Conservative Books and "Studies" Alleging "Liberal
STUDY: Freedom Forum study of journalist voting preferences
Let's start with Robert
Parry's Consortium News piece that partly debunked this
Media Mythology: Is the
By Robert Parry
When the Freedom Forum studied the relationship between the
Washington news media and Congress, the press foundation tossed in
what it considered a throwaway question to the reporters: How had
they voted in 1992?
The query was contained in a confidential survey, which covered a
wide range of issues and was sent to 323 journalists who in some way
covered Congress, either as Capitol Hill correspondents or as
Washington bureau chiefs for papers around the country. Slightly
more than one-third -- 139 -- of the questionnaires were returned
and all but nine of those respondents answered the presidential
That question had little bearing on the study, though, and was not
even mentioned in the text of the scholarly report when it was
released last year during the 1996 presidential race. The 1992
preference question ended up in tiny type in an appendix. But the
answer would take on a life of its own and overshadow the rest of
That happened, in part, because the startling collective answer
reinforced a longstanding conservative accusation that the
Washington press corps was "liberal." Of the 130
respondents, 89 percent said they had voted for Bill Clinton. Only
seven percent had supported George Bush.
Immediately, the conservative Washington Times jumped on the
response as proof of a liberal bias in the news media. Right-wing
press critic Brent Bozell did the same and soon the 89-percent
figure was echoing through conservative radio talk shows. The
Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz took it as conclusive
proof of a liberal media bias, too.
Even the left-of-center media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting, did not challenge the data, although it has often
complained that the national media actually has a center-right bias
that systematically excludes real leftists from TV pundit shows and
editorial pages. In response to the Freedom Forum study, FAIR argued
narrowly that the voting patterns of working-stiff reporters were
largely irrelevant in judging media bias.
"There is a hierarchy at media outlets that determine whether a
reporter can express a personal opinion or not," said Jim
Naureckas, editor of FAIR's publication Extra! In other words, news
executives, not news underlings, make the key decisions.
But the Freedom Forum survey itself escaped any critical analysis,
despite the shocking size of the supposed Clinton preference. Though
it's true that many centrists favored Clinton as one of their own
and liberals might have accepted him as the lesser evil, a
significant percentage of high-profile journalists-- from Bob Novak
to George Will -- had expressed clear preferences for Bush.
What happened to their
votes, and all the other votes from conservative journalists who
appear on the talk shows or work for avowedly right-wing
publications? The national media includes a sizable representation
from explicitly conservative publications, including Sun Myung
Moon's Washington Times, The American Spectator, National Review,
Insight, Human Events, Forbes, Commentary, Reason, Policy Review and
Rupert Murdoch's empire, including The New York Post and The Weekly
Were these right-wing bastions harboring secret Clinton lovers? Or
was the rest of the news media virtually 100 percent for Clinton,
after the obvious conservative preference for Bush was factored out?
To try to clear up this mystery, we contacted Kenneth Dautrich of
the Roper Center, the polling firm that handled the Freedom Forum's
data. Because of the confidentiality, Dautrich would not supply the
names of those who were sent the questionnaires, nor did he know
which of the 139 journalists returned the surveys. But he did agree
to send us the company affiliations of the 323 journalists who were
on Roper's original mailing list.
That list contained news organizations from all over the country.
But it was not what many would expect when they think about the
Washington news media. Major national media outlets were
represented, but not in very high numbers. Only 60 questionnaires --
or less than 20 percent of the total -- had gone to the likes of The
New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall
Street Journal, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, National Public Radio,
Time, Newsweek, US News, The Associated Press and Reuters.
The bulk of the newspapers on the list were regional dailies, such
as The Modesto Bee, Boston Globe, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News,
Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Richmond Times Dispatch and San Jose
Mercury News. News services for newspaper chains, such as
Knight-Ridder and Newhouse News Service, were included, too.
But more than 80 of the list's newspapers -- roughly a quarter of
the total -- were much smaller, often with only one reporter or
"bureau chief" in Washington. One questionnaire went to
the 58,000-circulation The Green Bay Press-Gazette, for instance.
Another went to a Wisconsin neighbor, the 27,000-circulation
Sheboygan Press. Also on the list were The Mississippi Press, Fort
Collins Coloradoan, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Idaho Statesman,
Thibodaux Daily Comet, Hemet News and many other newspapers that are
not normally counted as part of "the national news media."
Other of the small-fry survey recipients were specialty journals or
obscure publications. Intermission Magazine got a questionnaire, so
too did Indian Country Today, Hill Rag, El Pregonero, Senior
Advocate, Small Newspaper Group, Washington Citizen, Washington
Blade and Government Standard.
Where Are the
But what was most
dramatically missing from the list were many of the principal
conservative journals. The Washington Times did get four
questionnaires; Human Events one; The New York Post one; and another
Murdoch newspaper, The Boston Herald, one -- the seven equalling
about two percent of the total. But the other big-name right-wing
publications got zero.
A likely reason for the absence of these prominent conservative
journals was the fact that many are organized as non-profit
corporations so they can accept tax-deductible donations from
individuals and foundations. But non-profits have difficulty getting
credentials from the Congressional Press Gallery. And it was from
that credentialed list that the survey recipients were selected.
So the Freedom Forum survery appears to have dramatically
undercounted the scores of conservative journalists in Washington,
despite their significant influence in setting the national agenda.
Many of these conservatives appear regularly on TV pundit shows and
their opinionated columns resonate across the country through
conservative radio hosts and on the op-ed pages of newspapers.
The Freedom Forum survey gave much greater weight to the voting
choices of reporters from small publications who have next to no
influence in the nation's capital. These work-a-day reporters
rarely, if ever, appear on TV and their stories concentrate on the
hum-drum actions of local members of Congress, not on national
It may be interesting that a large percentage of modestly paid
reporters from small- to mid-sized dailies favored Clinton over
Bush. But there is little evidence that those presidential
preferences translated into soft media treatment of Clinton or into
especially tough handling of Bush or the GOP congressional majority.
Parry hints at this point in his article, but it is
worth expanding on it a bit: namely, the aspect of support for a
President and its supposed impact on the journalist's
"bias". First of all, this argument makes no sense when
you look at the facts (you know, the "thing" which
people like Brent Bozell and his cohorts have long shown a contempt
4.1 chronicles a small sample of the widespread journalistic
malpractice and yellow journalism that the mainstream (and
conservative) media conducted against Bill and Hillary Clinton and
against Al Gore. Additional, specific examples of egregious,
journalistic malpractice against various Democrats is chronicled in Sec.
4.6. It is important to emphasize here that it was not just the
"conservative" media that was involved in the fraudulent
Democrat-bashing. A lot of it was completely the work of the
mainstream (so-called "liberal") media. That this is the
case has been documented in acknowledgements from nonpartisan
journalists and conservatives - who were part of the mainstream and/or
conservative media (see both Sec.
1 and Sec. 4.1 for
examples). So, the theory that journalists are somehow liberally
biased in their news reporting just because they vote for Democrats
is one that is only supportable if you are a lover of fiction.
Let's also look at this
from another perspective. The media is awash with conservative
commentators, op-ed writers, columnists, talking heads and talk show
hosts. Clearly many of these people are strong supporters of the Republican
party and vote Republican. If those among them who peddle the above
theory actually believe it, then it means they also accept that they
themselves are completely biased and cannot be trusted with anything
they report on or write about because it would not be "fair and
balanced". Or at least one would think they accept that. But
when Fox News comically keeps insisting that they are "fair and
balanced", they are actually making a claim that it is possible
to support a particular political party and ideology and yet be
"fair and balanced." So which one is it folks? Make up
That's not all. I have
more commentary on why the argument -- that news reports from
reporters who vote Democratic must by definition (meaning mostly or
always) be liberal -- is nonsense. It's in Sec.
4.1 and it includes more recent data on journalist ideologies
showing the majority of them are centrist. Make sure you go read it - Sec.