MediaWatch: September 1989

Vol. Three No. 9

Study: Reporters Write Left, Not Right

Faced with the recent resignation of Michael Kinsley as Editor of The New Republic, Published Martin Peretz considered replacing him with Newsweek's Washington Bureau Chief, Evan Thomas. He could have been thinking of returning a favor: a few years ago, Newsweek needed a Washington Bureau Chief and hired Morton Kondracke from The New Republic. When Mother Jones needed an Editor in 1987, they hired Douglas Foster, who developed stories for 60 Minutes under the aegis of the left-wing Center for Investigative reporting. The Progressive has former CBS reporter and current National Public Radio (NPR) commentator Daniel Schorr sitting on its editorial advisory board. When The New Republic was looking for a regular columnist on "Science and Society," they settled on NBC's Robert Bazell.

With this kind of networking in effect between the mainstream media and liberal opinion magazines, does it follow that more freelance articles by major journalists get published in liberal rather than conservative opinion magazines?

A MediaWatch Study has determined that news reporters overwhelmingly prefer contributing to liberal opinion journals, writing 315 articles in the last 42 months, compared to 22 in conservative ones. In other words, reporters wrote 15 times as many articles for liberal magazines than they did for conservative ones.

To capture the freelancing record, MediaWatch analysts looked at three and a half years of magazine articles, from January 1986 to the end of June 1989. On the liberal side, we examined The New Republic, The Nation, the Progressive, Ms., Mother Jones, Dissent, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Monthly. On the conservative side, we looked for articles in National Review, American Spectator, Commentary, Chronicles, Policy Review, The National Interest, The Public Interest, and Human Events. We counted only "objective" journalists -- reporters, editors, producers, and news executives committed to the traditional journalistic expectations of accuracy and balance.

The subjects of study were those from the major television/radio networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS and National Public Radio); news magazines (Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report); major papers (The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times); and any other major paper in which two or more articles appeared by its reporters (Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, Miami Herald, New York Post, and Newsday).

The media's favorite freelancing outlet is The New Republic, which carried 112 articles by major reporters, producers, or executives during the study period. Newsweek writers led the pack with 32 articles, paced by Washington reporter Timothy Noah's 13 contributions. All three networks were represented, with articles by CBS News Executive Political Editor Martin Plissner and producer Richard Cohen, ABC News White House correspondent Brit Hume, and from NBC, then State Department Correspondent Anne Garrels (now with NPR) and then-Chief Political Correspondent Ken Bode, not to mention 19 articles from Bazell.

Bazell hasn't been writing for the liberal magazine solely for fun and profit, but because of his liberal politics. When The New Republic endorsed aid to the Contras in 1986, Bazell wrote a letter to the editor in protest: "When I was asked to write my first piece for The New Republic three years ago, I was honored and proud to have of my work appear to a journal with such a distinguished liberal tradition. When I read you editorial 'The Case for the Contras' (March 24), I was angry and ashamed that my piece on the space shuttle had appeared in the magazine."

The Washington Monthly, edited by neoliberal Charles Peters, is also a popular haven for reporter freelancing, with 98 articles by "objective' journalists. The board of Contributing Editors is a regular roll call of reporters: Time Senior Writer Walter Shapiro, Christian Science Monitor staff writer Jonathan Rowe, U.S. News and World Report Associate Editor Arthur Levine and Chicago correspondent Paul Glastris, and a whole contingent from Newsweek; Senior Writer Jonathan Alter, Contributing Editors Gregg Easterbrook and Joseph Nocera, and Washington Correspondents Timothy Noah and Steven Waldman. Between them, these reporters wrote 82 articles for the liberal magazine.

But the freelancing temptation didn't stop at safely establishment liberal magazines. Another 73 articles appeared in the three biggest far left periodicals. CNN Senior Correspondent Stuart Loory has written for The Progressive. Shortly after being fired by the network in 1988, CBS Producer Richard Cohen wrote one of the 11 articles in Mother Jones. Contributors to The Nation included a CNN producer (Linda Hunt), an ABC News production associate (Richard Greenberg), a MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour reporter (Nancy Nichols), NPR's Foreign Editor (John Dinges), and Newsday's National Security Correspondent (Roy Gutman). Four current Washington Post reporters (Marc Fisher, Douglas Farah, Walt Harrington, and Steven Mufson) have been published in Mother Jones.

Dissent, "a critical magazine for the concerned, inquisitive reader who views the world from the democratic socialist position," ppublished eight articles by reporters, four from Washington Post political correspondent Thomas B. Edsall and two pieces by Charles Lane, Newsweek El Salvador Bureau Chief. Ms. ran 16 stories.

Conservative opinion magazines, on the other hand, rarely contains articles from reporters or executives. Of the 22 articles that appeared from 1986 through mid-1989, The American Spectator led with 11, with three articles each from ABC's Brit Hume, ABC Radio reporter Robert Kaplan, and John Podhoretz, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report (now a Washington Times Assistant Managing Editor). Time Senior Editor George Russell wrote five articles or book reviews for Commentary. National Review ran only three articles, from a Los Angeles Times news editor (Robert Knight), a former Time military correspondent (David Halevy), and a former President of CBS News (Fred Friendly). Two articles appeared in The Public Interest and one in The National Interest. In three and a half years, not one news reporter for a major media outlet wrote anything for Human Events, Chronicles or Policy Review.

Journalists should certainly be allowed to escape the constraints of objective news reporting and write for the opinion magazines they enjoy. But this overwhelming preference for liberal journals, this "freelance gap," offers quite a telling insight into the personal biases that color the news.