Why are most newspaper reporters and editors liberal? I've been working
in the business for more than 20 years, and I can't give a quick,
definitive answer to the question. But I do think a contributing factor
is that editors, like other managers, tend to hire and reward staffers
who think as they do. They see their positions as neutral, which is
human nature and is reinforced by the fact that the folks in the
desks around them vote the same way they do.
When they read about complaints of media bias, editors write the
criticism off because they see reporters every day trying to cover
stories fairly and succeeding. They fail to notice that their shared
ideology limits what they see as stories.
Which is why, I believe, that Fox News Channel ratings are so high. As
the New York Times reported, CNN reached 271,000 viewers aged 25 to 54
in prime time in April, less than half of Fox News' 668,000. In the
first quarter of 2009, Fox News beat CNN and MSNBC combined in the
Liberals mock the news network's "fair and balanced" slogan. But if you
read your average newspaper, then tune into Fox News or listen to
conservative talk radio, it evens out. People hungry for a conservative
outlook in print aren't going to find it in the news or features pages.
Liberal newspapers helped build conservative media.
I should note that there's a world of difference between Fox during the
day and Fox after dark. Primetime programs feature conservative hosts
trading on their opinions, while Fox daytime features straight
The network's full-tilt promotion of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already)
party protests on April 15, alas, undercut the whole network's
credibility as reporters covered events at which Fox News biggies like
Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck were star speakers. Not fair. Not balanced.
CNN execs have responded to the success of Fox News by noting that their
own audience numbers and profits are up. They also argue that their
brand is purer because, as CNN president Jon Klein told the New York
Times, "There are several networks that reside in the cable news
category, but only one that reliably delivers the news unbiased."
Well, not quite. It turns out CNN has its own TEA Party baggage.
Covering a protest in Chicago, veteran reporter Susan Roesgen lost her
cool. She interviewed a man protesting high taxes and government debt
with his 2-year-old and began to argue with him: "Do you realize that
you're eligible for a $400 credit?" Roesgen asked him. And: "Did you
know that the state of Lincoln gets $50 billion out of the stimulus
(package pushed by President Obama)?" It was as if Roesgen thought she
were White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Then she dismissed the event as "anti-government" and "anti-CNN" and
the product of the "right-wing conservative network, Fox."
Asked about Roesgen, CNN's response: "No comment." In this space I have
lamented what seems to be the advent of Designer News, that allow
consumers to cull out undesirable viewpoints and information.
The irony here is that newspapers have written fawning stories about
Google and Twitter and free classified ad sites as if they are all good.
But when newspapers cover Fox News, they have this need to write the
network off as right-wing end of story. Nothing to learn there,
Clearly there is an insatiable appetite for news from a conservative
perspective that the folks who run newspapers continue to overlook
except in the opinion pages.
There are days I wonder if newspaper and network news execs cannot
change by broadening their ideological diversity even to save
themselves. They'll keep telling themselves that they are unbiased up
until the end.