Myopic Visions of ‘Liberal Media’

Over at Conde Nasté Portfolio (10/29/08), Jeff Bercovici does a good job busting National Review writer Byron York for trying to “defend the focus of the political press on questions such as whether Obama was in church when Rev. Jeremiah Wright said ‘God damn America.'” York had argued that “this kind of lament that we don’t spend enough time covering policy issues is displaced…. [Voters] put it all in the Cuisinart and they come up with their vote, and I don’t have a problem with it.”

Bercovici says he thinks York

doesn’t have a problem with it, that is, when Democrats are the victims of such coverage. In his opening remarks, York blasted the New York Times for a recent report suggesting that McCain is a distant husband who didn’t know about her painkiller addiction and forgot to buy her birthday gifts.

Bercovici goes on to address the question, “Are most journalists liberal?”:

Overwhelmingly, as Slate illustrated yesterday in a poll of how its employees plan to vote. Of the site’s 57 staffers and contributors, 55 are voting for Barack Obama, versus one for John McCain and one for Bob Barr. That’s consistent with research showing journalists donating money to Democrats over Republicans at a ratio of 15 to 1.

On the other hand, just because journalists favor a candidate privately doesn’t mean they’ll pull punches in their coverage. Without a doubt, the piece of reporting from this election cycle most damaging to Obama was the disclosure of his remarks about small-town voters being bitter–and that came from the ultra-liberal Huffington Post. Politico considered all the angles yesterday and concluded, “Of the factors driving coverage of this election–and making it less enjoyable for McCain to read his daily clip file than for Obama–ideological favoritism ranks virtually nil.”

Leaving aside Politico‘s ideas about what might constitute ideological favoritism, the story about individual journalists voting Obama ultimately has the same flaw as the (rather more dubious) one “showing journalists donating money to Democrats over Republicans.” To wit (as stated by Eric Alterman at the time): The

story is misleading because its primary assumption is that journalists determine the content of the news. I think it would be a lot more useful… to report on, say, the political contributions of the General Electric Co. that owns NBC and MSNBC, which, I would argue, is a great deal more influential than any journalist’s particular feeling. Ditto the Walt Disney Company, Viacom and of course Fox. (Rupert Murdoch has admitted, publicly, that he deployed Fox, et al., in support of Bush’s war in Iraq.)

See Extra!: “From the Top: What Are the Politics of Network Bosses?” (7-8/98) by Jim Naureckas