FOR THOSE with eyes to see and ears to hear, the evidence of a liberal bias in the mainstream national media is inescapable. From a bottomless reservoir of illustrations, consider this excerpt from an AP dispatch last month:
"Moving to quell community complaints, the White House apologized today for mishandling the choice of a student speaker at a presidential event in Florida.
"At issue was a decision by a White House aide to reject a local group's recommendation that Mr. Clinton be introduced at an antidrug event by a black teen-ager, and to request a white speaker instead....
"Looking for a student to introduce the president, White House organizer Mort Engleberg had turned to the Miami Coalition for a Drug-Free Community. The group recommended a 19-year-old black male, but Engleberg said he did not want a black person, according to White House officials." Well, well. The White House won't let a black youngster introduce the president. It insists only a white one will do. Is this a big story?
On whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat.
If George Bush had been the president in question, the gaffe would likely have played on Page 1 and on the networks' evening news. Since it was Bill Clinton, there was nothing on TV and little in the papers. The New York Times ran a small item at the bottom of Page A22.
Here's a thought experiment: Imagine Nancy Reagan speaking to a roomful of conservative Republican fund-raisers. Imagine her telling a mocking story about a prominent black official. Imagine her "quoting" this official - in black dialect. Imagine the uproar and the headlines.
Of course, Nancy Reagan never did any such thing. But Hillary Clinton did.
On April 26, Mrs. Clinton addressed the liberal fund-raising group Emily's List. Affecting a fake black accent, she told a story about San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown demanding to know who this "Emily List" was: "She supportin' all these people. She supportin' Sen. Dianne Feinstein.... Why won't she support me?"
Uproar? Headlines? A Nexis database search turns up only one paper, the Los Angeles Times, that even bothered to report the speech. Its story was titled "First Lady Rips Into GOP 'Negativism.'" Two days later, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a follow-up: "First Lady's Humor OK with the Mayor."
Funny how Senator Al D'Amato's humor wasn't so OK when he put on an exaggerated Japanese accent to poke fun at Judge Lance Ito on a radio show last year. When Senator Jesse Helms quipped to a home-state paper that President Clinton was so unpopular with soldiers that if he visited a North Carolina Army base, "he'd better have a bodyguard," the media fire was merciless.
The left-wing press bias that holds liberals like the Clintons to one standard and conservatives like Helms and D'Amato to a higher standard is hardly new. For years, the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va., has been richly documenting it, reprinting the most egregious examples in a monthly newsletter, "MediaWatch."
Now there's quantitative proof.
As part of a yearlong study into the connection between Congress and the media, the Freedom Forum commissioned a survey of Washington-based journalists. The survey was conducted by the Roper Center, a distinguished polling firm. Its findings are pretty unambiguous.
Of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and Capitol Hill correspondents surveyed, 50 percent identify themselves as Democrats. Only 4 percent are Republican. Sixty-one percent say they are left of center. Right of center: only 9 percent. A colossal 89 percent voted for Clinton in 1992. Bush drew 7 percent.
In the real world, as Ben Wattenberg, the essayist and former aide to Hubert Humphrey, points out, Democrats do not outnumber Republicans by 12-1/2 to 1. They split almost evenly. Nor, in the real world, do liberals have a 7-1 advantage over conservatives. Conservatives outnumber liberals by about 2 to 1. And only in his dreams did Clinton get 9 out of 10 votes in 1992. His actual share was 43 percent.
Isn't it obvious that an ideologically skewed press pack will generate ideologically skewed news? Not to the pack, it isn't. "One of the things about being a professional," says Elaine Povich, the former Chicago Tribune reporter who wrote the Freedom Forum study, "is that you attempt to leave your personal feelings aside as you do your work."
Ah. That must be why, when asked how they covered the GOP's Contract with America in 1994, only 3 percent of the Washington press corps said they treated it as "a serious reform proposal." That must be why 85 percent admit being taken by surprise when the Republicans won control of Congress later that year.
There is nothing wrong with journalists having strong political opinions. There is something wrong with pretending it doesn't affect their work. When 89 percent of Washington correspondents vote for Clinton, it shows up in their journalism. When only 9 percent call themselves conservative, that shows up, too. It's time editors and producers did something to correct that.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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