Liberal Media (2003, 2004)
PERHAPS THE EASIEST BIAS
to identify in the media is that of business journal-
ism. When it comes to money, journalists are easily impressed, and here it is conser-
vatives who benefit by the fact that virtually no one questions their assumptions.
"The chief business of the American people is business,'" President Calvin Coolidge
famously observed, and so is the business of business journalism. What economists
call "externalities"-the condition of workers' lives, the treatment of shareholders,
sweetheart deals for favored investors, exorbitant executive compensation, special-
interest lobbying in the federal agencies or on Capitol Hill-were, until recently, no
more welcome on the business pages or cable chat shows than they had been in most
corporations' reports to their stockholders. In fact, in most ofthe above cases, the top-
ics begin to intrude on the media's storyline only when one of them reaches such
mammoth proportions-say, an Enron accounting scandal or an Exxon oil spill-
that it actually becomes the story.
In addition to the social issues discussed in chapter 7, a former top Clinton aide,
Michael Waldman, identified "free trade" as perhaps the single issue where adminis-
tration members could be most assured of friendly coverage.
the staffer charged
with leading the adminisuation's communications operation to win the fight over the
NAFTA treaty in 1993, he recalled:
I got a lot ofkudos inside the White House for stories on NAFTA that I didn't even
have any idea would be appearing. Without even much prompting, the press
drummed away at the benefits of the agreement, and criticized the opponents. I
always thought this was a combination of reporters and editors believing that the
economic arguments were strong, which dovetailed with the overall posture of the
owners of the news outlets. In any case, the coverage was pretty lopsided.'
Waldman gets no argument from the Clinton administration's arch-opponent,
Grover Norquist. Free trade is, he explained, "the one issue that the establishment
gets." Norquist finds this odd, because "They don't understand the minimum wage,
What Economic Bias?
which is simple, but they do get free trade, which is more complicated."}
the case, this lefr-right unholy alliance is on to something. No longer the working-
class heroes of the
Front Page/His Gal Friday
lore, elite journalists in Washington and
New York are rock-solid members of the political and financial Establishment about
whom they write. They dine at the same restaurants and take their vacations on the
same Caribbean islands. Even
one does not object to a journalist lobbying President
Clinton to send Chelsea to the elite private school to which the journalist's daughter
goes while trading pleasantries at a Renaissance Weekend, the very fact that such a
thing takes place is at least indicative of a social order that would have been all but
unimaginable a few decades earlier.