Bunch of Junk: The New York Times Is 'Bending Over Backwards' for Conservatives?

For years, liberals argued that it was absurd to argue the media had a liberal bias when Washington was dominated by Republican majorities. But now, when Washington is dominated by the Democrats, some are still clinging to the odd notion that the media "bends over backwards" against the liberal-bias charge and coddles conservatives. Take Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News, and his odd logic:

This uncomfortable truth? That to accomodate the perceived notion that the news media warps things so far to the left, journalists have been playing Twister to bend over backwards to accomodate conservatives -- and tying ourselves in knots.

Exhibit A: The New York Times admits that it's easier to get on one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in American journalism, a slot on its letters-to-the-editor page, if you are a conservative. Here is what Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, said in a recent online chat:

The best kind of letter is relatively short (under 150 words), clearly written, strongly opinionated and direct. It doesn’t contain personal invective aimed at the writer or subject of an article. And it’s well written. I’ll be honest: Because of the nature of our readers, letter writers who defend Republican, conservative or right-wing positions on many topics have a higher shot at being published.

Bunch seems unable or unwilling to do the math. Rosenthal is not pledging that more right-wing letters will be published than left-wing letters. (Bunch makes no attempt to prove that’s the case.) Rosenthal is saying "because of the nature of our readers" – they’re overwhelmingly liberals – they have many more liberal letters to pick through, hence letters from the right "have a higher shot," or a better probability, of being published.

Bunch then continued by charging that at some date in the near future, the editorial pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are going to move toward the right, based only on conservative-bashing "local observers" who equate modern conservatives with reactionaries and segregationists:

Exhibit B: Cynthia Tucker -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has long been the kind of contrarian voice that we journalists allegedly worship -- is being moved up and out of her slot in what local observers say is part of a seemingly futile bid to woo back conservative suburban readers:

It’s safe to say, however, that for the first time in generations, the state’s leading editorial page finally will have abandoned its mission as a progressive voice in favor of a carefully constructed mirage of "balance" — designed not to tell the truth, whether it’s unpopular or not, as much as to mollify conservative readers.

Isn't it amusing that the same liberals who always lament that blue-haired conservatives shouldn't disparage a smutty movie before it hits the theaters can't possibly wait for the horror of a centrist editorial page to develop before they decry it?

Bunch is so busy agreeing that liberalism offers the "truth," he doesn't address Tucker's declarations of policy on letters to the editor: truth is a "looser" concept than he's pushing. Back to Bunch:

This article about Tucker's move to Washington and away from her key local post at the Atlanta paper does a good job of laying out the broader issues, of why journalists are so self-conscious about their alleged liberalism -- some of it real but a lot of it perceived -- and why we become so accomodating to conservatives that it quickly becomes a case of being too accomodating.

That could be because efforts at balance come across as what they are — a bit patronizing. But it’s also because the practice of journalism is an essentially liberal exercise in the classical sense of the word: It places faith in the ability of people to form their opinions based on facts and reasoning rather than on preconceptions and prejudice. Meanwhile, the South’s brand of conservatism — the brand that has taken over much of the Republican Party — is essentially reactionary: Any narrative, no matter how factual, that challenges a set worldview is seen as a threat from outsiders to be battled, no matter how high the cost.

It's not surprising that there's an overlap between liberal values and journalistic values -- at least as journalists and progressives like to perceive themselves, as rational thinkers and as questioners of authority.

Are liberals really distinguishing themselves in the Obama Era as "questioners of authority," or are they more likely to be worshipers of authority, admirers of the arms of authority's spouse, and promoters of the authority's new puppy?

The last time we mentioned Bunch, he was claiming "media bias saved America." So give him credit for consistency. He wants the media all liberal, all the time. That's how you get "truth."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis