One of the best things an umpire can do to convince sports fans that he is unbiased is to be consistent: If you call something against one side, you need to call it on the other.
Being a journalist and an editor is a bit like being an umpire in an athletic contest. If you want a bunch of angry fans on your back, just violate the consistency rule a few times. They’ll forgive you the occasional mistake, but if you make a habit of always ruling against one side, your integrity is toast.
I was reminded of this when news broke that Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the subject of a probe by the FBI and the Justice Department’s public integrity unit. That’s a big story, something you’d think The Washington Post would put multiple reporters on.
After all, Northern Virginia is in the heart of the Post’s circulation area, and news that the commonwealth’s chief executive was under federal investigation is a big story, right?
Well, not so much.
The McAuliffe story was not on the front page on May 24, when you would have expected it to be. It wasn’t on page 2, or 3, or 4, or 5, or on any page in the 18-page front section. Instead, the editors of the Post put it in the Metro section, a placement that can only be described as “buried.”
This is the same paper that ran 140 stories on then-Sen. George Allen’s use of the word “macaca” in 2006, many of those on the front page. Allen was a Republican in a tight race against Democrat James Webb at the time, and many accused the Post of trying to drag down Allen’s support in Northern Virginia.
The editors protested that this was not the case, but the comparison to the McAuliffe story raises doubts.
Another news story that reminded me of the media’s “umpire” role was the Trump campaign’s reference a few times last month to the various Bill Clinton sex scandals of the ’90s, and Trump’s accusation that Hillary was Bill’s enabler in those escapades and led the “Bimbo Eruption” effort to intimidate and silence Bill’s victims.
Immediately, the mainstream media rushed to condemn Trump’s effort. Andrea Mitchell of NBC, for instance, called the well-known instances “discredited” and “just allegations,” when the public record shows plainly that they have been neither discredited, nor are they just allegations.
Liberal commentators on cable shows said Trump’s references to Bill’s past were a bridge too far because they happened so long ago, even as Hillary had announced just days earlier that she would give Bill the task of reviving the American economy should she win.
This is the same media that obsessed in 2012 over Mitt Romney giving a kid a noogie while in high school and going on vacation in 1983 with the family dog in a cage atop the family station wagon.
With “umpiring” like this, it’s no wonder that polls show support for the media at an all-time low and sinking.
Jon Ham (@rivlax) is a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.