Appearance Alert!
Brent Bozell talks about MRC's "Worst of the Worst 2014" on FNC's Hannity, 10:30pm ET/PT

CyberAlert -- 09/03/1997 -- Clift & Carlson Not Liberal in Conservative Dominated Media

Clift & Carlson Not Liberal in Conservative Dominated Media

  1. Headline contrasts on welfare, GDP and suicide.
  2. A leading author argued that the Washington press corps is dominated by conservatives and weekend talk shows don't have any liberals to counter the likes of Novak, Snow and Barnes.

1) A couple of headline contrasts I caught while traveling across the country last week.

First, the two papers on the coasts offered very different interpretations of a study on a welfare program in a state in between in flyover country. Both headlines refer to the same Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation study on Minnesota's policy of providing financial incentives to get welfare recipients to work.

"Study Gives Minnesota Welfare Program Rave Reviews: Innovative Initiative Uses Financial Incentives to Encourage Work and Help Reduce Poverty. But Critics Point to Added State Costs." -- Los Angeles Times, August 28
vs.

"Study Casts Doubt on Incentives to Get Those on Welfare to Work." -- New York Times, same day.

Second:

"U.S. Economy Grew Fast 3.6% in 2d: Inflation Remains Low; Dow on Roller Coaster."

-- Boston Globe, August 29 vs.
"Revised GDP Brings Back Inflation Fear." -- Portland (Maine) Press Herald, same day

Third, from the it depends which way you look at it department:

"Western States Have Highest Suicide Rate, U.S. Study Finds." -- Boston Globe, August 29
vs.

"Northeast Suicide Rate Lowest in the Nation." -- Boston Herald, same day.

2) The arrival of September reminded me that I had yet to showcase an illuminating article in the August Washingtonian magazine. It's a telling illustration of why the Washington media establishment are baffled by the idea of liberal bias. In their world the Washington media are dominated by conservatives, which is the conclusion you reach when you don't consider Margaret Carlson, Al Hunt, Nina Totenberg or Eleanor Clift to be liberal.

Barbara Matusow, a veteran Washington writer about media affairs who regularly appears in American Journalism Review and is most famous for her 1980s book on the TV anchormen, penned the August article titled "Powers of the Press." Matusow examined the DC media powers and named the "Top 50" journalists, alphabetically from the Wall Street Journal's Jill Abramson and CNN's Wolf Blitzer to CNN's Judy Woodruff and the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.

Below is all but one tangential paragraph from the section of her article subtitled "What Liberal Media Establishment?" (I urge you to read this all the way through and then see if you agree with my comments listed afterwards.) Here's the excerpt:

"One of the most striking things about the journalistic establishment this year is the number of strong conservative voices, including Bob Novak, Bill Safire, Paul Gigot, Charles Krauthammer, Wesley Pruden, Robert Samuelson, and Bill Kristol.

"Of the 50 journalists on the list, only E.J. Dionne, Bill Raspberry, and Clarence Page consistently take the liberal side. But neither Page nor Raspberry is particularly interested in ideology, and none of the three thunders from the left anywhere near as passionately as a Krauthammer or a Safire does from the right.

"[Gerald] Seib [of the Wall Street Journal], [Ron] Brownstein [of the Los Angeles Times], and Bill Schneider [of CNN] are analysts, not polemicists, while [David] Broder's main interest for years has been good government and a strong two-party system.

"Four presumptive liberals -- Linda Wertheimer [of NPR], Robert Siegel [of NPR], Diane Rehm [NPR talk host], and James Fallows [Editor of U.S. News] -- work at jobs that require them to play it straight. [New York Times columnist Maureen] Dowd and [the New Republic's Michael] Kelly, meanwhile, defy political categorization but in any case are hardly defenders of the liberal establishment.

"When we asked people if they could name any fire-breathing left- wingers in the Washington press corps, the only person most could think of was Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News, who brings a genuine sense of outrage to his work....

"Conservatives also have a virtual monopoly on talk radio -- 70 percent of the hosts nationwide are right-wingers -- and here in Washington they dominate the TV talk shows. Week after week, fiery partisans like Bill Safire, Bill Kristol, Tony Snow, Tony Blankley, Charles Krauthammer, Bob Novak, Fred Barnes, and George Will are pitted against journalists like Evan Thomas, Al Hunt, Nina Totenberg, David Broder, Sam Donaldson, and Cokie Roberts, all of whom have centrist, mildly liberal, or ideologically unpredictable views.

"The most forceful liberal panelists -- George Stephanopoulos, Chris Matthews, and Mark Shields -- all emerged from Democratic Party politics, which is no coincidence. When conventional journalists like Eleanor Clift and Margaret Carlson are forced to hold up the liberal side of the argument almost by default, they can never be as convincing as true believers like Bob Novak or Bill Kristol.

"'Certainly on the top shows, the whole thing is radically skewed to the right,' says Slate editor Michael Kinsley, who once tried to defend liberalism against Pat Buchanan on Crossfire. 'It's ludicrous for conservatives to say We have Tony Snow. They have Cokie Roberts.' Cokie is a journalist who in some vague way may be liberal but is publicly committed to impartiality even if she slips a fraction here and there. In the same way, Sam Donaldson is not an engaged partisan the way George Will is.'

"'I don't think strong liberal voices are needed since liberalism is so much a part of the established mindset,' counters Tony Blankley. 'The fact is that in a million little ways, whether it's the way Tom Brokaw lifts his eyebrow or nods his head, the whole tone that comes out of Big Media is liberal.

"'Their liberalism has gone past the point of needing to be articulated and has been internalized in their bodies and their body language. That's why the few conservatives who are on TV are not enough to balance the rest of them, who are in their natural environment.'

"Is it possible he really believes what he's saying?"

It is certainly possible, and sadly probable, that much of the DC-based media believe Matusow's assessments and thus dismiss complaints about liberal bias. Let's look at a few of Matusow's assertions:

Matusow: "Four presumptive liberals -- Linda Wertheimer [of NPR], Robert Siegel [of NPR], Diane Rehm [NPR talk host], and James Fallows [Editor of U.S. News] -- work at jobs that require them to play it straight."

Comment: Quite an example of defining away bias. If you should be balanced to properly perform your job then you are balanced.

Matusow: "When we asked people if they could name any fire- breathing left-wingers in the Washington press corps, the only person most could think of was Lars-Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News."

Comment: He's the one! The only liberal in DC. This conclusion shows just how far to the left the Washington media define the center.

Matusow: "...fiery partisans like Bill Safire, Bill Kristol, Tony Snow, Tony Blankley, Charles Krauthammer, Bob Novak, Fred Barnes, and George Will are pitted against journalists like Evan Thomas, Al Hunt, Nina Totenberg, David Broder, Sam Donaldson, and Cokie Roberts, all of whom have centrist, mildly liberal, or ideologically unpredictable views."

Comment: Matusow missed the obvious implication. Journalists can provide the "mildly liberal" view but you have to go outside of journalism to find a conservative commentator.

Matusow: "When conventional journalists like Eleanor Clift and Margaret Carlson are forced to hold up the liberal side of the argument almost by default, they can never be as convincing as true believers like Bob Novak or Bill Kristol."

Comment: Ideologues can always find shortcomings in those on their side. So, the fact that Matusow doesn't see Carlson and Clift as consistent liberals shows where she's coming from as well as the prism through which many in Washington journalism see politics. And I doubt Clift and Carlson have to be "forced to hold up the liberal side."

From a conservative perspective, however, you could also point out that the conservative "true believers" and "fiery partisans" reflect a range of opinion that often strays from the majority conservative line. George Will believes in raising taxes. Bill Kristol spoke glowingly about liberal Republican Colin Powell. Tony Snow and Fred Barnes are hardly as hard core are Bob Novak. But Novak hardly upholds the traditional conservative line on China or the Middle East. And since when did Robert Samuelson become a conservative?

If Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift are not liberal pontificators then Matusow is correct, there is no liberal media establishment. It's nice to be able to define away a charge.

-- Brent Baker