Over the past week-plus there's been some candidly refreshing admissions regarding press bias -- but don't worry nothing substantive will come of them.
But some of the conservatives' complaints about a liberal tilt are valid. Journalism naturally draws liberals; we like to change the world. I'll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don't even want to be quoted by name in a memo.
I know the feeling. Howell also notes -- unwittingly -- one of the fundamental problems with journalism and journalism education in this country -- the idea that journalism is a way to "change the world." I got into journalism because I enjoy writing, I write well and, most importantly, I tend to write short. I didn't get into to "change" anything.
Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said, "The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It's not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives. It's inconceivable that that is irrelevant."
That's an admission that should be universal -- but it isn't.
But Howell, with the help of some journalism thinkers (surprisingly, not an oxymoron), has some valid suggestions for remedying the unwitting leftward tilt of newsrooms.
Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.
[Tom] Rosenstiel [former political reporter who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism] said, "There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism. We need to be more vigilant and conscious in looking for bias. Our aims are pure, but our execution sometimes is not. Staff members should feel in their bones that unfairness will never be tolerated."
Yes, it can be done, with effort. But while there are journalism lobbying organizations based on ethnic identity watchdogging the hiring practices of the mainstream media, there's no such ideology-based groups. Frankly, there shouldn't have to be. But with ideological diversity in newsrooms as it is, the higher-ups in newsrooms across the country should try to hire more conservatives just for the sake of the business model.
Bob Steele, ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute, which trains journalists, thinks editors should be doing "ongoing content evaluation of candidates and issues to provide scrutiny on photos, stories, placement of stories and what are the weaknesses and strengths of the candidates." He also recommends "prosecutorial editing" as one way to "minimize the ideological bias and beliefs that all journalists have. It would greatly reduce the news content being skewed by beliefs."
Prosecutorial editing would certainly save journalists and journalism a lot of face. Dan Rather's infamous fake National Guard memos would've never appeared on the air had CBS had some sort of prosecutorial editing system in place. Unfortunately, at many newspapers today this method of editing would likely pit the far-left against the center-left. It's better than nothing, but hardly fair.
The second bit of news was Time magazine's Mark Halperin decrying the media coverage this election season as "extreme[ly] pro-Obama."
"It's the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war," Halperin said at a panel of media analysts. "It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage."
Halperin, who maintains Time's political site "The Page," cited two New York Times articles as examples of the divergent coverage of the two candidates.
"The example that I use, at the end of the campaign, was the two profiles that The New York Times ran of the potential first ladies," Halperin said. "The story about Cindy McCain was vicious. It looked for every negative thing they could find about her and it case her in an extraordinarily negative light. It didn't talk about her work, for instance, as a mother for her children, and they cherry-picked every negative thing that's ever been written about her."
The story about Michelle Obama, by contrast, was "like a front-page endorsement of what a great person Michelle Obama is," according to Halperin.
This isn't the first time that Halperin's said something like this. The problem is, that nothing's ever done about it.