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Left and Right Agree: Journalists Are out of Touch

Tuesday, 19 November 2002 12:00 AM

“The audience is gravitating to more conservative outlets like Fox News and conservative talk radio … because a lot of those readers and viewers are fed up with the diversity propaganda that they get in the major newspapers and on the network news,” declared William McGowan, author of the book “

The “social distance born of class,” he argued before an audience at the National Press Club, “makes reporters and editors much more romantic about ethnic identity,” and “insulates them from ... the real-world consequences of some of these diversity programs that they proscribe for those further down the socio-economic food chain.”

In the knock-down clash on the No. 1 controversy in America’s newsrooms, McGowan’s debating adversary on the question of racial, gender and ethnic diversity in the media agreed with him that mainstream news organizations were out of touch.

Juan Gonzalez, president of National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Washington journalists in attendance that the extent of liberal bias in the media had been exaggerated, but he did concur with McGowan that mainstream journalists are not like other people.

Citing a quote from veteran journalist Jim Fallows, Gonzalez said he completely agrees that “the reportorial elite, those based in large cities and [who] work for large news organizations, have an outlook that is different from average Americans.

"Most have shown for years they are less religious than the statistical representative Americans,” and are “more opposed to the death penalty, more accepting of abortion and homosexuality, and in other ways were more culturally liberal than most of their fellow citizens.” In many ways, that worldview “affected the tone of their coverage.”

However, Gonzalez also approved of Fallows’ contention that “the supposed liberalism of the elite press is more limited than people believe on economic issues, taxes, welfare, deficit controls, trade policy, attitudes toward labor unions.”

Gonzalez cited Fallows, onetime editor of U.S. News & World Report, arguing that “the views of elite journalists had become far more conservative as their incomes have gone up.”

That contradicts first-hand knowledge of non-leftist journalists who witness day-to-day newsroom operations and know newshounds who make little distinction between cultural and economic politics when it comes to officials they favor (usually on the left) and those they ridicule (usually conservatives of whatever stripe). And McGowan was quick to make that point.

NewsMax.com had submitted a written question to the podium raising the issue of diversity of world outlook in America’s newsrooms to balance the overwhelming leftist tilt that prevails today.

Indeed, said McGowan, newsrooms should think about attempting to reach “true ideological and intellectual diversity, and stop penalizing people who may come from the right.”

With the caveat that he does not “carry the sword for the right,” McGowan said he knows from his own experience that “people who have a conservative perspective are shunned and excluded in newsrooms, that the newsroom is largely a province of liberals, and that somehow these values have become sort of like a wallpaper of the newsroom and that those who have conservative values really do stand out, and are sanctioned because of that.”

He also charged that some minority journalist groups such as National Association of Black Journalists had slandered his book with racial witch-hunting and “really stupid rhetoric,” such as the charge that he longed for the days of the all-white newsrooms.

Gonzalez denied that his Hispanic organization had asked National Press Club to rescind the Rouse Award for Media Criticism, which it had bestowed on McGowan.

The author of “Coloring the News” would remove the incentives “in these diversity plans” that reward managers in pay and promotion “pegged to the number of minorities they hire and the number of positive stories about minorities.”

“That way,” declared McGowan, leads to a “corruption” in news coverage. He added that editors around the country have told him they would prefer to hire on the basis of merit, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexuality.

Gonzalez replied there were other forms of journalistic corruption. Two examples he cited were Walter Winchell’s advising Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s and the charge in Washington Post writer Bob Woodward’s new book that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes “in his spare time” had advised President Bush after 9/11.

That raised another age-old issue in the journalism profession: Don’t opinion journalists and off-air media CEOs have more latitude in their interactions with politicians than those reporters assigned to give “just the facts”?

Columnist George Will was roundly criticized for coaching Ronald Reagan before the presidential debates in 1980. But others argued that Will, as an opinion journalist, was entitled to advise politicians he favored. The public knows where he stands.

Similarly, NewsMax approached Gonzalez after the debate and pointed out that Winchell, who had also supported and socialized with President Franklin Roosevelt, was an opinion/gossip columnist with no pretense of being unbiased. Moreover, as Winchell was advising McCarthy, Drew Pearson, another opinion journalist, was coaching McCarthy’s enemies.

Gonzalez disagreed with the argument that opinion journalists have more leeway.

Ailes, also cited by Gonzalez, is a CEO who is well known as a former longtime adviser to Republicans. Some of the most famous media CEOs have been politically active, and that has not been considered a “conflict of interest” in the same sense that it would apply to a reporter.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday Ailes “went ballistic” and said “Woodward got it all screwed up” in reporting on his advice to Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ailes told the Style section of the Post that his advice was “completely non-partisan. I would have written the same letter to FDR after Pearl Harbor.”

NewsMax asked Gonzalez if he would consider Ailes’ actions less offensive than Edward R. Murrow’s decision to advise Adlai Stevenson.

“Well, yes, I would agree with that,” he replied.

Murrow, for years a CBS News icon, was an opinion journalist, but is memorialized by his backers for his news coverage, especially from London during the Nazi invasion of World War II.

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"The audience is gravitating to more conservative outlets like Fox News and conservative talk radio … because a lot of those readers and viewers are fed up with the diversity propaganda that they get in the major newspapers and on the network news," declared William...
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2002-00-19
Tuesday, 19 November 2002 12:00 AM
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