by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
The Myth of Liberal Media
On Native Ground
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It seems that one of the easier ways to make money in publishing these days is to write a book on "liberal media bias." Bernard Goldberg has struck the jackpot with his book "Bias: A CBSInsider Exposes How the Media Distort the News." It's been on the best-seller lists for weeks, thanks to all of the conservatives who rushed outto the book stores to buy it. Even President Bush was seen with a copy. Right-wingers have been complaining for years that the news mediaare liberal. It is an unquestioned article of faith in the conservativecanon, but how true is it?
The answer, of course, is not very true at all. The argument is disingenuous when you consider the parallel mediasystem that conservatives have created over the past two decades --countless national and local talk radio programs, cable tv's Fox NewsChannel, newspapers like the New York Post, The Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, online news sites such as NewsMax and WorldNetDaily, publishing houses like Regnery (which put out Goldberg's book) and The Free Press, magazines like The Weekly Standard, and think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American EnterpriseInstitute.
With all these outlets for their ideas, conservatives are hardly lacking in media influence.
As to the matter of the beliefs of people in the news business,I've been in it for more than 20 years and from what I've seen andexperienced, reporters and editors tend to be liberal while management andownership tend to be conservative.
The liberal outlook comes with the natural tendency of reporters tobe reformers at heart. A good reporter sees a lot of the world and not allof it is good. Most side with the underdogs. Comforting the afflicted andafflicting the comfortable -- one of journalism's great aphorisms -- is whatthe job is supposed to be about. That's why young reporters stick it outthrough the long hours and lousy pay that come with being on the bottomrungs of the profession. The hope that you can affect change and make adifference is what keeps them going. It's an explanation I would make for why I am a lefty. I make noapologies for it. But to get along in the news business, you usually haveto temper your liberalism if you want to advance. That's because the ownersare almost always more conservative than the grunts in the newsroom andthey tend to pick managers who share their beliefs.
The problem is not so much liberal or conservative bias as it is abias against challenging the status quo. There is little overt censorshipin the news media, but there is plenty of self-censorship. Stories thattake on the powerful or threaten the well-being of advertisers will usuallyget spiked, and reporters who continue to produce those kinds of storieswill usually end up having a short and unhappy career in journalism.
Remember that 93 percent of the newspapers in the U.S. endorsed President Richard Nixon for re-election in 1972 and that a majority of U.S.newspapers have supported the Republican candidate for president in almost every election in the 20th century.
There weren't many complaints about the "liberal media" as President Bill Clinton was getting ripped apart through all the various scandals -- mostly invented by conservatives -- during his presidency. Did Vice President Al Gore get favorable press from the "liberal media" during the 2000 campaign? How much dissent over the conduct of President Bush's "war on terrorism" have you seen, heard or read in the "liberal media" over the past six months?
In short, the "liberal media" myth always gets trotted out by conservatives as a way to distract the public from the reality that the media is profoundly conservative. It's an extension of the ongoing culture war that's been fought since the 1960s. The ideas that most Americans have taken for granted since then -- such as racial and gender equality, environmental protection and using government to improve the lives ofpeople -- have been trampled down by conservatives who have managed to usethe "liberal media" to denigrate liberals and liberalism for years.
An educated, critical-thinking, independent-minded individual isa conservative's worst nightmare. That's why news reporting that actuallyincludes alternative points of view rarely happens, and why truly liberalmainstream news outlets are few and far between.
Tom Winship, the editor who turned The Boston Globe from an also-ran to one of the best newspapers in America during his two decades at the helm, once said that his definition of a liberal was "a person who thinks things can be made better."
Winship, who died on March 14 at age 81, led the Globe to 12Pulitzer Prizes between 1965 and 1984. His philosophy was to use his paperas a force for constructive change -- to make things better. If doing thatmeans one is guilty of "liberal bias," then count me in as a co-conspirator. To me, if a news operation is not working to make things better in the community it serves, it is part of the problem.
Conservatives seem more interested in evening up old scores andpushing a political, social and economic agenda that a majority ofAmericans reject rather than making things better. They are content to keep screaming "liberal bias" to cover up the intellectual bankruptcy of theirown ideas, even though their views dominate the media and are shared by thefolks who own it. Goldberg's book isn't the first and won't be the last to attack the "liberal media." But no author ever went broke underestimating the popularity of appealing to the right wing and its most cherished myth.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).