Nicholas Kristof, the occasionally iconoclastic liberal columnist for the Times, doesit againwith an Election Day post at his nytimes.com blog. The topic: Liberal bias. Surprisingly, Kristof basically assents to large swathes of the conservative argument:
Conservatives are utterly convinced that the mainstream news organizations have been deeply unfair to the Republican ticket, and they have some points they can cite as evidence. For example, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that there were twice as many favorable Obama stories after the convention as favorable McCain ones. Conversely, twice as many McCain stories were negative. The Center for Media and Public Affairs found that network TV coverage of Obama was 65 percent positive, compared to 31 percent positive for McCain. As Politico.com put it: "in the closing weeks of this election, John McCain and Sarah Palin are getting hosed in the press." Indeed, one of the editors of Politico.com received a scolding note about bias from his own mother.
Then there's also the well-known fact that national reporters for major news organizations are disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. Slate.com polled its staff and found that Barack Obama won 55 votes, and John McCain 1. That's partly because Slate's staff is composed of young, urban, highly educated techies, but still - that's some margin.
In the media's defense, Kristof argued that negative McCain coverage was natural, given that the campaign had "made a series of mistakes" and that it was arguable "that any mainstream bias to the moderate left in the national newspapers and networks is balanced by an extreme right tilt" at Fox and talk radio. But he expressed discomfort with that argument.
He concluded by saying that the liberal lean of reporters wasn't a major problem in explicitly political stories, but when it came to social issues, he wasn't sure the media was "that even-handed."
Lately we've been pursuing George W. Bush because he's in power, but if Obama wins then he'll be the object of tough scrutiny even by journalists who share much of his world view. But on the social issues - gun control, abortion, gay marriage, religion - I'm not sure we're that even-handed. The fact is that there are plenty of political conservatives in the Northeast, for example, but not nearly so many social conservatives. Journalists move easily in the world of business Republicans, less easily in the world of Evangelical Republicans. So that makes it easier to slip into caricaturing social conservatives at times, and we should try harder to avoid it.
Kristof even praised former Public Editor Dan Okrent's "brave and wise" piece that began:
"Is the Times a liberal newspaper? OF course it is."