In a story about national media coverage of the government response to the Katrina hurricane disaster, the Los Angeles Times said that news coverage had “turned confrontational” as “many reporters shed their stance of neutrality and joined numerous commentators in criticizing local, state and federal officials for their seemingly slow reaction to the calamity.” In fact, this story was itself biased. Most of the coverage was confrontational toward the federal government. That is, the Bush administration. And that confrontational attitude was more evidence of a bias against Republicans and conservatives.
For those who question the evidence of bias, it can be found in numerous studies. The national press bias was first documented in Leo Rosten’s 1937 study of Washington correspondents. He found that the press corps at the time was significantly more pro-Roosevelt than the country as a whole, less pro-Republican and slightly more pro-Socialist. William Rivers duplicated the Rosten study 25 years later. He also found a decidedly liberal political slant to correspondents’ views. He reported, “It is significant that the newspaper correspondents, like the rest of the press corps, are predominately liberal. There is little difference politically between newspapermen and other correspondents. There are nearly four times as many Democrats as Republicans among wire-service and radio and television correspondents, and nearly two times as many Democrats as Republicans among magazine correspondents.”
One of the best analysts of the bias is, not surprisingly, a Republican. Former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer wrote Taking Heat, about his battles with the press. The book is full of revealing insights into the nature of the national press corps. He has fascinating comments about the CBS News attempt to discredit Bush during the presidential campaign by using a phony document about his National Guard service.
“I believe CBS aired the bogus document about Bush and the National Guard because it was too good to check, at least too good to check carefully,” he said. “I think the people involved in putting the show together, including Dan Rather, thought it was probably true about Bush and let themselves be duped because they wanted the damaging information to be true. I believe if CBS had more Republicans in their newsroom, there would have been a greater tendency to check the story carefully before putting it on the air. After all, conservative bloggers caught the document’s phony type almost right away.”
Fleischer says the CBS smear demonstrates the need for more conservatives and Republicans in newsrooms. “Balance and ideological diversity in the newsroom are good for the news business,” he says.
Of course, we hear a lot from the media about the need for diversity in the news business. But they don’t mean intellectual or philosophical diversity. They mean diversity in terms of skin color, gender and even sexual orientation. And that is why the coverage of a natural disaster can be twisted by the press into a partisan matter. It’s not real diversity when the journalists are mostly liberals and Democrats.
This lack of diversity helps explain why, in covering the government response to the hurricane, national reporters focused on Republican President Bush and not Democratic officials Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin.