Reports From the Land of Obvious: Journalists Lean Left

But Is It the Ultimate Word of Mouth or Just Hot Air?

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Out of the 144 journalists that has identified as contributing to political campaigns, 125 gave to Democrats. Why this is "news" is beyond me.

Journalists -- for any number of reasons -- tend to be Democrats. And just because folks like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly loudly proclaim this, doesn't make it untrue.

The only thing sillier than being shocked by the news is believing the journalistic field when it says such biases have no overall effect on the delivered product. Of course it does. Fox News, after all, didn't spring fully formed out of nothingness. There obviously was a demand there. And CNN didn't stick Glenn Beck on Headline News just to counter Fox -- it did it to counter its own perception.

That said ... in the end, does this really matter to presidential politics? After all, it seems that having the bulk of the U.S. media on your side would be the ultimate in word-of-mouth advertising. The Democratic party should win every time. But lately, the party can't even beat a politician as bumbling and un-camera-ready as George W. Bush.

So what's the deal? There are a number of things that work against crazy conspiracy theories claiming there is a cohesive beast called Liberal Media that acts in the best interests of hippies and commies and the like. A few of them:
  • Reporters are human, Part 1. Though I wouldn't expect the frothier elements (on the left or right) to believe this, reporters often really do try to weed out their own biases. That's what they get paid for, after all. And while many literally wept on the day George W. Bush won the second time around, they do a decent (but far from perfect) job of toning it down. Humans being fallible, they don't always succeed. (And reporters can't be held responsible for the biases of the headline writers or editors, either.) Does bias get through? Absolutely. But it could be much, much worse.

  • Reporters are human, Part 2. People, being people, fall prey to charm. Go back and look at the last two elections. Those journalists traveling with George W. Bush found themselves liking bits and pieces about him on a personal level. Hell, even Nancy Pelosi's daughter caved. Those traveling with Al Gore and John Kerry, I've heard it said on more than one occasion, couldn't get past the fact that the men were dull and preachy. A better test case might be the Clintons. If you want to see some cringe-inducing fawning, go to an off-the-record Bill Clinton speech attended by a bunch of journalists. You'd think you were watching teen girls on the set of "High School Musical." Then go to a similar event hosted by Hillary, who is technically far more liberal than Bill. Those sorts of things affect coverage as much as political leanings do.

  • What really matters, Part 1. There's one bias that trumps political bias and that's the news bias. News is news. A break is a break. And if a reporter sniffs something out, she's going to run with it regardless of the political parties involved (what some high-powered editors do with the story after the fact is a topic for another day).

  • What really matters, Part 2. The public, in the end, doesn't care what the media's political beliefs are. News is sort of like the rays of the sun -- only about 10% of it ever really makes it through (and much of THAT 10% is about Paris Hilton). The majority of consumers don't care. That's not to say mainstream media coverage is as irrelevant than a viral video on YouTube. But when's the last time The New York Times actually won a presidential election for either party? (I don't have the time right now to counter left-wing claims that the corporatocracy uses its media control to distract the American sheeple from the important matters of the day.)
Sure, the media can often serve as a gate-keeper, choosing what makes it through. And their biases can influence such decisions. But if the so-called Liberal Media was as effective as right-wing critics claim it to be, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been elected. And, if anything, the mainstream media is losing what power it might have had as a million blogs bloom.

In the end, presidential races are won on an ugly mix of money, policy, personality, glad-handing, push polls and attack ads. And barring any major advances in mind-control rays, that's the way it'll always be.