The myth of liberal media bias

November 23, 1993|By Janet Kersten

INTRIGUED by all the right-wing hoo-haw about the "liberal media," I began to wonder who these devilishly elusive people are who have such tight control over everything I read, listen to and view; who influence my life without my even being aware of it?

As a lifelong news junkie absorbed in all things political, I grew more and more curious about this insidious influence that, we are warned, is more dangerous and pervasive than kudzu or killer bees.

So I decided to conduct a survey, unscientific to be sure, but probably no more so than those done by pollsters who slant their questions to elicit the responses desired. For two months I noted -- in all the media that crossed my path -- every commentator's and op-ed writer's name, identification and point of view.

I subscribe to three daily national newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today) and 10 magazines; I buy other periodicals, and I listen to local and network TV and radio. Additionally, since I travel in my work, I noted names and viewpoints of syndicated columnists published in various local newspapers. To avoid skewing results, I did not include avowedly ideological publications like the National Review (right) or The Nation (left).

I am now prepared to name names. Of the 73 pundits encountered, care to guess how many were liberal? Would you believe three? That's right, count 'em, three. Hardly enough to frighten women and children and undermine government policy.

There were others -- 12 of whom I would describe as moderate, not knee-jerk in either direction, left or right, but willing to criticize actions or policies be they Democratic or Republican. In the old, pre-politically correct days, we used to call such people objective.

That left me with 58 writers and commentators whose views were consistently and unabashedly right of center, frequently knee-jerk. What amazed me is how prolific they are. Not a day goes by that they aren't hammering their agendas on the air, tube or as syndicated columnists across the United States.

Lest you think I have made this up ("I have in my hand a list"), herewith are the names I encountered in the media in my two-month project.

Conservatives/Right-wingers:

Roger Ailes, Fred Barnes, Michael Barone, Pat Buchanan, Christopher Buckley, William Buckley, Jack Chambers, Stephen Chapman, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez, Midge Decter, Jay Diamond, Rowland Evans, Bruce Fein, John F. Fund, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Paul Gigot, Bob Grant, Paul Greenberg, Brit Hume, James J. Kilpatrick, Jeffrey King, Joe Klein, Howard Kleinberg, Ed Koch, Morton Kondracke, Hilton Kramer, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Irving Kristol, G. Gordon Liddy, Rush Limbaugh, Mary Matalin, John McLaughlin, Lynn Martin, William Murchison, Robert Novak, Norman Ornstein, Norman Podhoretz, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Michael Reagan, Sheldon Richman, A.M. Rosenthal, William Safire, Robert J. Samuelson, William Schneider, Harry Schwartz, Curtis Sliwa, Tony Snow, Joseph Sobran, Herbert Stein, John Sununu, Cal Thomas, Emmett Tyrell, Ben Wattenburg, George F. Will, Lally Weymouth, Pete Williams.

Moderates/Centrists:

Sam Donaldson, Elizabeth Drew, Jack Germond, Ellen Goodman, Jeff Greenfield, Albert R. Hunt, Michael Kinsley, Mary McGrory, Cokie Roberts, Daniel Schorr, Mark Shields, Nina Totenberg.

Liberals:

Anthony Lewis, Anna Quindlen, Carl Rowan.

Liberal bias? Who's kidding whom? Here's another myth dreamed up by the scare artists of the right. Unfortunately, it has been charged and repeated so often, like a mantra, that people who do not do a head count believe it -- which is exactly the meretricious impression the right-wing clamor is intended to cause.

We're talking individuals here, but then there's the ownership of our media, such bastions of "liberal" thought as General Electric (NBC), Capital Cities (ABC), the Tisch Corp. (CBS), Ted Turner (CNN), to say nothing of Time Warner and other multi-media conglomerates. "Liberal media," indeed.

Janet Kersten is a business-travel writer based in New Canaan, Conn.

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