Liberal Media? (2003, 4004)
that ifyou look hard enough, you can find, without trying very
hard, what most people would term a "liberal" bias allover the mainstream media.
Journalism, lest we forget, is a nearly perfectly inexact science, the first draft of his-
tory and all that. Any number of biases-liberal, conservative, religious, ethnocentric,
humanist, heterosexist, age-ist, class-ist, racist, able-ist, weight-ist, to name just a
few--can creep into a story despite the best efforts of reporters, editors, and produc-
ers to keep them at bay. The key question to ask is not whether examples of bias can
be found, but exactly where is bias pervasive and what is its effect on the news and
American public life?
Though the evidence is sketchy, I tend to believe that on many social issues, con-
servatives have a case. Elite media journalists, like most people in their education
brackets and geographical locations, rarely come into contact with religious funda-
mentalists. So it can be difficult for them to know what people who live, culturally
and sociologically, in a far-off hind might perceive as biased.
If religion were the only measure of bias then conservatives would have a strong
case. Politically speaking, the Republicans are the parey. of evangelical and funda-
mentalist Christians, and the Democrats are the parey ofsecularists. Journalists are
more comfortable with the latter; indeed, they consider their position to be the "nor-
mal" one. Indeed, ic is so normal, it does not occur to anyone to point it out. Thus
New York Times
ran twice as many stories on the power of fundamentalists and
evangelicals in the Republican parey in 1992 alone than both the
together ran on secularists in the Democratic Parey during the entire
decade of the 1990s.
Ipso facto, religious conservatives might wish to argue, if the
media is secular and the Democrats are secular, the cwo are quite naturally allies
against the faithful on those issues where religion plays a role in the public sphere.
Moreover, even with the best of intentions, religion is hard to cover as "news"
because it is, by definicion, a matter of faith. How is a reporter trained in "who,
what, when, where, and why" to treat reports of, say, a miracle or a visitation? Few
What Social Bias?
reporters have much experience with fundamentalist Christians and most, I would
venture, are clueless about what it is they believe. Stephen Carter,
Yale Law School
professor, noted that during a 2000 presidential debate, reporters would use the
terms "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" as if they were synonymous. Media who
are unable to understand these distinctions, he wrote,
be equally unable to
understand why, in his presidential campaign, the Reverend Pat Robertson ran worse
among fundamentalists than among white voters generally."2 Garry Wills, whose
lifelong interest in religion and politics is almost unique among liberal public intel-
lectuals, mused on
problem in the
Washington Post Book World,