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Monday, November 17, 2008

Washington Post: We do have a liberal bias

At least one newspaper in the U.S. is busy trying to deal with the perceptions that they were too liberal, and too in-the-tank for Obama -- The Washington Post.

The Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has put together a second reflective piece about their coverage of the U.S. election. The first one concluded that The Post gave far too much positive coverage of Obama, while giving far too little positive coverage of McCain. This one concludes that The Post really should be a little more critical of news stories, photo placements, and so on, as well as try to hire more conservatives, if possible.

Howell's opening paragraphs, however, included this:

Journalism naturally draws liberals; we like to change the world. I'll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don't even want to be quoted by name in a memo.

It wasn't always like this, and I'm curious why the change in the journalism industry. Once upon a time, newspapers took their "fourth estate" role very seriously. They viewed themselves and their profession as outright critics of whoever was in charge of government. It wasn't about "changing the world," it was about keeping the government in check.

Journalists were noble curmudgeons. The better newsrooms reeked of cigarettes and alcohol. The quintessential journalist, as far as I'm concerned, was H.L. Mencken -- a man who took no guff, had no stars in his eyes, was cynical, and vicious with his pen. For Mencken, it didn't matter who was in office, his job as journalist was to oppose the governors of the day, and to oppose government in general. I still see that as the best vision for what a journalist ought to be.

So how did journalism become a profession for partisan cheerleaders? Opinion pages are chock full of either Democrats or Republicans, rather than liberals or conservatives. Sean Hannity, for example, is a Republican first, conservative pundit second. He's critical of Republicans for not being conservative, until the election writ is dropped. Then he's got pom-poms in hand chanting his anti-Democrat slogans, just like far too many so-called "conservatives" in the U.S. punditocracy. And the same is true of the left-wing pundits, who might criticize Democrats in non-election years, but then don their pom-poms when it's election season.

More excerpts:

Journalists bristle at the thought of their coverage being viewed as unfair or unbalanced; they believe that their decisions are journalistically reasonable and that their politics do not affect how they cover and display stories.[...]

The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama. It's not hard to see why conservatives feel disrespected.

Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.

Rosenstiel said, "There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism. We need to be more vigilant and conscious in looking for bias. Our aims are pure, but our execution sometimes is not. Staff members should feel in their bones that unfairness will never be tolerated."

Read the rest.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on November 17, 2008 in Media, U.S. politics | Permalink


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"So how did journalism become a profession for partisan cheerleaders?"

The theory to which I tend to subscribe: The turning point was when it was no longer possible to get a job as a newspaper reporter without first obtaining a university degree, particularly a "Journalism" degree. Once the academy had direct control over who was deemed worthy of the title of "journalist", reporters-in-training had to set independent thought aside in favour of keeping their professors happy. In the "good old days" of the smoke-filled news room inhabited by ink-stained wretches, prospective reporters could gain employment by impressing the editor with their writing samples, not their university credentials.

Posted by: Anonymous | 2008-11-17 12:34:27 PM

Back in the Nixon days, the idea that the press was the opposition took a turn. No longer were they just nattering nabobs of negativism who criticised whoever was in power, but they were cast as *poponents* of the other side. The growth in the complaints about the "liberal media bias" grew and were trotted out whenever a Republican was in power (like the 12 years under Reagan and Bush) and the press hinted a word of criticism. Republicans *thrived* on telling the masses that the press cannot be trusted, and the dumber folks bought it and voted accordingly.

They also started consuming media accordingly, and so went shopping for media that fed their preconceptions. Talk radio was the great benficiary of that. As for the most significant pillars of the mainstream media, especially on television, it was considered less risky to bring on the pundits of declared alliagances (one from each party, preferred) than to do actual analysis of their own. Rather than have a CNN reporter provide that analysis, have Larry King on with a panel of party strategists and let them spin to their heart's content. CNN does not get labeled as biased as a result and the job of figuring out who is bullshitting them (answer: both) was left to the viewer. Fox's slogan "We report, you decide" is a perfect description of this.

But also as modern technology progressed, it was easier to get into the media business. Also, political parties began to really see the value of as much slanted reporting as they could muster. (Remember the scandal of the Bush administration planting fake news stories?) So now the prevaling assumption is that all reporters are the mouthpiece of one party or another, whether they admit it or not. And for too many of them, they see the perks of just jumping on a party bandwagon as security - like joining a gang in prison. (Tony Snow got White House employment for it.)

There still are many good people out there who report without bias or who opine without being just a party mouthpiece (George Will and Andrew Coyne come to mind of the latter). But so long as there is an advantage to be gained by it, there will be political operatives out there trying to cast any and all journalists as members of sleeper cells.

When the Washington Post says they gave too much positive coverage of Obama, while giving far too little positive coverage of McCain, I wonder if that is really true. Should the measure be whether or not the coverage was equally positive/negative? Or should it be whether the degree of positivity/negativity reflected what their campaigns deserved? Of course, anyone suggesting the latter will quickly and loudly be called a mouthpiece for the Dems. Heck, even around here I have lost count of the number of times people react to my comments by accusing me of being a party loyalist, even though I am not nor ever have been a member of any party. It's just how the game is played today.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-11-17 12:37:43 PM

Factcheck, the media is biased for Obama. Chris Matthews(of MSNBC fame) said Obama gave him a tingly feeling up his leg. Also, he said that he will do what he can to help Obama be a successful president. Funny, he never felt that way when a Republican was in charge. A female reporter said that meeting Obama was so overwhelming that she could barely speak. A third reporter said on the DOn Imus show(on WABC 770 am in NYC) that Obama was a great man who had the highest i.q. of any U.S. president. Yet, when Imus questioned him the man said he had no idea what Obama's i.q. was. In a newsweek article, he was given a Jesus like appearance. In the most recent Time magazine cover, he is depicted as a new FDR. MSNBC is selling a pro-Obama DVD. Funny, no reporters said such nice things about Reagan and he won more votes(58%) or George H. Bush(53%). Instead, Reagan was always portrayed in the U.S. media as a warmonger or an intellectual buffoon(same things used on G.W. Bush, Ford, and Dan Quayle).The truth is that CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC,PBS(15% government funded) and most newspapers are in the tank for the left. The only real opposition comes from talk radio and FOX News. Even this opposition might be further limited by the Farness Doctrine(calls for equal time on radio for right and left voices). The Democrats want to apply this doctrine to talk radio but refuse to apply it to television or newspapers. The reason is that only talk radio really criticizes Obama. After all, Obama is the new messiah so negative talk is forbidden. Who knows, maybe the next mainstream media story will be that Obama's touch cures all illnesses? Or how about Obama's so perfect that he can turn water into wine, cure hunger by multiplying loafs of bread, and has a glow that illuminates his whole body. Get over it people! Obama is not brillant. He is simply part of an advertising campaign that has been sold to the public. Look at his record, it is a mixture of far left votes and the guts to vote present 180 times. He supports giving citizenship to illegals, closing Guantanamo, would have had us turn tail and run in Iraq(which has since proved the messiah wrong), favors $1 trillion in new spending, higher taxes, unrestricted abortion, supported handgun ban in Illinois Senate, and wants to cut the defense budget by 25% at a time of war. Obama's no messiah. He is just a younger version of Jimmy(attack my embassy in Iran and order the guards not to resist) Carter.

Posted by: Jacob | 2008-11-17 9:50:54 PM

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