It is my informed opinion that most news organizations are firmly biased in favor of Democrats and liberals, and are opposed to, and sometimes overtly hostile toward, Republicans, conservatives and people of faith (unless that faith is Islam.) In a lot of cases, this bias is not planned out ahead of time. More often it's a result of the fact that our large journalism schools, and the newsrooms populated by their graduates, are strongly liberal places. The bias often manifests not as the overt hit job, but as the weak followup question, the story that is not covered, or the shallow understanding of the center/right that comes from coverage by people who don't know any conservatives and don't relate at all to a conservative's point-of-view. For years the news organizations of America have been working to achieve a level of "diversity." They've tried hiring more minorities, more women and more people with disabilities. They've been trying to become more diverse in every area but the most important one: ideological diversity. Most newsroom are populated by liberals and people who vote for Democrats by a ratio of between 25 and 35 to 1. With numbers like that, it's probably not reasonable to expect fair treatment from them if your on the other side. But we will anyway.
The news organizations of which I speak include, but are not limited to, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, CNN and PBS.
Before I go on, let me emphasise one point: I have no particular problem with media outlets being biased in their coverage. I am told that every news organization in Europe has a fully disclosed bias. Disclosure is the key. What drives me nuts is the dishonesty of the above-referenced news organizations, and how they relentlessly insist that they are fair and balanced. Nonsense. If I could talk directly to those media folks I'd say: We know almost all of you like Obama and want him to be re-elected. Just own it. Then me and and a lot of people like me will get off your case.
The moment when I first realized that this bias was real was also the moment when I took my first step away from being a Democrat. I only accepted the truth of the bias after having had literally dozens and dozens of examples placed in front of me. For years, and I mean years, I rejected the mounting evidence.
My evolution on this point went like this:
I had a strong connection to television news growing up. I was not much of a newspaper reader, except for the sports section. My family was an NBC Nightly News family, and I was raised on Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. I grew up in the 60's, and I watched it all through the broadcasts of those two men: The assassinations, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, Watergate, Apollo 11. Looking back, I think it was a deeply ingrained trust in Huntley and Brinkley that caused me to cling so tenaciously to my belief in mainstream media fairness. Years later, it was Brinkley's This Week on ABC that was the first, and for a long time the only, Sunday morning political talk show I regularly watched.
As is the case with many, my first regular exposure to conservative media was though talkradio. KABC in Los Angeles was the true originator of the format. For many years their hosts stayed mainly apolitical. I listened to the erudite Michael Jackson, from England by way of South Africa, for years before I knew he was a liberal. His BBC training taught him (at least back then) that it wasn't appropriate to inject personal opinions into a broadcast. And so for years, he didn't. The emergence of Rush Limbaugh caused Michael to become more overtly partisan. But even before Rush, there was a ticking time bomb of anti-liberalism on KABC during the morning drive-time show, just before Michael's.
Every day during that earlier show, former Richard Nixon aide and conservative thinker and writer Bruce Herschensohn did a brief commentary. He usually spoke on one of his passions: Foreign and defence policy, particularly vis-a-vie the Soviets, was the main one. Sometimes he would riff on tax or welfare reform. But in an earlier career, Herschensohn had made Pro-America propaganda films for the US Information Agency. These were the type of pro-US films we would try to sneak into countries dominated by Soviet communism. Bruce understood propaganda, and how to hide it in plain sight. He saw exactly that in much of our national news coverage, especially of President Reagan and the Cold War. He called the media out on it. Regularly. Michael and those early morning hosts would often disagree with him, but Herschensohn's examples were well defined, and his arguments for this bias superbly argued. At the time, I always sided with Jackson. After all, I was a Democrat. I didn't trust this guy Herschensohn, he'd worked for Nixon! But, I also prided myself on being open to other points of view. Close-mindedness was for conservatives. Little did I know, seeds had been planted. And like good seeds usually do, they began to grow.
couple of years after I became a regular listener, Michael Jackson took a vacation. What happened next truly changed my life. KABC chose one of their weekend hosts to fill in. His name was Dennis Prager. Dennis was a lot like Bruce Herschensohn, but he had been given more time. Eventually Dennis got his own weekday show on KABC, and then later on KRLA, where he holds court to this day.
Prager was following a trajectory a bit like I was. He too had been raised a Democrat. What he also saw was that the party was losing it's moral compass, it's soul, and along with them, it's credibility. Dennis also was an expert on communism and was under no illusions about the evils of the Soviet Union. And he was a religious Jew (that weekend show he hosted was called Religion on the Line) who could connect current events to their moral underpinnings in ways I had never heard before. Dennis held forth on all this and more, and did so with great passion, great logic, and great civility. Apparently KABC had seen what was happening with Limbaugh and thought it was time to get opinionated. It took years for Dennis to wear me down about liberal media bias. A lot of that wear down came down to trust. Just as with Huntley and Brinkley before, after a while I learned that I could trust this fellow Prager. He worked diligently at integrity. I've never caught him in a lie, something I can't say for everyone (you out there, Dan Rather?) When he made a mistake, as we all do, he corrected it, quickly and right up front. Honesty was his currency. Still is. Only after long observing this did I reach the point where I could really trust with my heart what my reason had been telling me for a while: that Dennis and Bruce had sound arguments on media bias, as well as a host of other conservative ideas.
I had never been much of a fiscal liberal, not much of a redistribute the wealth guy. And I must to say my center/right friends on talkradio never really convinced me on the social issues. I'm still pro-choice, still consider my politics on the domestic side to be mainly libertarian.
What Dennis (and Bruce) brought was a complete deconstruction of the media, and of the left. He showed me how bankrupt they are, morally and intellectually. I came to understand that liberal public policy is destructive to the character of the societies and the citizens that indulge in them. I was not a fan of some liberal policy because my observation was they didn't work. But the pernicious effects of big government programs don't stop there. They create a culture of dependency. Do not confuse this with the notion that we should not help our fellow citizens when they get into trouble. Far from it. What I'm talking about here is the realization that liberalism by it's nature is destructive to self-reliance, and so too much liberalism tends to transfer power from the citizen to the state in ways that are dangerous to the maintenance of a free society. Most people who call themselves liberal don't realize this, but it doesn't make it any less true.
I tell this story to give some context to what I want to do with this series.
"When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects."
I will add more examples as they come around, which I know they will. I won't be trying to bring every example of bias that comes across our transom to this blog. I don't have time. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that categorizing the misdeeds of the media is more that a full time gig. I'll try to save the space for examples that are either truly big, or have some particular resonance.