The Extremely Tired And Overemphasized Notion Of Liberal Media Bias, And That MSNBC.com Story About Same
Posted by: Jon Fine on June 21, 2007
This is a simpleminded, blunt-tool kind of story, and an obvious bit of blog bait. (Big surprise: It worked.) Inevitably, the Drudge Report headline was THE GREAT DIVIDE: REPORTERS GIVE MONEY TO DEMS OVER REPUBLICANS 9 TO 1, even though the data compiled by MSNBC’s Bill Dedman does not get you to that conclusion.
There are a few examples that are just, well, kind of duh: if you’re doing on-air reporting, you should not be shilling for Obama. But plenty of these examples MSNBC’s Bill Dedman cites are just silly, and rather pointless. I refuse to get exercised about the fact that the New Yorker’s film critic and theater critic and Hollywood reporter gave money to Democrats; or that the Economist’s technology reporter, a Newsweek medical writer did the same, and –oh no! the damage done to journalism!—the “sports statistician” from the Boston Globe did the same. (The full list of who-gave-what-when is here.)
Because I refuse to get exercised about maintaining a myth of journalistic objectivity, especially if what you cover as a journalist has little or nothing to do with politics whatsoever.
Needless to say, Drudge did not pay attention to which employees were giving what, and so people whose jobs do not remotely touch on politics—or even reporting, in the case of the critics and sports statistician and the designers and copy editors—somehow still count as evidence of the Media’s Massive Democratic Conspiracy.
But, really. As long as many media outlets are based in big coastal cities, like New York, Los Angeles, and D.C., is it any surprise that the white-collar journalists in those towns will broadly reflect the white-collar biases of their locales—that is, overwhelmingly democratic?
And, by the way, the press pack works in mysterious ways. I know nothing about the personal politics of three excellent, savvy journalists who in 2000 were based in Washginton DC: Katherine “Kit” Seelye of the New York Times, Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post, and Sandra Sobieraj of the Associated Press. But if you think their milieu, meant they were shilling for the Dems as they covered the election of 2000—well, go back and read the clips. And, for that matter, mention their names to any member of the Gore’s inner circle, and stand back, since they’re probably still convinced their (extremely) tough coverage tilted the election against him. (Hat tip to this book, which is one of the places I’m lifting this idea from.)
By the way: I gave several hundred dollars to the Kerry campaign in 2004. (I’d be more precise, but I honestly don’t recall off the top of my head.) These donations were in keeping with the wise guidelines of my then-employer, Advertising Age, which only exempted journalists who covered politics from making political donations.
My current role at BusinessWeek is as a columnist (that is, someone who is paid to generate and express opinions), and, as our spokeswoman points out, BusinessWeek-ers are not banned form giving political donations.
In 2006, I gave donations to Democratic Senatorial candidates Jon Tester, Harold Ford, Claire McCaskill, and Jim Webb.
I will be donating early, often, and enthusiastically to the ’08 candidates of my choice, so long as BusinessWeek’s policies permit me to do so.
The New York Times’ Ethicist columnist, Randy Cohen, calls it all Ethicist-style here—his slightly-annoying style made all the more annoying because I agree with him:
“We admire those colleagues who participate in their communities — help out at the local school, work with Little League, donate to charity … But no such activity is or can be non-ideological. Few papers would object to a journalist donating to the Boy Scouts or joining the Catholic Church. But the former has an official policy of discriminating against gay children; the latter has views on reproductive rights far more restrictive than those of most Americans. Should reporters be forbidden to support those groups? I’d say not. Unless a group’s activities impinge on a reporter’s beat, the reporter should be free to donate to a wide range of nonprofits. Make a journalist’s charitable giving transparent, and let the readers weigh it as they will.
“Those who do not cover anything, but write a column of opinion should have even more latitude. It is such a writer’s job to make his views explicit. Those donations to nonprofits will no doubt reflect the views he or she is hired to express. In evaluating such civic engagement, it is well to remember that to have an opinion is not to have a bias. To conceal one’s political opinions is not to be without them.”
UPDATE 6/22 regarding The Ethicist: This is idiocy. a columnist, not a reporter, with no remote overlap with politics, being penalized for something he did well before he even started working at this particular newspaper.
(Additional disclosure: the head copy editor at BusinessWeek, Prudence Crowther, is cited as a Democratic donor in Dedman’s article. While I have not discussed any of this with her, I salute her straightforward response to Dedman’s inquiry.)