By Brian Harmon
Conservatism. Liberalism. Journalism.
Two of these isms go hand in hand — but their relationship has hardly spelled doom for the other ism.
American journalism, a proud product of our treasured First Amendment, has long attracted the liberal-minded to its fold. Journalists write, speak and report about all sorts of topics — movie reviews, high school football games and Lindsay Lohan, to name a few — but serving as watchdogs of government, businesses and public figures remains their most important function.
Aspiring journalists boast about the opportunity to “change the world.” The veterans maintain varying levels of skepticism toward anyone with power or influence.
Like liberals, reporters are broad-minded and unconventional. Many — liberals and reporters — relish the chance to stir the pot. And far too many pursue change for — dare I say it — change’s sake.
I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that muckraking journalists — watchdogs, sleuths, bloodhounds and the like — typically are not conservative.
It hardly surprises me that numerous studies have shown that the politics of the majority of journalists lean left. I’ve worked as either a reporter or an editor in six newsrooms — big and small, dailies and weeklies — in such places as Detroit, West Viriginia, New York City and the North Fork of Long Island. Each one was dominated by news men- and -women who proudly vote Democratic.
But journalists are counted on to be fair and balanced; their own politics shouldn’t pervade their own reporting. After all, isn’t the golden rule of journalism to be objective?
The truth is that the predominance of political liberals in newsrooms can’t help but push news coverage in a liberal direction. The reason: subjectivity.
Objectivity is bit of a journalistic myth. As a reporter and editor, I was paid to be subjective.
While reporting a story, I decided what to write about, whom to talk to and what questions to ask. Then, while writing a story, I determined which facts were most important and I handpicked which source’s quotes I believed were needed. All subjective.
Journalists have no choice but to be subjective, so long as their main objective is telling the truth.
So, Michael White was indeed correct last week when he asserted in his column that despite the counter-attacks of the Fox News Channel “The American media is dominated by liberals” and that “story ideas coming out of a room of left-leaning thinkers are going to be different from those pitched by a team of right-leaning thinkers.”
But has this liberal bias really mattered? Yes, when you consider that liberalism and journalism have teamed for decades to play key roles in spreading civil rights and religious freedom.
But when it comes to putting people in office, it doesn’t seem to have much sway.
Consider the wave of Republican support at the polls in last week’s election.
Then consider that since 1960, a Republican has sat in the oval office for 28 of those 50 years. Congress meanwhile has witnessed a healthy volley of power between Democrats and the GOP.
In New York State, the governor has been a Republican for 26 of those same 50 years. Here on Long Island, the voting base remains predominantly Republican, despite the left leanings of Newsday’s opinion pages.
The Suffolk Times — Times/Review Newspapers’ flagship newspaper — has long been lambasted on the street and in the paper’s letters to the editor for a political bent that lands somewhere left of Attila the Hun. Yet the Southold Town Supervisor has been a Republican for 17 of the 33 years that the paper has been under its current ownership.
Now, imagine if there were a conservative bias.
Mr. Harmon is a former managing editor at Times/Review Newspapers.