State of the Media 20 Years After ‘Bias’
Editor’s Note: From time to time over the course of the rest of the year, I’m going to publish columns about how journalism has changed since my first book came out 20 years ago. This is the first installment.
Twenty years ago I wrote my first book, Bias, about liberal bias in the mainstream news media.
I didn’t write the book as a conservative, mainly because I wasn’t. At the time I considered myself an old-fashioned liberal. Someone who believed in the free exchange of ideas, for example.
But I’m a conservative today — because over the years liberalism kept moving to the left, leaving me, and a lot of others, less than thrilled with what we were witnessing. Liberalism was becoming progressivism. It was becoming something I no longer wanted to be a part of.
I wrote the book simply as a journalist, one who as a correspondent at CBS News for 28 years noticed how unfair, how biased, news coverage could be – and how sanctimonious journalists could be.
My main point was that, contrary to what some conservatives believed, there was no conspiracy. Dan Rather, then the anchor of the CBS Evening News, didn’t summon his top lieutenants into a room where he doused the lights, lowered the shades, gave the secret handshake and salute, and said: “How can we screw those conservatives today?”
It simply did not happen that way. The problem was groupthink – too many like-minded people in the newsroom. And since those like-minded people were overwhelmingly liberal, the news was covered from a left of center perspective and the result was … liberal bias.
Liberals didn’t even see themselves as liberal, as hard as that is to believe. Rather, they saw themselves as … reasonable.
But as bad as it was 20 years ago, it’s far, far worse today.
Fairness and objectivity have been in the crosshairs for quite a while in a media world dominated by journalists who operate in a comfortable liberal elite bubble. Democrats more often than not got easier treatment from reporters than did Republicans. A lot of journalists, as the title of my 2009 book indicated, had a slobbering love affair with Barack Obama. Even a liberal like Chris Matthews acknowledged the obvious: that the media had turned Obama into “Saint Barack,” that he had been “deified.”
So putting a thumb on the scale for liberals was nothing new. But things changed, dramatically, when Donald Trump decided to run for president.
I have a theory. A lot of liberal journalists felt responsible for Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. They didn’t believe they were tough enough on him. How else to explain his victory? Did the American people really prefer such a vulgar, dishonest human to their candidate, Hillary Clinton?
Guilt is a great motivator. And so, when Donald Trump won, I believe, a lot of liberal journalists – many at the New York Times, the paper that sets the agenda for other news organizations, including the television networks — were determined to make up for what they saw as their role in such a travesty. That’s when the war on President Trump began. That’s when it went beyond bias.
Bias is something, to one degree or another that affects everybody. It’s part of the human condition. But journalistic bias is another matter. In a democracy we need to have confidence and trust in the mainstream media. We need to know that they don’t take sides.
But when journalists are accused of bias, the knee jerk response is something along the lines of, “We’re professionals. We don’t let our biases affect our work.”
If only it were true. But, as I had written, there are guys who work the overnight shift at 7-11 and sell Marlboros to insomniacs who have more introspection that a lot of journalists.
Whenever journalists are called out for their biases, they tend to circle the wagons – and if they’re not saying they can set their biases aside and do their job, they’re busy blaming the accuser for being the one that’s really biased.
As a network news correspondent once told me – after being assured I would never identify him by name – “If arrogance were a crime, the jails would be filled with journalists.”
A conservative friend, who if it matters was a liberal back in the 1960s, has been telling me for some time that if leftists ever had the chance they’d stifle and even try to shut down speech and ideas they didn’t approve of.
He saw them as authoritarians, as Stalinists.
I thought he, and lots of other conservatives who shared that dark view were needlessly worried. Sure, liberals, like conservatives, had their biases … but shutting down ideas they didn’t like? That was a bridge too far for me.
Well, it turns out, the concern was well founded; it wasn’t right-wing paranoia.
The cancel culture overwhelmingly – though not entirely — is the work of those on the left. They’re the ones who have devised the modern day blacklists, which were once rightly despised by Hollywood liberals who lost their jobs and their livelihoods back in the 1950s because of their political beliefs. Now, they’re something the “enlightened” left has taken a liking to.
It’s as if progressives in America read George Orwell’s 1984 and missed the point. Instead of seeing it as a warning, they saw it as a guidebook on how to shut down “unapproved ideas.”
Editor’s Note: As I say, other columns on the current state of journalism will follow.