Downplaying Another Poll on the Liberal Media

Downplaying Another Poll on the Liberal Media
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 3, 1997

The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) has released a new "workforce survey" of newspaper reporters, in which 61 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as "Democrat or liberal" or "leaned" toward that view, while only 15 percent called themselves "Republican/conservative" or "leaning" that way.

In their magazine "The American Editor," ASNE stressed the findings were "similar" to a 1988 survey. But those results pegged the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 62 to 22 percent. That means conservatives at newspapers have declined by a glaring one-third in eight years.

These numbers will surprise no one, given the performance of the so-called news media the last couple of years. Will this survey get journalists to finally confront the problem? Yes, and Webb Hubbell puts in a honest day's work for $100,000, too.

To deal with the public-relations problem this represents, ASNE splashed its American Editor cover with the headline - are you ready for this? - "The Myth of the Liberal Slant." Its designated damage controller and whitewash artist was Everette Dennis, a senior Vice President of the Freedom Forum, created out of the profits of the Gannett newspaper chain.

Mr. Dennis presented a long list of reasons why the ASNE poll should not be taken to mean these liberal reporters are guilty of bias. He's right that polls alone do not demonstrate bias, but wrong about everything else.

How's this for wrong: "Perhaps most importantly, they [conservatives] ignore the conspicuous paucity of research demonstrating a pervasive bias in news content." What?! Accuracy in Media's been putting out reports since 1969; Dr. Robert Lichter and his retinue have issued one devastating study after another since 1981. In its first decade, the Media Research Center has produced thousands of pages of newsletters and four books full of proof, all with empirical data. As if to acknowledge the silliness of his argument, Dennis later condescendingly admits some research exists - but he has an answer for that, too: "While a few [!] studies suggest such a link, most are the handiwork of right-leaning groups and critics whose research methods can't withstand scrutiny."

Nowhere in his article does he present one solitary attempt to prove how our content analysis cannot withstand scrutiny. I'd like to see him try. But he doesn't. Because he can't. All that's left is a smear.

Worse than that, he then proceeds to make his own assertions of a conservative bias without a scintilla of evidence. "These critics ignore the political predilections of publishers and media owners, which are and always have been overwhelmingly conservative." But Dennis doesn't cite a single poll - and in all the times I've heard liberals make that statement, I've never seen them use one.

He added: "They ignore the tilt of newspaper editorial endorsements, which frequently favor Republican candidates, often in the face of popular sentiment." Now, if you're going to use this sorry measure (which says nothing about the hard-news content of newspapers), you ought to know what you're talking about: in 1992, more editorial page endorsements were given to Bill Clinton than to the Republicans.

The rest of his claims are laughable. Why, the media wouldn't be biased, because "owners wouldn't allow it...bias is bad for business"! (No argument that media outlets are losing audience - but that hasn't stopped ABC or CBS). Why, "accuracy, impartiality, and fairness are at the very core of the journalistic craft"! (Certainly: ask General Motors. Or Food Lion. Or Richard Jewell.) Why, "partisan journalism died in America with the 19th century"! Could this guy be any sillier?

Dennis also resorted to the hackneyed approach of taking the focus off the "objective" news media and spreading "media" around to include conservative commentators on talk radio and editorial pages. So, the number of conservative reporters may have been cut by a third, but Dennis claimed: "So, not only are the number of liberal media voices in the media dwindling, their influence is actually being eclipsed by their conservative counterparts."

In perhaps his most unintentionally hilarious passage, Dennis complained: "To the apparent over-supply of liberally inclined journalists, little is said about the neutrality of hiring policies." So how does he explain there are four times as many liberal newspaper reporters as conservatives?

Dennis concluded his pathetic piece: "The press can't sit back any longer while the public is inundated with suspect research figures and convoluted conspiracy theories showing bias in the press. The credibility of the media is not suffering because of a liberal press bias; it's suffering, in large part, because of the continuing charge of bias that has gone unanswered for too long." But Dennis did not create an answer. He merely embarrassed himself.

Reporters groan in disbelief when they hear tobacco industry flacks deny there's any credible research proving cigarettes cause cancer. Can't supposed academics like Dennis see that to the public, there's no difference between that, and this?