| April 20, 2012

This week in media bias

Several years back I attended a state-capitol press conference at which some conservative lawmakers were discussing their plan to get rid of the Oklahoma estate tax. Curiously, one reporter covering the event felt the need to express his opinion on the subject (you won’t be surprised to learn that he thought the tax was worth keeping).

I remember being startled that a reporter would do that, and remarking to some of the lawmakers afterwards, “How does it feel to look over at the other team’s huddle and see the referee in there with them?”

It’s worse than that, one legislator told me: It’s like we’re Nehemiah rebuilding the wall—trying to do our work with one hand while having to hold our sword with the other hand to fight off the enemy.

Liberal media bias is nothing new, of course. In its long march through the institutions the Left long ago captured the J-schools, and conservatives have simply had to learn to deal with it. We recognize clearly that media bias is a problem with the likes of CNN and MSNBC and The New York Times, for example. But many Oklahomans may not be aware of how big of a problem it is in our state-capitol press corps.

Interestingly, while most Oklahomans are on the center-right—only 9 percent identify themselves as liberal—I would say the inverse obtains in the state capitol press corps. The press room leans heavily to the center-left, with a small minority of conservatives. As past OCPA speaker Rich Lowry has observed, “most journalists are part of a media establishment that has attitudes and values that seep into its coverage the way cigarette smoke at a bar gets into everything you wear; it doesn’t matter whether you smoke or not, you stink.”

Even though these left-leaning journalists are part of America’s fastest-shrinking industry and are watching their colleagues drop like flies, too many of them continue to write for themselves and their sources rather than for their customers. Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson marvels that some Oklahoma journalists not only distort facts but in some cases “continue to do so even after having been apprised of their error.”

I never cease to be amazed by this kind of behavior from an industry that is clinging for its life. The purpose of journalism is to apprize customers of the facts. Demonstrating indifference to the facts cannot be good for business.

Examples of media bias are so numerous that I could blog about it every week. What prompted today’s blog post is a recent column written by a reporter for one of the state’s most respected newspapers. This journalist was highly laudatory of Oklahoma’s higher education system, which he says is “filled with hardworking, focused professionals who take their jobs very seriously.” He added, “it’s time for the Oklahoma Legislature to listen to those who are teaching.”

Fair enough, he’s certainly entitled to his opinion (this was a column, not a news story). The problem is that this professional journalist didn’t think it was worth mentioning to his readers that he himself is numbered among “those who are teaching” in that very system—and that he receives financial compensation for doing so. Now, according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics, journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

Yet this conflict of interest was not worth disclosing? Seriously? And there you have it—reason number 762 that conservatives don’t trust the media.

To its credit, the SPJ says that journalists should “encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.” I think it’s safe to say that’s not going to be a problem.

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