Realistically, success buys respect in Washington. When the contemporary conservative movement got rolling in the 1960s and 70s, it didn’t have a track-record of success. But ever since 1980 or so the conservative movement has demonstrated, time and again, an ability to build national majorities around candidates who identify themselves with the conservative movement. The case for progressives is much weaker. But recall that Nancy Pelosi first took over as Democratic leader, the conventional wisdom was that the party was doomed. By winning in 2006 and 2008, she’s gained some respect from the press and if the House Democrats stay in power in 2010 she’ll earn more.I think this explains a lot more than Yglesias argues. The media's coverage of conservatives was fairly negative during 2005-2008, probably because they screwed up quite a few things. And the media's coverage of Democratic politics wasn't really too positive during Bush 43's first term, for obvious (and, frankly, not indefensible) reasons. Now, the media is more positive to conservatives because the media perceives that Republicans are gaining momentum with their arguments. It will be interesting to see how that coverage changes if the GOP has an average election night next year. One would imagine that they would be taken about as seriously as Labour was during the Thatcher years in Britain.
But I think the point that needs to be made here is that, while I think Yglesias is correct on this point, this is not the way that things should be. Covering one side more or less favorably based on their electoral success (or perceptions of it) strikes me as reasonable up to a certain point (I don't really think that news outlets need to cover the national convention of the Peace And Freedom Party, for example), but I do think that it is grossly unfair in the way it seems to play out these days. It might be reasonable, say, to cover the town hall healthcare protesters. But it is unreasonable to only cover the town halls that do have protesters (indeed, not all of them did). That is an editorial decision that doesn't convey the full story, and that makes a statement that distorts the reality of the thing. I guess it's a little passe to complain about how the media has lost all of its integrity in pursuing ratings and power, but I think the reason it's passe is because everyone realizes it and nobody wants to admit it.