The historian Rick Pearlstein has some insight on the media’s acquiescence to the conservative echo chamber in his interview with CJR’s Campaign Desk. It’s in response to Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander’s column Sunday where he argues that The Post doesn’t adequately take into consideration the conservative point of view. He cites as evidence the delay in The Post’s picking up the ACORN story.
One explanation may be that traditional news outlets like The Post simply don’t pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.
It "can’t be discounted," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Complaints by conservatives are slower to be picked up by non-ideological media because there are not enough conservatives and too many liberals in most newsrooms."
"They just don’t see the resonance of these issues. They don’t hear about them as fast [and] they’re not naturally watching as much," he added.
Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he worries "that we are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It’s particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."
This mea culpa by Brauchli is not surprising. But would he have admitted that coverage during the first Bush administration was biased because the government was controlled by Republicans?
In the comment section of a follow-up to this column in Alexander’s blog, someone, referring to the section of the column where Alexander points to surveys that show most reporters consider themselves liberal, argues, quite rightly I think, that though reporters are liberals, publishers are not. Big media is owned by big business. First and foremost, there interests will rump those of the peons.
But I don’t think that goes far enough. Reporters, even those powerful enough to resist publishers’ prejudices, are thin-skinned. And given that liberals are so open-minded they won’t even defend their own arguments, it’s not surprising that reporters bend over backwards to prove they aren’t liberal, thus leaning right more than providing objective and fair reporting.
Pearlstein insights are useful.
I read what Brauchli said, and what he was paraphrased as saying, and it almost suggests to me that Matt Drudge is becoming his assignment editor. I mean, why would a newspaper like the Post be training its investigative focus on ACORN now? Whether you think well or ill of ACORN, they’re a very marginal group in the grand scheme of things—and about as tied to the White House as the PTA.
The real story is that millions of Americans don’t consider a liberal president legitimate, and they’re moving from that axiom to try to delegitimize the president in the eyes of the majority. And one of the ways they do that is, frankly, by baiting the hook for mainstream media decision-makers who are terrified at the accusation of liberal bias. It really looks like Brauchli is falling for that.
He then cites ACORN’s work in 2004 for a ballot initiative to raise minimum wage.
In the conservative imagination, the idea that ACORN is working on a ballot initiative and that it might increase turnout for a Democrat is taken as prima facie evidence that ACORN and the Democratic Party are working hand-in-glove to distort the electoral process. But the Kerry campaign didn’t even seem to be aware of ACORN’s effort in this case.
So if Brauchli wants to do an investigation of ACORN, he should be able to justify it to the extent that they’re important in the grand scheme of things. And they’re important in the grand scheme of things now because the Republicans are yoking them to a narrative about the legitimacy of the president—that is the story, that is the event that brings ACORN to the forefront. Compare, say, the Chamber of Commerce’s ties to the Bush Administration—Bush’s head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission was a former executive with the Chamber of Commerce—to ACORN. Has an ACORN staffer ever made it anywhere near an executive position in the Obama administration? The scale of connection is infinitesimal.
So that’s the story, how these false equivalences get struck.
And then puts into perspective, Republicans’ efforts to smear ACORN during the 2008 elections.
In 2008, when the election was going on, conservative activists and Republican politicians were able to drive discussion of ACORN in the following way: they said that ACORN was aiding and abetting election fraud, and as evidence they gave all these false voter registration forms handed in by ACORN. You had to be an extremely alert news reader, you had to be an extremely informed member of the public, and you had to be very patient to be aware that it was actually ACORN that had discovered the fraud, and that law requires them to turn in every voter registration form they receive, even the ones that are fraudulent. In actual fact, they went above and beyond the law and flagged the ones they believed were fraudulent. So actually they were fighting electoral fraud, not creating electoral fraud.
And yet that became part of the narrative about the 2008 election, that there’s this group called ACORN, and they are working to abuse the American electoral process. How can you tell the story about what’s going on now with ACORN without leading with the idea of a conservative campaign to smear and vilify a group using any means, fair or foul? To me, that’s what happened last week. When it comes to this video, The Washington Post is completely letting the tail wag the dog.
…Everything has to be understood in historical context. Unless you grasp the history of conservatives attempting to appeal to newspaper editors’ guilt about being liberal—which has been around since Spiro Agnew—then you can’t tell these kinds of stories, because all that is part of the story. And unless you look at the repeated pattern of smear-driven narratives in presidency after presidency—which turn out, in the end, not to implicate anyone—then you’re not telling the story.
Honoring the perspectives of conservative citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper; honoring the perspectives of liberal citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper. But there are ways of honoring people with conservative politics without serving the agendas of conservative politicians.
…I would say that journalists’ job is not to see the world through the same prism as the conservative movement, or a different prism than the conservative movement. It is to tell the truth without fear of favor. And if the truth makes conservatives look bad, devil take the hindmost. And if it makes liberals look bad, devil take the hindmost. It’s just too easy—and if you read my work, it’s been too easy for four decades—for conservatives to exploit their ability to create a sense that the media are biased in favor of liberalism in order to manipulate the media, in order to get the stories they want told told in the way they want. It’s a strategy—you can see the memos in which people lay it out. And unless that strategy is reported on, and treated as part of the story, then you are not reporting on what’s actually happening in the real world.