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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our liberal press

According to most polls, approximately 90% of reporters vote Democratic. It would be the height of naivete to imagine that their their viewpoints do not seep out beyond the editorial pages.

When I argue with liberals about this they will often say, "Well what about Fox News?" This is tacit acknowledgment that ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC all lean the other way. Not to mention the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, etc, etc.

Two liberal friends, both smart guys, when presented with the 90% figure, each tried to argue, well, why do you think it is that reporters are liberal? One explained, "Once people have been out in the world for a while, once they've traveled and seen how things work, they tend to become more liberal."

What utter rubbish.

This presupposes two things. First is that reporters somehow start out at age 22 or 23 as blank slates, without any established political bias. Or maybe that they started out conservative, but then turned more liberal as they get older.

We've all heard the old quote, "If you're not liberal when you're young, you don't have a heart. And if you're not conservative when you're old, you don't have a brain." This overstates the case on both sides, but it is rare to see someone move leftward as they get older (and presumably wiser); usually the drift is in the other direction. There is no reason to think that reporters would be any different.

And the majority of people never change affiliations at all. (Can you picture the 24-year-old Barbra Streisand as a Young Republican?)

Ironically, the set of people who change their political affiliations the most often seem to be politicians. But this is less a matter of shifting core beliefs than political expediency. Senator Lieberman didn't change his affiliation from Democrat to Independent because he had a change of heart. He did so because he lost the Democratic primary in Connnecticut. If you look closely at other cases you'll find similar motivations.

The second presupposition of my friend's argument is that newpapers and television networks are somehow mini-democracies, where reporters of any persuasion can just sign up and slant the news whichever way they choose.

Not quite. It's the owners and managers of the media who will determine what its tone will be. The Sulzberger family doesn't write the editorials on the back pages of the New York Times. Nor do they compose the headlines on the front page. But they do choose which editors will do so, and they would never pick an editor whose views didn't reflect their own. Those editors in turn hire and fire those beneath them. So the masthead ends up very monochromatic, as it is with most of the national news media. (Maybe this has something to do with why so many reporters have a built in distrust for large corporations.)

There are plenty of conservative writers who would love to have their views publicized in a major newspaper like the Times. But you'll never see them there. Because people who don't toe the party line are either let go or simply sent to the gulag, i.e., assigned lesser beats. They often end up writing for local newspapers in Butte or Bangor. This tends to makes journalism a much less appealing profession for conservatives.

The NY Times has long had the motto, "All the news that's fit to print." This is supposed to make one appreciate that they don't print trashy tabloid gossip of the sort that lesser newspapers do. But the more one reads the paper, the more apparent it is that what it really means is, all the propaganda that's fit to print.

As another old adage goes, there's freedom of the press for those who own the press.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, one of my brother-in-laws, has gone from being conservative to being more liberal. I read his Facebook posts and disagree with many of his opinions. He's a college professor, so maybe that has something to do with it.

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
That's certainly the rarer path. But, yes, I suppose his environment could have something to do with it.