October 25, 1996 in City

Big Media Refuse To Be Objective

Cal Thomas Los Angeles Times
 

One of the reasons (there are others) Bob Dole continues to lag behind Bill Clinton is the negative slant given by big media to the Dole campaign and the largely positive spin given the Clinton campaign.

Beginning in the early ‘80s, several credible surveys of journalists, editors, network anchors and producers revealed an enormous tilt toward liberal Democrats. When confronted with the undeniable data, the reaction was that, well, yes, we’re liberal, but it doesn’t affect the way we cover the news. We’re professionals and can put aside our personal beliefs to present fair and balanced coverage.

Now comes a new survey in the October-November issue of The Public Perspective, a Roper Center review of public opinion and polling, that reveals the media have not been telling it to the public straight. While noting that reporters and newspaper editors are far more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than the Republican, “the data from our survey of reporters suggest that the journalistic goal of objectivity is more of an ideal than a practice. Evidence from our survey shows that the liberal and Democratic leanings of Washington reporters may, consciously or unconsciously, influence coverage of politics.”

The Roper survey asked reporters to assess their coverage of the Republicans’ 1994 “Contract with America,” and 59 percent said they treated this topic only as an election-year campaign ploy, compared with 3 percent who treated it as a serious reform proposal. “That six in 10 reporters did not even, in part, consider that story as a policy proposal in covering the issue suggests that the political orientations of journalists - orientations that we know lean in the direction of the Democratic Party and liberal point of view - may have influenced their work.”

When journalists were asked how often their opinions affect their work, a shocking 78 percent said at least some of the time, including 16 percent who said often.

Journalism certainly has changed from the days when news was reported objectively. According to the Roper survey, 62 percent of reporters and 79 percent of newspaper editors believe they should be “suggesting potential solutions to social problems.” That mandate used to be reserved for the op-ed page and broadcast essays labeled “editorial opinion” or “commentary.” But today’s thinly disguised editorializing frequently is done on the front page and in statements by network anchors and morning-show hosts that are designed to stroke the ones they support and confront those they oppose.

Concludes the Roper survey: “These findings further suggest that the political orientations of those in the journalistic community may, in fact, result in bias in the news.”

Some network executives and editors are in total denial about this, though their story selection, approach to coverage and choice of “analysts” prove the point beyond all doubt. Coverage of the presidential debates reflected a sameness no matter what channel one watched.

Viewers, who have complained for years about slanted coverage, are ignored. Many have gone to C-SPAN or simply turned off the TV set.

In the survey, two-thirds of voters said they disagree (41 percent strongly and 24 percent mildly) that “news media stories about the campaign provide unbiased accounts of what is happening in the campaign.” While majorities of all major partisan and ideological subgroups believe a media bias is apparent, Republicans (75 percent) and conservatives (70 percent) are most critical of a general media bias.

When confronted with such high levels of customer dissatisfaction, most industries would seek to address the grievances. But it appears the big media would rather close shop than present, fairly and accurately, a point of view that differs from their own.

This hurts the journalism profession and our democracy because it prevents a full and complete airing of candidates’ ideas, issues, character and record of promise-keeping.

Ronald Reagan was able to go over the heads of the big media because of his unique communication skills. But Bob Dole must run the gantlet and have his ideas mangled by the media buzz saw. Bill Clinton, however, has the big media just where he wants them - as a wholly owned subsidiary of his re-election campaign.

As for the top executives at the networks, by refusing to present balanced coverage and ignoring the interests of a large segment of their audience, they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

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