MediaWatch: May 1996

Vol. Ten No. 5

Media Clique Clap for Clinton

When Americans went to the polls in 1992, 43 percent voted for Bill Clinton and 38 percent for George Bush. But the results were very different in another America, the news media's Washington bureaus. A poll of 139 bureau chiefs and congressional reporters discovered 89 percent pulled the lever for Clinton and seven percent picked Bush.

In mid-April the Freedom Forum released a report examining media-congressional relations. Buried in the appendix were "a few final questions for classification purposes only." These were part of a 58 question Roper Center survey completed by mail in November and December 1995.

Asked "How would you characterize your political orientation?" 61 percent said "liberal" or "liberal to moderate." Only nine percent labeled themselves "conservative" or "moderate to conservative." The poll also found that 59 percent considered the Contract with America "an election-year campaign ploy" while only three percent thought it was "a serious reform proposal." A decisive 85 percent admitted they were "very" or "somewhat" surprised by the 1994 GOP win.

So do these views affect the news? Study chief and former Chicago Tribune reporter Elaine Povich told the April 18 Washington Times: "One of the things about being a professional is that you attempt to leave your personal feelings aside as you do your work." Boston Globe Editor Matthew Storin insisted on CNN's Reliable Sources April 21: "I think, actually, those figures are a great endorsement for the professionalism of our business. Has anyone looked at the coverage of Bill Clinton's administration? I mean, it's been, almost from the get-go, negative."

On the April 28 Fox News Sunday Linda Chavez opined that people realize reporters' personal views influence their reporting, prompting Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Al Hunt to coun-ter: "If that poll is correct, it basically reaffirms the argument that Linda just argued against. Which is, would anyone argue that Bill Clinton has gotten an easy press the last three years? If 89 percent voted for him, he's gotten an awfully tough press." Later he asked incredulously: "You think his health care proposals got a good press?"

One reporter on the CNN show realized the impact. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz explained: "Clearly anybody looking at those numbers, if they're even close to accurate, would conclude that there is a diversity problem in the news business, and it's not just the kind of diversity we usually talk about, which is not getting enough minorities in the news business, but political diversity, as well. Anybody who doesn't see that is just in denial." Indeed.