Liberal bias in the newsroom a conservative fantasy
As a professional journalist for more than 40 years, I deeply resent the unfounded accusations made by Bob Thomas about journalists in his column of Jan. 12.
First, what was the “well established” poll that found 82 percent of journalists liberal Democrats (an oxymoron, of course)? I suspect that the majority of journalists are independent politically and certainly not the 82 percent he claims.
Then his allegations that “Democrats automatically get broader coverage without having to pay for it.” Balderdash! Surveys and studies time after time have shown this not to be true. Check any of the journalism critical magazines, not those put out by right-wing think tanks. And show examples from the Nevada Appeal if he can.
I’ve worked on three of the four major papers in the United States and the major wire service. I’ve never encountered the kind of liberal bias he accuses us of in the writings or editing of those papers. The reason is simple: as he points out, publishers are generally of the conservative persuasion and publishers can read. Does he think for a moment that a publisher would allow his or her paper to offer biased coverage of elections or political deabtes? Ridiculous!
There is an autopilot that seems to come on when journalists write political stories. It steers a course of fairness, no matter the beliefs of the writer. I challenge Thomas to come up with samples of such bias in the press (not counting the overt political publications or editorial pages). Talk big, prove it.
Then he blames his alleged claim that journalists are liberal because of poor pay. Yes, most journalists are not in the upper brackets. But the wage is a living one, and it isn’t money that draws us to the profession. It is a desire to be involved, a love of the word, the excitement and challenges, the endless procession of human events. If it’s money you’re after, go into public relations or politics the way he reports his children did.
And “most journalists are out of the loop”? Come on, Thomas, we’re more deeply in the loop than most businessmen of your kind. We know what’s going on in the community, we know where the bodies are, we go to the meetings, listen to the speeches, talk to local government, talk to all levels of people. His idea that we’re out of the loop because we aren’t wealthy is smug elitism at its worst.
Thomas has apparently never worked in a newsroom. He has no idea of the reaction among editors and writers, a cynical bunch to say the least, to an editor or writer playing to a liberal or conservative bias. The guilty one would be hooted out of the room. You just couldn’t get away with it.
And Thomas has missed the major change in news coverage in recent times. That is the Internet. It used to be that you enjoyed freedom of the press only if you owned the press. Now by establishing a Web page, one owns a press. True, not The New York Times, but an opportunity to write and comment on events freely. And the interesting side development of that is that we are no longer going to be limited to a single “truth” as offered by the traditional media. Many truths exist in every event, or perhaps Thomas missed “Rashamon.”
A side shot at campaign financing: Look at Italy, where candidates receive free TV and radio time, where campaign posters are uniform and paid for by the state. It does level the field, and there’s no reason why the U.S. couldn’t do much the same, requiring broadcasters (who, after all, get their publicly owned franchises free) to air candidates on an equal basis?
One last comment. Obviously, I’m of the liberal persuasion but I am an independent voter as I suspect most journalists are for obvious reasons.
I’d like to describe one case in which I had the chance to truly report an incident but elected not to. This was while I was in college and Richard M. Nixon came to town on a train whistle-stop in Ohio. I was stringing for the Associated Press and on the train.
A goodly crowd was at the Athens, Ohio, station to hear Nixon, who had recently had some problems with campaign finance issues. I was standing directly behind Nixon as he spoke (as he wrapped an Ohio University sweatshirt around his chest). He asked for questions and one onlooker asked him about the campaign finance issue.
“I’m glad you asked that,” said Nixon as he turned to a staffer next to me and whispered, “Get this goddamned train moving!”
Nixon started out with a lengthy roundabout response and as the train started to pull away cried out, “No, don’t go yet! I’m not finished … .”
I never reported that because I thought it a cheap shot (they call it a “gotcha!” now). And I was a liberal back then as well.
So, Thomas, come on down to the newsroom and see how it’s done. Try and find the bias you accuse us of. You’ll learn a lot more about the press than your prejudices allow now.
Sam Bauman is editor of the Nevada Appeal’s Diversions section.