Over at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg has a short, good piece up about media bias, in which he talks of the numbers of reporters who reveal their liberal, Democratic leanings when they move on to other jobs — as columnists, for example, or actually working for Democratic administrations/ politicians.
I’d like to expand on his point, however, because I think most journalists would brush away his argument by pointing out that they did their reporting jobs professionally, tamping down their personal biases. That might not be true, but it’s probably what they’d say. Who knows — those in the reporting business now might even admit that they’re liberals; they just think they keep personal views out of their reporting.
And I believe them. That is, I believe that they really do think they keep their personal views out of their reporting. That doesn’t mean they do. That just think they do.
What troubles me is how shallow this kind of thinking is. While they might look at Tea Party activists and President Obama’s opponents as latent racists, they refuse to dig deep into their own possible prejudices, their own “latent” biases.
Here’s a quick test I offer them: When covering political stories, just substitute “Republican” for “Democrat” and “Romney” for “Obama” in your mind, and ask yourself how you’d cover the story if those figures were reversed. Where would it lead you?
In other words, if they have a natural sympathy and trust for Democrats and the president, they’re unlikely to pursue stories that damage that brand because, at heart, they have a bias toward believing these players have good intentions. Not so for Republicans and conservatives. Here, their journalistic impulses are to “afflict the powerful,” by asking hard questions, probing motivations, digging beneath the surface.
So, if Romney had been president during this shutdown, how would the coverage of it have been, especially the coverage of the spiteful closings of national monuments and the disgraceful denial of death benefits to fallen soldiers’ families?
I think we know what that coverage would have been like. And, if Romney had been the executive in charge during those disgraceful events, his feet would have been held to the fire by journalists doing their jobs.
Years ago, when I worked in public relations, someone suggested this simple approach to determining what news to lead with in press releases — news was anything you could describe with a word ending in “st.” Best, worst, shortest, longest, smallest, biggest, cheapest, most expensive, etc.
In the shutdown drama, surely the actions of the Park Service and the Department of Defense qualified as some of the “meanest” goings-on we’ve seen in a civilized society in a long time. Yet, as far as I can tell, few if any reporters followed these story threads beyond the “shutdown causes pain” narrative.
If the main players were flipped, though–if Romney had been president during this debacle–wouldn’t journalists have been asking why he, as the executive in charge of those branches of government (Department of the Interior, Department of Defense) didn’t just pick up the phone and reorder priorities?
If it had been further revealed that White House and Department of Justice lawyers had been involved in the unimaginably cruel denial of death benefits to fallen soldiers’ families, wouldn’t journalists have been flocking to discover which Romney appointees were responsible for such a heinous act of political cruelty … and how much President Romney knew about it?
This story in particular troubles me greatly because it reveals the depths to which an administration will sink to score political points. Yet there has been a curious lack of curiosity on the part of major journalists. Oh, I’m sure they rationalize their negligence by saying the story’s over now that the benefits were restored. Would they have so quickly dropped it if a man they didn’t trust with noble intentions was in the White House? It strains credulity to think so.
And that’s where media bias really shows up — in what journalists choose not to pursue.