating her quite like a responsible adult either.

There is also, of course, the journalistic impulse to give a story a central line, and "grieving mother articulates what many Americans think about the Iraq war, while incidentally sounding occasionally like a raving loony" is tough material to do that with. Better to keep the resonating-with-much-of-the-country bits of her comments and leave out or minimize the remainder, or else recast the story entirely — but writers do hate having to do that.

The cynical question is whether the journalistic central line of a story about a conservative protest would concern the resonating-with-much-of-the-country component of it or the raving-loony part. I would like to think that it would, but I'm not sure. The role of A.N.S.W.E.R. in various anti-war protests, and the organization's ideology, made it into the mainstream papers only well after the protests themselves had been covered for some time, I think, and even then only because of non-mainstream-media nagging. But it's hard to know whether the coverage of extremists at protests on both ends of the spectrum is biased or not unless you know how many of them there are in the first place on each side.
8.27.2005 2:54pm
Darrin Ziliak:
Perhaps the real question might be are they protecting Cindy Sheehan from herself by not reporting her more 'outspoken' statements?
It seems to me that her supporters try very hard to paint her as a simple grieving mother who just wants GWB to tell her why her son died.
Her statements about the foreign 'freedom fighters', how she would now deny her son a military funeral, how Afganistan wasn't worth invading, and how this country isn't worth dying for would simply cause most Americans to dismiss her as yet another far-left crank instead of as a grieving mother that any parent can identify with and listen to.
8.27.2005 3:00pm
hf (mail):
It's really touching to see how concerned you are that Cindy Sheehan's being treated unfairly by the MSM.

Since you didn't learn about her "challenge the status quo" ideas from the MSM, which failed to report them, I have to assume you traveled to Crawford to interview her yourself? Or does Fox not count as MSM?

[That's a foolish assumption. If you bothered to read my article, you'd see I learned her views by reading them on Internet sites. I don't watch Fox News, or any other cable TV, so I don't know if they've done a good job of reporting her ideology.]
8.27.2005 3:06pm
truetanus (mail):
This is going to be short and to the point I promise. I happen to take a very predicatable stance for anyone who has been paying attention to mass media lately. They have spent too long inbredding with each other, and with the same j schools across the country. When there is no mechanism for checking relaity you are going to get that sort of thing. There was a period of like six decades when the radio, print, and television organizations had more power over public opinion then anyone had dreamed possible. They are playing that script over and over again. They simply cant see a different way.

Cindy Sheehan is the lastest step. Pro or antiwar, and who can say anymore they are sure where things are, they have played this all wrong. They moved it straight to the celebrity mode of coverage, and have never stopped to ask themselves what is the NEWS. I put that in caps because at this point she isnt news. Celebrity gets this kind of come and go 24 hours where is she now coverage. News get the one maybe three night treatment then we move on to more news. If it happened twenty four h ours ago it is history. The only way to keep covering Cindy and have it be news is if she was doing something newsworthy or even new. Instead it is the same old shlock even shehas been shilling. The reason you only see a short of her in the tent is that the cameraman is getting his coffee from the administration office building they have built next door, and after all. The news cant maeke itself part of the story can it.
8.27.2005 3:12pm
Goober (mail):
I find it curious you describe your column as addressing the question of whether the MSM is biased against this woman. Well, not "curious" so much as "patently dishonest." Your column isn't at all about about your conclusion set out up top; if you hadn't explained your argument in the post here, it wouldn't have occurred to anyone that you think the answer is yes. Everyone who reads the column alone will come away with the idea that you think the media is being too kind to a woman you think of as a reprehensible traitor.

Second, I really wouldn't have thought it needed to be pointed out, but the mainstream media is, in fact, full of people all to eager to make the claim that Cindy Sheehan is a disgusting human being and is actively hurting America. Your very column appears in a fairly major paper, does it not? Fox News covers the solely bad side of the story consistently. Yet you persist in pretending the "media" (of which you must concede you're a part) are engaged in some conspiracy of silence!

One last quibble:

That Sheehan urges the extermination of the Jewish state does not necessarily mean that she is anti-Semitic; there are some extreme-left Jews who agree with her position.

I have only met one person during my sheltered life who felt the state of Israel should not exist, a ultra-conservative (politically) Orthodox Jew of a very diasporic bent. So I disagree with the suggestion that only the left has such views.

I'd also like to point out that it is not only Jews who can oppose Israel without being anti-Semitic. (Purely as a logical matter; I'm a Jew and a Zionist so I can't speak from experience.) And it seems to me you are subtly accusing the non-Jewish Sheehan of anti-Semitism by suggesting otherwise---catty disclaimer notwithstanding.

That said, your column is mendacious, misguided, and given to casual intimations of anti-Semitism. No worse than that, but it would seem that were bad enough.
8.27.2005 3:24pm
Carol Anne:
I put Cindy Sheehan in the category with any celebrity: Famous, largely, for being famous, and a media creation.

I admire her courage to take a stand, and rue her ignorance of how she's being used. There's not much "drama" in poll numbers showing Bush losing support. But, the media can add "drama" by showing a lone woman and her coterie of supporters acting out the matter how ineffectively.

Starting with her credentials (mother of a slain soldier), and her activism (outspoken--often intemperately--against war in general, and this one in particular), she's a flame that's been fanned by domestic media. Remember, "controversy moves ink!" The media loves controversy: It attracts eyeballs, and eyeballs sell ads.

I think her qualifications to speak knowledgeably on topics of international diplomacy, conduct of war, or motivations of people she's never met are--to be charitable--nil.

She's a media creature, shaped by the media for media's ends. Without the media attention (and the attention of opponents, which are also fanned by media attention), she'd've gone home long ago. It'd lonely, sitting in the Crawford sun, alone. The media has made her the "center of a movement," a role for which she is woefully unprepared.

If she's learned (in any of the "schools for politicians" the major parties run) how to manage the media, and her participation in it, she might have become a nore effective spokesperson. But, she hasn't, and she isn't.

So, "Is the Mainstream Media Biased against Cindy Sheehan?" I don't think so. I think they're just engaged in the commercial practice of leveraging any erstwhile celebrity (even one of their own creation) to create controversy and sell eyeballs to advertisers.
8.27.2005 3:27pm
Goober (mail):
Truetanus made the point pretty short, but I think I can restate it shorter:

Whenever any story reflecting badly on the war gets more than 24 hours news coverage, it is evidence of anti-Bush bias.

Is that about right?
8.27.2005 3:27pm
I have been doing some research in the newpapers printed in the late 1940s. One difference between then and now is the reporting was very factual and to the point. No attempt at a narrative and an absence of over-reaching references in an attempt to guide the reader to an opinion. Brevity was the key to the reporting then.

Now, we have reporters interviewing other reporters and pundits more often and in greater length than they report on the facts.

If the subject of the story is too captivating to be relegated to the "old news" category, then the Media could use the technology available to completely and accurately report, not analyze or interpert, every public comment made by the latest "media idol" - Ms. Sheehan. I should be able to go the the CNN/MSNBC website and read complete transcripts of every speech she has made in front of reporter.

The only reason why the major newspapers and television channels do not fully and completely report her statements is that they are trying to protect the image they admire from the woman who is only too human and imperfect.
8.27.2005 3:37pm
Craig Oren (mail):
It seems to me that, if anything, the MSM are biased *toward* Cindy Sheehan. The more they publish her aspersions about Israeli influence and her praise of "freedom fighters", the less sympathy whe would attract.
8.27.2005 4:04pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I feel sorry for anyone who only knows about Cindy Sheehan from reading the New York Times and the Associated Press wire. We had a discussion about her in a law school class with about 35 people in it and I asked my classmates how many of them knew the story behind how her son was killed, and his true heroism. No one except me knew that he re-enlisted and volunteered to rescue his fellow soldiers when HE DID NOT HAVE TO. I then asked how many of them knew she already met with Bush and gave a completelt different account at the time. Only 1 other person knew. Then, I asked how many of them knew her family is begging her to stop doing what she is doing. No one knew.

If the media is biased against Mrs. Sheehan, then I have been in a coma for the past few weeks. They are biased for her because they are using her to say what they really want to say on their own. They run her comments in bold, deleting the anti-Israel and other ridiculous leftist nonsense, and can say they are only "reporting the story." Thanks to the internet, the MSM doesn't control the story anymore.
8.27.2005 4:50pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
I wrote on this at my blog. Here is what I had to say, without the links active.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I thought I would write about Cindy Sheehan and other grieving parents in the public eye. The sad truth is, every time a grieving parent is in the public eye, someone is trying to exploit them. That doesn't mean they don't have an agenda of their own (think of MADD), but that they don't get anything for free.

That said, having given myself some time, I am still appalled by the exploitation of Ms. Sheehan by those on all sides.

First, I'm not happy with those who are using her to promote an agenda -- for either side (either as a stalking horse or a free target). The one side should have more decency, the other hand should leave her out of things in their discussions.

Second, (in a very related way) I am offended by those who are using her as media fodder. The first group exploits directly, the second group exploits reactively. If you suffer grief, you may very well run into both kinds. The one seeks to turn you into a cypher, the second type seeks to make use of you as a cypher.

For those exploiting her, on the one hand they delight every time she is attacked. They revel in it. Every attack strengthens that group regardless of which side they are on (attacking or defending).

The second group feeds off of the attacks and makes them continue -- the term media circus has some real meaning in this instance, it is a circus. Either the second group is doing its best to help the first group, or the second group is exploiting Ms. Sheehan for their own benefit, or they are so clueless as to make one question their competence. Who sees any real analysis? Who sees any real kindness?

You will see the same thing in local news when a child dies of hard drugs or steroids in a high school and a parent speaks out.

Ask yourself.

If a thousand sons and daughters had died in Iraq (or perhaps 1853), leaving two thousand parents (drop some for orphans, add some for step parents) and only one of those parents acts out in what you consider a loopy fashion, should you conclude:

1) That one out of two thousand is a fully competent adult knowingly doing something crassly wrong who needs to be shamed and humiliated as an example for other grieving parents (I listened to a radio personality do just that, though when I called him on it, he backed off in a letter to me), or

2) They are suffering under the disability of grief and being exploited?

3) The person just wants media attention?

I suggest to you that if #1 is correct in the first half (a fully competent adult knowingly doing something), then people who say Cindy Sheehan is the most courageous woman in America and should be president may have something. If she is fully competent and knowing, then she may be right and she is definitely courageous. The more competent she is to face criticism, the more she acts from reason and knowledge rather than emotion and being exploited, the less she deserves any criticism.

If #2 is correct, attempts to shame them do nothing but feed and support those who are trying to use her to get attention -- and in a way that makes Sheehan look correct.

If #3 is right, any attention rewards them.

I think that public shaming attempts -- especially of a parent who has lost a child within the last year or so -- are useless, crass and exploitative, and do nothing but encourage those who would exploit the vulnerable. If the person just wants attention, it gives them the attention they crave in an atmosphere that provides them with enough positive voices that the public shaming attempt never reaches them and enables exploitation.

With each attack, the both sides are strengthened and those who have exploited Ms. Sheehan (if she is being propped up) are rewarded. Real dialogue, which this country needs, and real respect for death and loss and sacrifice, all of those are lost.

Now, as for someone who is exploiting a grieving parent, I think stringing someone along to make them a target for such public shaming attacks is evil and heartless. Drawing the poor family into things is sad.

I don't know Ms. Sheehan's heart and I've seen a lot on the war in Iraq to where I am unwilling to agree that she is correct or insist that she is wrong.

However, I can understand how she could believe as she does regardless if she has a noble or a crass purpose. I don't know how much of those feeding off of her, from both sides, raven like wolves attacking a wounded deer rather than are responsible for the wounding in the first place.

But I know that public shaming attempts against such a parent are useless, less than productive and shameful.

People who have buried children, when they make mistakes or act out in public, need first and foremost to be allowed space and quiet.

If her critics are truly right (if any of the critics of those in grief are right), what Ms. Sheehan needs and deserves is to be allowed her act in private.

If she is right, then what she really needs is people to make the issue about the dialogue and the concepts and thoughts and not about her.

Too often the grieving are exploited, by both sides (or all sides or any side) and then discarded. As human beings we deserve more both in the grieving and how we relate to it.

My two bits. I'll probably take this post down after a while, but I wanted to vent a little myself.

Post script:

I was asked which blogs I would condemn as exploiting Cindy Sheehan. None. I do not see blogs as significant in what is going on in her case, and I do believe that there is plenty of room to comment and review without exploitation.

Maybe if I read more blogs, but I don't see them as a factor in what is going on with this example or with most grieving parents (other than the fact that many of them do have blogs)
8.27.2005 6:02pm
Mark H.:
Brian G: "Thanks to the internet, the MSM doesn't control the story anymore."

They may not control it anymore, but their "push" methodology is obviously still way too effective, as proven by your own example: Out of 35 people in the class only one of them had enough interest to "pull" the complete information off the Net for himself.

That does seem to reflect a surprising amount of apathy given the story has been splashed everywhere for weeks -- surely 34 of 35 people don't just accept what the MSM is telling them, or to rephrase: say it ain't so!
8.27.2005 6:08pm
She showed her path to peace: "You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism." (The Crawford "Peace" House, which Sheehan has used to coordinate her protest, has a photo on its Web site depicting "Palestine" as including the entire state of Israel. That Sheehan urges the extermination of the Jewish state does not necessarily mean that she is anti-Semitic; there are some extreme-left Jews who agree with her position.)

The above quote is from Kopel's column. Of course, a fair-minded person would not assume that Sheehan actually wants the destruction of Israel, but simply an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza - she obviously didn't make that website herself, and does not coordinate every detail that appears on it with her own personal worldview.

But what's worse is the use of the word "extermination". No one uses that word to describe the abolishment of a state. Kopel is using that word to get readers to make a mental association of Sheehan with Nazis and the Holocaust.

What a disgusting, dishonest smear.
8.27.2005 6:37pm
Rick Ballard (mail):
Brian G.,

I don't follow your reasoning. If bias means non-objective reporting of a persons views then the media is certainly biased against Sheehan based upon her quotes as presented in Kopel's column. The media is not reporting the message that she is (apparently) adamant about presenting. What could be more biased than that?

Mark H.,

And apathy among the ill-informed is bad because...?
8.27.2005 6:39pm
James968 (mail):
I'd agree that they are protecting her from herself.
8.27.2005 7:11pm
Mark H.:
Rick Ballard: "And apathy among the ill-informed is bad because...?"

...because they answer poll questions that provide the MSM with talking points they'd not otherwise be able to exploit. Oh, and because they vote...
8.27.2005 7:13pm
Rick Ballard (mail):
Mark H.,

Oh no. The wonderful thing about the ill-informed (39% of the eligible voting age population in 2004) is that they don't vote. Perhaps some of them participate in the MSM puechased polls but the well paid Dem operatives and the well motivated Rep volunteers couldn't drag them out to vote with their best efforts. The MSM bias against Sheehan is aimed at the 26% of the voting population who do not declare affiliation and the 20% of registered Dem who might suffer some twinges concerning unbiased reporting giving the full thrust of Sheehan's message.

It's not really a Dem/Rep thing though, because politicians of both parties recognize a political plague carrier. One might think that the MSM will fall silent concerning Sheehan very soon.
8.27.2005 8:36pm
What is the story? What Cindy Sheehan is saying, or what she is doing? What Cindy Sheehan is doing, or what the President is [not] doing?

You assume that the story is "What is Cindy Sheehan saying", which as far as I can tell, few people think is particularly relevant or interesting. And then you propose that the press is biased against her for not depicting her as a complete loon. I think you are wrong on the first count (the story is ultimately about the President), and that your second argument is nonsensical.

But then, how can you pretend to care about the truth of the message when you purport that a silly statement like "You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you'll stop the terrorism" translates into "Sheehan urges the extermination of the Jewish state". Did you forget to include a statement that actually supports your claim?

That is, did you forget to include facts that would support your assertion, or are you trying to smear Sheehan with claims you cannot support?
8.27.2005 8:37pm
G Wiz (mail):
One thing I have noticed is that many of the MSM reports I read and hear about Cindy fail to mention that Bush has already met with her once. They almost always leave off with something like, 'she has vowed to follow Mr Bush until he meets with her' - leaving out the again part.

I think when all is said and done, the Cindy Sheehan coverage will be looked back on as even worse than Rathergate. just my .02
8.27.2005 8:53pm
What is the story? What Cindy Sheehan is saying, or what she is doing? What Cindy Sheehan is doing, or what the President is [not] doing?

None of the above, I'd say. If the story was really about Sheehan wanting to meet the President, the MSM would have simply observed that she already did meet the President and left it at that.

The actual story, I'd say, is "look, here's a grieving mother we have a flimsy excuse to put on the news every night". Sheehan's actual views clash with that story, because her actual views make it obvious that, all grief aside, she's fundamentally not a good person.
8.27.2005 8:56pm
Mark H.:
Rick Ballard,

I take your point that the ill-informed are less likely voters and will stipulate for the purposes of this discussion that your 39% stat is correct. However, Brian G. was positing a 97% number -- of law students at that. Surely a good percentage of those will vote, just based on the difference between your 39 and his 97.

Now it is certainly likely that this isolated subject matter caused a higher number not to be curious enough investigate further (it is, in the end, a pretty boring story), but I'll resubmit that even if they don't vote (this isolated group, or your 39% group), they will likely answer a poll question from an uninformed position, thus add grist for the MSM agenda du jour.
8.27.2005 11:19pm
The Plumber (www):
How much of the press is liberal or left-leaning? Well, for the ten years I have gone to universities, 70%. As a very red-state midwesterner, my university is not overrun by leftists (except the liberal arts). I can just imagine that the percentage would be higher at a place like Columbia (who, no doubt have a leg-up on the
best MSM jobs). A moron with half a brain can assert (correctly) that the MSM has a leftist bias. This moron can then assume that they don't like conservatives (Bush).

The leftists like Sheehan assert the the MSM is owned by evil corporations which are run by evil Republicans. They are ignorant or ignore that most of the coverage of a story is made by leftists who were sent to cover the story by another leftist (editor-a reporter who rose thru the ranks). They have only one obligation: to get their way.

To this end, they have the dual task of limiting (or completely ignoring) coverage of competing ideas as well as protecting their own (message and messenger). In this case, the MSM is not only serving a dual purpose (make Bush look bad, while protecting Sheehan), they are also protecting the Clinton Administration.

Is there any doubt that "Able Danger" is a much bigger story? Bigger than Iran-Contra, bigger than Watergate (Remember the media coverage of those events? Remember the posturing politicians? Remember which party was in the WH?). If you don't know what "Able Danger" is, then my point is proven and the media has gotten its way.

The folks who read this site are some of the best educated in the country. I wonder how many of Plato's "masses" know about "Able Danger".

Yes Cindy, your son may have died for a lie. A lie that lives to this day. Unfortunately for you and the MSM, it is Bill Clinton's lie, not Bush's.
8.27.2005 11:24pm
The General:
The MSM have collectively decided that discrediting Bush and the War in Iraq is more important than anything else. To that end, they use figures like Sheehan to get that message across. When run of the mill Americans hear the story the MSM has framed, i.e., grieving mother of a slain soldier now questions why we are even in Iraq, they may themselves question our motives for being in Iraq, and thus makes Bush looks bad. This story in turn creates the impression of anti-Bush/Irag War sentiment in this country when none exists, or that it exists largely among the same left wingers who opposed the war all along.

Sheehan's left wing kook views undermine that story because to report them would also report why she should be ignored and discounted as a fringe leftist. This simultaneous reporting would thus hurt the MSM/left's attempt to build momentum against the war. If you don't believe this to be the case, see the example of the Jersey Girls whose accusations that Bush was using 9/11 for political gain were largely discounted and ignored after it was discovered that they were part of a leftist group opposed even to the war in Afghanistan, they endorsed John Kerry and were otherwise seen as partisan. That episode provided a useful example of how to hide inconvenient facts that discredit the messenger.

The MSM bias isn't biased against Sheehan or her message per se, so much as it is trying to protect its overall anti-Bush/Iraq War message and her anti-Bush, anti-Israel, anti-American statements inconveniently get in the way. So does the fact that she has already met with Bush once or that her family opposes what she is doing. Sheehanoia represents nothing more than a useful news vehicle for portraying that message. When she is no longer useful, the cameras will disappear and the MSM will find some other tool to spread their anti-Bush/Iraq war message.
8.28.2005 12:53am
Rick Ballard (mail):
Mark H.,

I am completely unsurprised by the fact that 97% of the law students that Brian G. commented on were ill-informed. Most of them were probably very recent college graduates and all of them are engaged in what is generally considered rather focused activity. My primary contact with recent graduates over the past ten years has been with people entering ministry and 97% would seem a rather reasonable number based on personal observation of around 100 candidates. Many had strong opinions but very few had actual facts (such as the 39%) in hand.

I agree completely with your assertion that many of them will vote and just as many will regurgitate on command for the MSM paid pollsters. I would still maintain that the 39% who do not vote and remain unsullied by MSM indoctrination are a national treasure. It's tough enough breaking through to the college indoctrinated without having to spend additional resources on the unconscious.

In a perfect world I am sure that a well informed and intelligent electorate is a joy for all concerned. Here on Earth in the US I'd just as soon leave those incapable of rational differentiation alone. If they're happy, I'm happy.
8.28.2005 1:35am
Stephen Aslett (mail):
In a few days, 50,000 or more people could die in the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

I was born, raised, and live in New Orleans. It is conceivable that within the next 72 hours, the home I grew up in will no longer be there. It could be weeks before people are allowed back into the city.

We've known about this potential disaster for years. Our representatives and senators have asked for more aid for just as long. We get token amounts, sure, but in reality we're simply not important enough to spend money on. No--we must make sure that the navy has the latest nuclear submarines and that Witchita, Kansas gets its homeland security funding.

It's not a sexy story, sure. It's not fast-breaking or one that can be neatly split into liberal or conservative perspectives. There are a lot of stories like that. I wish we heard more about them before the body bags get piled up.

But anyway, I'm sorry I interrupted. Please continue. That Cindy Sheehan is something, isn't she?
8.28.2005 3:42am
Biff said:

The above quote is from Kopel's column. Of course, a fair-minded person would not assume that Sheehan actually wants the destruction of Israel, but simply an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza - she obviously didn't make that website herself, and does not coordinate every detail that appears on it with her own personal worldview.

When I read Koppel's column, I had trouble with that paragraph as well. If we give the anti-war crowd the benefit of doubt that they actually do want to accomplish their ends by non-violent means, "extermination" seems to be the worst possible choice of words.

But while we are extending the benefit of doubt, let's also give Mr. Kopel the same courtesy and resist using words like "smear", shall we?

You know, Mr. Kopel has a point when he says that the media has generally avoided reporting Mrs. Sheehan's more radical views. My assumption is that this is done to avoid damaging her credibility. The press understands printing the rants of a radical are the surest way to turn people off.

Of course, the reason behind this is as clear to me as it probably is to most people - the press wants to keep this story alive. They don't want to kill it by turning Mrs. Sheehan into Al Sharpton - they need this story.

Kopel notes in his article:

In other words, Sheehan's use of inflammatory rhetoric is an important part of her communication strategy. Yet even as the mainstream media has fawned over her campout, it has neutered her message, refusing to print her statements which are intended to get people off the fence.

Well. There are a lot of conclusions being drawn there from precious little evidence, but that is certainly one way to look at it. I do have my doubts, however, about the suggestion that Sheehan has anything resembling a "communications strategy" and would suggest the media has done that for her. I haven't heard her utter complaints about her message not appearing in the media, so I assume she is satisfied with the coverage and feels comfortable enough with it to amplify her views beyond the Iraq war proper and the death of her son.

All in all, this column makes a good point, but seems unpersuasive to me. There are lots of conclusions that one could draw from the facts presented that make as much or more sense than the ones Mr. Kopel arrives at.
8.28.2005 9:28am
Sylvain Galineau (mail):

If it is a question of bias, I'm not sure whether it's a positive or negative one. Not reporting her radical views certainly can make her appear more reasonable and respectable for millions who would otherwise recoil. Likewise, it may also prevents other likeminded radicals from recognizing a kindred soul. So whether the media is biased for or against her depends in a large part on what side of this particular fence you are more comfortable with.

But first, where did you get your quotes from if the media does not report her statements ?
8.28.2005 10:10am
Anton (mail):
It surprises me, on a blog full of economists, that so many readers are jumping to conclude that this is the result of anti-Bush bias. Maybe it is, but the media exist to make a profit too. It's August, and there isn't much in the way of real news, so they won't make any money unless they manufacture some. Reporting on Sheehan in a way that makes her appear a crank (which she may be - I haven't followed this story at all) would make the public cease to care about the story, and then the media couldn't make any money off it.

Of course anti-Bush bias may play a role as well.

Incidentally, Dave, could you please stop pretending to be defending Sheehan from bias when what you really want is to discredit her? She's made herself a public figure, so there's nothing wrong with criticizing her views, but don't insult our intelligence while you're at it.
8.28.2005 10:41am
JGUNS (mail):
Here is another typical example of the leftwing bias of the news, represented by typical denial of those on the left. Whenever a blatant example of MSM liberal bias is pointed out, those on the left STILL refuse to see it. There isn't enough evidence, or the MSM is simply acting to journalistic "standards" that call for promoting a story.
8.28.2005 10:44am
RogerA (mail):
I am sure there are multiple reasons for the Cindy Sheehan story--the cynic in me suggests things like a 24 hour news cycle and the usual news doldrums of August have much to do with the current fascination, both pro and con--rather a way, IMHO, of mobilizing your reader base. When the president returns to Washington and the Roberts hearings start (or god forbid, New Orleans takes a direct hit tomorrow), Cindy Sheehan will be just a memory. This whole brouhaha is an indictment of modern American media and its extreme shallowness coupled with idiocy of the commentariat (Present company on VC excepted of course)
8.28.2005 11:11am
Bill Dalasio (mail):
I rather strongly suspect that the media bias at play here is not some sort of conspiracy of silence, so much as a function of the views of most of those in the media. Put bluntly, most of those in the media are politically mainstream liberal. To them, Sheehan's extremism is one of those cringe matters (I recall them myself from the other side during the Clinton administration.) that is really ancilliary to the "real story". To those on the right and to Sheehan's fellow radicals, however, her extremism isn't ancilliary. The right views her statements as illustrative of why there's not really a story there at all, and her fellow radicals view her extremism as the moral of the story. Nonetheless, the media's coverage really results more from the shared sensibilities of those in our national media (a more pernicious problem than some liberal media conspiracy) than it does any active attempt to slant the news.
8.28.2005 12:04pm
JoeSlater (mail):
I've said my piece about Sheehan on the other thread, so I'll just add here this question: "doldrums of August/nothing is going on?" Really? Just on the Iraq/Mid-east alone, I thought there was a constitutional process in Iraq that could make or break the entire enterprise we've been discussing; an historic pullout from Gaza by Israel; an amazing shift of public opinion against the war and Bush generally; etc., etc. Just because Congress isn't in session doesn't mean incredibly important things aren't happening in the world.

Sheehan is the media's attempt to put a face/"human interest" angle on the public's increasing disenchantment with Iraq. It's not great journalism, but it ain't because nothing else is going on (or because of left-wing bias in the media).
8.28.2005 12:22pm
Stephen F. (mail) (www):
So, "Is the Mainstream Media Biased against Cindy Sheehan?" I don't think so. I think they're just engaged in the commercial practice of leveraging any erstwhile celebrity (even one of their own creation) to create controversy and sell eyeballs to advertisers.

I disagree. If they were merely trying "to create controversy," then why do they not report so many controversial aspects of the story? Things like how she allegedly claimed her son died for Israel in an e-mail to Nightline, then denied writing that e-mail despite credible evidence to the contrary? It was National Review's Stephen Spruiell who kept on that story, not the network she sent the e-mail to (ABC) or the network she was on when she denied it (CNN) or "America's Newspaper of Record" or any other major media outlet. Has anybody asked her if she supports the Peace House website using her name to promote "Palestine" covering the entire state of Israel? What about her participation in Rep. Conyer's faux impeachment hearing? Her opposition to the war in Afghanistan? If the media is trying to "create controversy," why not report those facts as prominently as they've reported the rest of her protest? It's because doing so would create a kind of controversy counter to their liberal agenda.
8.28.2005 1:08pm
Bewildered in Boston (www):

Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry's fame) is the money man behind Cindy Sheehan.

So, it's all a scam.

Especially when you consider the Dioxin content of that crap they call ice cream.

And when you consider how much destruction their production methods cause to the ozone layer (no rBGH means more cows for less milk; hello methane!), you have to realize the simple truth:

Ben Cohen killed Casey Sheehan.
8.28.2005 1:58pm
pbswatcher (mail) (www):
The media, mainstream and otherwise, are not biased for or against Sheehan. The media do not care at all about Sheehan one way or another except insofar as she is a useful tool for pushing an agenda. If you are anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War you paint her as a grieving Mom asking for simple justice and omit anything which doesn't support the story line, thus hoping to produce maximum embarrassment for Bush. If you are pro-Bush, pro-war you paint her as a conniving moonbat and omit anything that doesn't support that story line, hoping to produce maximum embarrassment for the anti-war movement. The biases have to do with domestic politics not Cindy Sheehan. Once she is no longer seen as a useful tool by both sides, she will immediately drop from public view.
8.28.2005 2:50pm
Jeffrey Zeth (mail) (www):
My family and I were talking about this subject this morning. I get most of my news from NPR, and I was dismayed to find out today (from Fox News) that Cindy Sheehan met with George Bush once before. Possibly I am the only person in the U.S. not to know this, but it was omitted from almost all the public radio coverage of Cindy Sheehan. It stands to reason that, if George W. Bush met with her once and has nothing more to say to her, he would decline to meet with her again. But NPR reports it as though he's just refusing to meet with a bereaved mother who lost her son as the result of Bush's heartless policies. Why would NPR leave this crucial bit of information out?
8.28.2005 3:22pm
The Plumber (www):
Jeffrey Zeth,

You didn't know that NPR is a leftist organization? Why would NPR, as a leftist media outlet, tell you this?

Thank goodness you happen to watch Fox every now and then, huh?
8.28.2005 9:45pm
Observer (mail):
" I do have my doubts, however, about the suggestion that Sheehan has anything resembling a 'communications strategy' and would suggest the media has done that for her." No true - recent reports say that Ben Cohen (of Ben &Jerry's Ice Cream) is paying for the professional PR firm that is handling the Cindy Sheehan message.
8.29.2005 11:20am
Brian G (mail) (www):
Thanks for the responses.

The MSN is not reporting fully what Cindy Sheehan is saying for the same reasons they don'r fully report what Howard Dean says: They know they sound like rambling idiots, and are protecting them. Really, in Mrs. Sheehan's case, who wants to listen to her rant about Israel?

I feel sorry for her sometimes. She has been taken full advantage of many people with money and an agenda. Then, I see how much of a publicity prostitute she has become, then I don't feel sorry for her.

I'm sure by the end of the day we'll hear how Karl Rove seeded the clouds to cause the hurricane that would take Mrs. Sheehan off the front pages.
8.29.2005 12:15pm