Bias and the Beholder's Eye


December 02, 1992|By CAL THOMAS

Washington. -- My colleague Michael Kinsley has written what might be called the liberal response to conservatives howls of press bias in the 1992 presidential campaign.

In his TRB column (Opinion * Commentary, Nov. 27) responding to charges of press bias, Mr. Kinsley admits the press is liberal, but says so what? And he engages in the preferred putdown by liberal elitists: if conservatives were only intelligent (i.e., if we thought as he does), we, too, would be liberals.

Intelligence is not measured solely by an advanced degree, or the size of one's library, or the ability to recite certain facts at will. Real intelligence begins with a foundation of wisdom, based on ideas and immutable values that have a track record of achieving the objectives both conservatives and liberals agree are necessary in order to form a more perfect union. There are liberals with Ph.D.s who might be regarded as less intelligent than some who have earned only a high school diploma but who have the gift of wisdom.

Expecting a liberal to diagnose liberalism within his own profession is like a doctor diagnosing her own ailments or a lawyer representing herself in court, which as we all know means she would have a fool for a client.

The press exhibited undiluted euphoria over Bill and Hillary Clinton and Al and Tipper Gore. From conversations with my liberal colleagues, I can testify to their ecstasy over Mr. Clinton's victory. Is there any doubt that their bias influenced the way they reported his campaign, including the stories that were selected and the spin given to them?

Of course the press is biased, but conservatives will make no headway in redressing their grievances with this argument. They should argue not bias but fairness. David Brinkley once said it is impossible for journalists to be objective, so we must always try to be fair.

Is the press fair? Clearly it is not. This lack of fairness includes the placement of stories in the newspaper. The Washington Post buried the story of Republican Paul Coverdell's win in the Georgia Senate runoff, treating his victory as an aberration. Yet when Democrat Harris Wofford beat Republican Dick Thornburgh in a special Pennsylvania Senate race last year, the Post gave it front-page treatment. Had incumbent Georgia Sen. Wyche Fowler won last week, the Post undoubtedly would have featured the story more prominently, probably as further evidence of a Clinton ''mandate.''

The absence of fairness is also noted in the modifiers journalists use to label the views of the persons they cover. Ultra-right, arch-conservative and far-right are some of the more familiar labels applied to conservatives, while arch, ultra, far and, for that matter, liberal are rarely attached to liberal candidates and liberal ideas, no matter how extreme.

Outrageous behavior, whether by neo-Nazis in Germany or hard-line Communists in Russia, is always labeled ''conservative,'' even though many of them are, in fact, socialists, which is to say liberal.

The real point in this debate, and the point of the surveys proving the liberal leanings of most journalists, is the effect on the public. The press is foremost a business. If the reporting practices of journalists damage press credibility, leading to fewer readers of newspapers and lower ratings on television, then the profession is hurt. Because conservatives trust the press less with each passing year, they buy fewer newspapers and watch less TV news. This leads to a decline in profits, which ought to interest publishers and TV network executives concerned with the bottom line.

Why do liberals fear conservative views so much that they will not allow them to be better represented on television, or give only perfunctory and often stereotypical coverage of them in newspapers? Perhaps it's because deep in their liberal hearts they know that their ideas have not and cannot work.

Their ideas about social policy, taxes, values and relationships have produced a societal waste dump. To clean it up, liberals would have to acknowledge there is a problem. Having acknowledged that, they would have to blame themselves because liberalism has controlled the culture -- academia, the media and much of government -- for three decades.

One of the most popular bumper stickers for conservatives during the presidential campaign was ''Annoy the Media: Re-Elect Bush.'' Can those who feel this way about the press be dismissed as a tiny minority that can be ignored? Not unless the press thinks the industry is financially solvent. They will be ignored at a great economic cost to the press. You don't have to be intelligent to figure that out.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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