The Media Puts Racism on the Right

The partisan bias in the news media has had profound effect on the beliefs of the American people; not just on matters of opinion, but on matters of fact. There are many “facts” that are not actually true, that are none the less believed by a great majority of the American people, because of the power of constant repetition in the mainstream press.

The most striking of these might be the carefully-nurtured fiction that the Republican Party is the party of white racism.

During the 2000 presidential race, an Associated  Press article about Senator Bill Bradley, one of the leading Democrats in the race for the presidency, featured Bradley’s account of how he had come to switch parties back in the 1960’s: 

Bradley came to Washington in 1964 as a summer intern to Pennsylvania Rep. Richard Schweiker, a Republican, and quickly moved to the presidential campaign of Republican William Scranton.

But on his own that summer, he sat in the Senate gallery and watched the debate over the Civil Rights Act.

“That’s when I became a Democrat,” he says.

As with so many examples of media bias, the underlying premise of this article is more deceptive and dishonest than the article itself. When Bradley gave this account of his own decision to switch to the Democrat side of the aisle, he wasn’t worried about how terrible it would sound to people who know the actual history of the ’64 Civil Rights Act, because so few people do.

Thanks to decades of media malfeasance, most of the Americans who hear Bradley’s account will assume that he was a supporter of the Civil Rights act, who switched to the Democrat side because the Democrats were fighting for civil rights. The Associated Press writer who publicized Bradley’s story without comment saw no reason to challenge Bradley’s premise.

In actual fact, anyone who switched parties from Republican to Democrat after watching the Senate debates about the Civil Rights Act would have to be a Jim Crow racist who supports government-mandated discrimination against black people. The actual history of the Civil Rights Act is that Republicans overwhelmingly supported it (82% of them in the Senate), and Democrats were sharply divided. If Bradley sat in the Senate gallery that summer he was likely to have seen part of the filibuster that Southern Democrats conducted in an effort to kill the Act; it went on for fifty-seven days.  

Some of the Democrats who led the filibuster against civil rights would have been well known to Bill Bradly in 2000. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, once an “Exalted Cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan, was still in the Senate in ’00. Senator Al Gore Sr. of Tennessee was the father of the man who would defeat Bradley and take the party’s presidential nomination that year. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas took on an eager young protege named Bill Clinton just two years after he filibustered against civil rights, and Clinton was the sitting President when Bradley ran for the office. All three were committed segregationists who participated in the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act.  

Voters who depend on the major news media to keep them informed are making a mistake. The press is so single-mindedly partisan that media accounts of America’s political history tend to be more propaganda than fact. The partisan role reversal that the press has crafted in its portrayals of the civil rights movement is a classic example.

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