The Washington Post ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has written an article entitled, “Media ‘Liberalism’ Under the Microscope,” in which she suggests that journalists are not as liberal as we may think. I wrote her an email applauding her for addressing the problem but correcting her misunderstanding of the issue. It just so happens that I had completed my master’s thesis on liberal bias in the media. I am still hoping she takes a look at what I found.
Although Howell did admit that journalists on the whole are much more liberal than the general public and much less conservative, she did not believe this lack of intellectual diversity within the profession is as pronounced or significant as some have claimed. In her article, Howell attempted to rationalize a liberal media by arguing that journalists’ beliefs get balanced out because they are “political centrists and can lean conservative on issues that affect their pocketbook.” This argument misses the point. Even if journalists are “conservative” on pocketbook issues, in the sense that they appreciate what it means to earn a buck, what about their views on social issues?
In her article, Mrs. Howell gave us a hint, without knowing it, that journalists were liberal on social issues, rather than “centrist.” She claimed that, “Journalists tend to be softhearted toward the afflicted or the underdog, which tends to make them less critical of illegal immigrants.” That means, in effect, that journalists have taken the liberal or Democratic Party view of this issue. The “softhearted” view is really the liberal one.
Consider the fact that immigration is a social issue as well as an economic one, and Republicans have been more outspoken in terms of trying to control and stop illegal border crossings. Although the media may support the “underdog” illegal immigrants, it is clear that the majority of the American people do not. They do not see it as a matter of helping the “underdogs.” They see it as an issue involving law-breaking. That separates the liberal press from the conservative public.
It is significant that no political candidate who won this November ran on a campaign promise of more immigration or amnesty for illegal immigrants, and among Republicans the turnover was less among those candidates who took the strongest stands against illegal immigration; 11.5% of all Republican seats in Congress were lost, but only 6.7% of the Members of the Immigration Reform Caucus lost their seats.
My dispute with Howell is part of a much larger controversy over media bias. Some research has shown the existence of liberal bias by examining individual media stories or network coverage as a whole. Rather than using these same methods, my research examined the news audience to find out where they perceived bias and where they did not. My study found that on the whole, conservatives are generally unhappy with the news coverage, including the Washington Post, while liberals are generally happy with the mainstream media, including the Post. But why are liberals happy with the Post coverage while conservatives find the Post biased against their political and social beliefs? The conclusion is inescapable that journalists’ political and social beliefs have seeped into their news reporting. People believe what they see, and what they see is liberal bias. Case closed.
Accuracy in Media has published a condensed version of my lengthy analysis of this controversy. I emailed Howell a copy of the study so that she could see and consider the results, and perhaps change her opinion.
Howell did take the time to respond to my email to her. She thanked me for writing to her in response to her article, and said she looked forward to reading my piece on the Accuracy in Media website. Although she told me she would be writing on this topic again soon, I’m still waiting.