Consider the source

Journalists would do well simply to tell us where they're coming from

Issue: "Who'll be king of the Hill?," Oct. 7, 2000

We conservatives are regularly accused by our liberal friends of being paranoid about the media. Indeed, a fellow who calls himself a "moderate" Republican told me last week that he's tired of hearing Bush-backers complain in the present presidential campaign about not getting a fair shake from the media. "I work for NPR news," he said, "and I can tell you the folks there work very hard at being fair."

They ought to work harder.

It's one thing to have a program like 60 Minutes bring its predictably sneering bias to its recent interview with WORLD's editor, Marvin Olasky. The record of that program over the last couple of decades suggests it doesn't really belong within a discussion about journalism.

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I could easily fill this column, and indeed this whole issue of WORLD, with specific examples of similarly outrageous unfairness in reporting the current campaign. If you want proof of such heavy-handed one-sidedness, check out the Media Research Center of Alexandria, Va. Immediately accessible through its website (mediaresearch.org), MRC keeps a day-by-day catalog of the worst, the saddest, and the funniest of the big media's tendency to tilt the public's perceptions to the left. Also, check out Tim Graham's piece on page 34 on how journalists bury news unfavorable to Al Gore.

But much more dangerous than the overt arrogance or falsehoods of a program like 60 Minutes, or even the hundreds of specific examples that MRC regularly provides, is the quiet perversion of fairness by those media entities that pretend to be so very evenhanded. I will even concede to such folks their own deep convictions that they are being fair; I don't think most of them are being deliberately devious. What I cannot concede is the ultimate actual possibility of being fair when the ideological makeup of the media is so lopsided. The media are filled with people who from their core think liberal thoughts. It is hard for them to imagine anything else being right or good.

For starters, it is a matter of consistent record that more than four out of five journalists for top newspapers and TV networks vote regularly for Democratic candidates in national elections. That should give pause to readers and listeners-just as it should also give pause if the situation were reversed. But the point, of course, is that the situation is not reversed, nor has it been different for a generation or two. When voters want a change among officeholders, they can go to the polls and replace incumbents. But those who depend on the media have no such options.

Similarly, huge majorities of practicing mainstream journalists are committed heart-and-soul to politically correct agenda items. The rightness of contemporary feminism, the legitimacy of abortion, the propriety of homosexuality, the basic unfairness of capitalism, the wisdom of radical environmentalism-all these tend not so much to be argued by mainstream journalists as they are simply assumed.

But arguments would be easier to deal with than the assumptions. I'm not kidding myself that biblical Christians, on most of the issues I just mentioned, hold a majority position in our society. But neither do I believe that society at large is as settled on all these matters as most media people seem to be. That, in turn, radically affects the manner in which society sees, and is able to discuss, those very issues.

The same distortion occurs in three other important fields: education, entertainment, and mainstream religion. Elitists in all those fields, just like the elite journalists, also already assume that the final word has been said on important issues that still divide the rest of society. But this assumption that the argument is already over actually prevents a good discussion.

How much better it would be if mainstream journalists were upfront and transparent with their readers and listeners about who is doing the reporting-and what those folks believe. Full disclosure might include an annual table showing the numbers of reporters and editors (but not the identities) and how they voted for the different political parties. The table would also include the numbers (but not the identities) of those favoring different positions on a variety of volatile public issues. That might be an eye-opener for the customers who, until then, had taken for granted the supposed fairness of the people shaping the news. It might also be an eye-opener for media management people-and perhaps for the reporters themselves.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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