#MoralMondays and Media Bias: A Match Made in Raleigh

Raleigh-area media
Getting it wrong.

The steamed, er, esteemed Rev. William Barber (D-NC NAACP) officially kicked off “Moral Mondays” on April 29th, and as we get ready to head into our 7th Moral Monday march (there was no protest on May 27 due to the Memorial Day holiday) now is as good a time as any to provide a primer of sorts on how Moral Mondays are being reported on by what some have for years called our “state-run media.” However, since the state is now firmly in the hands of the Republican Party, it can’t really credibly be called “state-run media” anymore so for purposes of discussion we’ll just call it our left leaning NC mainstream media.  Specifically, the area conservatives look at as the base for Democrat-flavored news is Raleigh and surrounding/nearby cities like Durham, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro.

If you were to talk to the average conservative Joe or Jane Political Junkie in North Carolina on the subject of Raleigh-area liberal media bias, they’d probably tell you in no uncertain terms the veteran political reporters at news outlets like the Raleigh News and Observer, WRAL, and ABC11-WTVD “must be” dyed-in-the-wool Democrat voters because of the left wing slant obvious in their political reporting.  While that may be true, there could be another reason why coverage of state politics at these news outlets tilts so hard to the left, and it was explained by former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent back in July 2004 when answering to accusations of liberal bias at his own paper (bolded emphasis added here, and throughout):

TIMES publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. doesn’t think this walk through The Times is a tour of liberalism. He prefers to call the paper’s viewpoint ”urban.” He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means ”We’re less easily shocked,” and that the paper reflects ”a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.”

He’s right; living in New York makes a lot of people think that way, and a lot of people who think that way find their way to New York (me, for one). The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word ”postmodern” have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year — true fact! — and if that doesn’t reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I’m Noam Chomsky.

His opinion was echoed twice in 2011 by former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, and again by Keller in February 2012.  In a nutshell, both Okrent and and Keller wanted angry readers to understand that the bias inherent in their newspaper wasn’t intentional but instead was and is a result of the “progressive” environment in which most Times writers live, love, and work: the Big Apple.  That may be the case on a local level with the Triangle/Triad-area bias, that these news outlets are by and large catering to their markets – which are decidedly left wing when you consider that region of our state is a bastion of colleges and universities that couldn’t exactly be called “conservative” … not with a straight face, anyway.   These cities are also filled with liberal transplants from states up North, people who are understandably transferring more and more to big cities down south where the cost of living is less expensive, and where the politicians tend to be Democrats. Whether or not the journalists themselves are devoted Democrat loyalists or are simply writing to appeal to their audience is not something this column seeks to determine.  Whether it’s one or the other is not the point, anyway. The fact is the bias is there, it’s very real, and it influences  – for better or worse, in most cases worse – the opinions of people interested in keeping up with the goings on in state government.   What follows are a few examples.

On June 4th, the N&O published in their Under the Dome section a headline that read ‘McCrory says Monday protests are unlawful, unacceptable‘.  Reading it at face value – especially when all you get is the headline on Twitter, you’d think the Governor wasn’t a proponent of free speech and protest, and that’s most definitely how left wing social media aficionados took it.  Except the quote was wildly taken out of context, and you had to read the article itself to find out that what he was talking about wasn’t the outdoor protests but instead those taking it indoors and deliberately disrupting the business a majority of NC residents elected legislators to do in November 2012:

Gov. Pat McCrory said he welcomed lawful demonstrations, but said the civil disobedience of “Moral Mondays” should not be given “credence.”

“Unlawful demonstrations should be unacceptable,” he told reporters Tuesday following a meeting of the Council of State. “But lawful demonstrations we welcome. That is the great part of our democracy.”


“I prefer peaceful demonstrations in which you do not block access to getting the people’s work done,” McCrory said.

What a difference reading his actual quote makes, hmm?  Unfortunately, the nationally popular liberal site The Huffington Post picked up the Dome headline and ran with it, as did other partisan websites .  WRAL published an Associated Press report that ran with a similar headline (McCrory: NAACP protests unlawful, drain resources) and that particular story did not include any quotes from McCrory but did include a blurb about how he was ‘pleased with law enforcement’s handling of the arrests.’  Wow.  In short, someone reading that article would think that McCrory thought all protests were unlawful, and the sooner the  participants get arrested the better!  See how fast and far inaccurate information travels?

That same AP piece republished by WRAL linked to the original story on McCrory’s comments about Moral Monday, which were first reported by Raleigh-Durham TV station WTVD-ABC11, which provides us with example number two of a headline not matching the story itself.   The initial headline at the website, which has since been changed, read ‘Gov. Pat McCrory not impressed with NAACP’s ‘moral’ protests‘ – the first paragraph of the June 4th article was just a longer sentence to the headline:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is not impressed with the state chapter of the NAACP’s weeks-long protest of the conservative policies of the Republican-led General Assembly.

Except if you read the article, there is no quote from Gov. McCrory saying anything of the sort. Literally nothing.  He talks about the unlawfulness of the indoor protests, how he doesn’t plan on meeting with any of them, and of his relief that the protests – and arrests – have been non-violent.  That’s it.  An alert WTVD-ABC11 viewer, NC resident L.W. Weaton, pointed this out to the news station, and the headline to the story on the website was changed (Gov. Pat McCrory weighs in on NAACP’s ‘moral’ protests).  But the first paragraph is still on the website, and on their 11 pm broadcast that same night, Weaton watched as the anchors repeated the same “not impressed” falsehood. As you can imagine, Twitter leftists erupted again over the “news” that the Gov. was “not impressed” with their actions.  It should be stressed that it may have been the reporter’s opinion that the Gov. was not “not impressed” but straight reporting is supposed to be just that – straight reporting. Not impressionable journalistic interpretations that can’t be substantiated with a direct quote.

The final example comes from news station WRAL, which plays an active role on social media sites – especially Twitter, by way of the use of their @WRAL and @NCCapitol accounts.  After state GOP politicos and other conservatives began to complain that outsiders could be playing a hand at fueling the Moral Mondays protests, WRAL decided to conduct their own “investigation” into the matter so that readers and viewers would know once and for all if Republican accusations of “outsider” involvement had any validity.  Their methodology in determining this, however, was – to be charitable – laughable.    Not only that, but they managed to construct a false argument about what GOP legislators and others actually said about outside influences …and then proceeded to argue against it.  From their June 11 piece headlined ‘Most arrested in ‘Moral Monday’ protests from NC‘:

Police records indicate that 98 percent of those arrested during the “Moral Monday” protests at the General Assembly are from North Carolina, despite claims by leading Republicans that the rallies are packed with people from out of state.

First, not a single Republican has claimed the rallies are “packed” with people from out of state.  The claim is that there is a significant outsider influence and that some are even coming here to instigate and get involved in the rallies themselves.  There is a lot of truth to this accusation, considering Rev. Barber himself has stated, “”We have people here from as far away as New York, California and Florida”, and Moral Mondays participant and NY state SEIU leader George Gresham told WTVD, “”We need this fight in the whole country, and if we’re going to begin in North Carolina, so be it.”

However, the claim that “outsiders” are responsible for the rallies appears to be inaccurate based on the sample of those who have been arrested.

“Outsiders are responsible for the rallies”? Again, no one has claimed this – at all. Full stop. The inaccurate reporting of what’s actually being alleged about “outsider influence” is bad enough, but determining that most at the Moral Mondays  protests are from in-state by using arrest records from rallies whose numbers mysteriously jumped from one week to the next from just a few hundred to well over a thousand in attendance is even worse:

Of the 388 people who have been arrested over those six weeks, arrest records indicate only eight – or 2 percent – are from out of state. While not all who come to the rallies get arrested, the records provide the best verifiable snapshot into the makeup of the protesters.

“Best verifiable snapshot into the makeup of the protesters”? In what universe?  By this metric, how would WRAL measure the out of state influence on Tea Party rallies, since no one ever gets arrested at those? Using their faulty logic, we would conclude that most Democrats have arrest records, considering that it’s likely most if not all who have been arrested at these protests are liberal Democrats.  In reality, most in attendance at these rallies probably do not have arrest records, but it is amusing to take  the basis for their conclusions about protest attendees and run with it.

Most would agree that the majority of Moral Monday marchers are in-state liberals, disgusted by the super-majority enjoyed by the GOP in the general assembly as well as by the fact that both the Governor’s chair and Lt. Governor’s chair are now in use by Republicans.  Wouldn’t you be?  Democrats had control of this state for a long time, and aren’t doing well at having to get used to being out of power.  After over a century in charge, it can’t be easy. As to the other forces involved, the discussion will be hotly debated in the weeks to come regarding exactly what degree/role the SEIU and similar hard left out of state activist groups are playing in the protests (hint to the media: start asking questions).   And, of course, there will be a lot of news coverage coming from the same Raleigh-area news outlets whose errors in reporting have been well-documented, and not just by this writer.

Word of advice: Read beyond the headlines, and use your best deductive reasoning.  Don’t let them do your thinking and interpreting for you – and by all means, if you see something you think is inaccurate, email them or tweet them your concerns.  Understand they won’t always respond, won’t always agree, but in the instances they do make corrections, thank them.  Alert them often enough and it may be they’ll work harder in the future to try and get it right the first time around, rather than to have to correct after the fact long after the damage is done and false impressions given.  In this day and age, it’s just as important to interact and keep journalists accountable as it is public officials and elected representatives. Facts matter.

(Also posted at The Tarheel Report)

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