Accuracy in Media

Vanity Fair better be careful, or it’s going to be labeled as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. In the past few weeks, the magazine and its online sister publication have taken aim at the liberal media.

The first jab came in an essay for the July print edition about the Obama White House’s success in taming the liberal media. Michael Wolff called it a “perfect re-creation of a relationship between president and news media that has not been seen since the White House pressroom was a clubby place with reporters invited into the press secretary’s office for whiskey and cigars.”

The Web side of the Vanity Fair operation followed that lead a couple of days ago by publishing on its Culture and Celebrity Blog a piece that asked and answered why Americans hate the media these days. Writer Matt Pressman gauged the validity of each complaint.

“We’re too liberal” was the gripe at the top of the list — and Pressman confirmed that the complaint is extremely valid. On a scale of 1 to 10, he gave the media a 7 for its liberalism and then explained why:

It’s true that the overwhelming majority of people who work in media vote Democratic. But most of the people reporting the news (as opposed to editorializing) make an honest attempt to hold both parties to account and not to allow their personal views to impact their work.

Liberal bias is a legitimate complaint, but it’s vastly overblown, especially given the proliferation and power of unabashedly right-wing media outlets. Plus, reporters may sometimes overcompensate for their liberal leanings by giving excessive credence to certain right-wing arguments (see global warming, Iraq war).

The apologetic explanation doesn’t mesh with the 7-point ranking, but admitting that “liberal bias is a legitimate complaint” is a good start. The overall grade is about right, too.

Some journalists, like CNN’s Susan Roesgen, have scored a perfect 10 for bias, and the press collectively deserves a 10 for its coverage of President Obama to date. But based on my nearly two decades as a reporter and editor, most of it in the Washington press corps, I agree that most of my colleagues, most of the time, “make an honest attempt to hold both parties to account and not to allow their personal views to impact their work.”

When they fail, it’s often because they are blind to their own biases. Pressman’s bias toward the Al Gore school of thought on global warming is a perfect example.

I don’t doubt that he honestly believes liberal journalists have given “excessive credence to certain right-wing arguments” on that topic, but he’s flat wrong. The reality is that too few journalists even care to be objective in covering the debate about climate change.

They, like Gore, believe that manmade global warming is “settled science,” and they give no credence whatsoever to the scientists and politicians who disagree. They may include critics in their stories, but they work hard to marginalize those sources and don’t report stories about science that contradicts their preconceptions about global warming.

Pressman deserves kudos for acknowledging what has long been obvious to most Americans — that journalists let their liberalism seep into their reporting. Now he and the rest of the press need to take a closer look at how they report individual stories like global warming, or they’re going to start moving the wrong direction on the scale, from a 7 to a 10.

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