NPR Reports On U.S. Liberal Bias -- Tilted to Theorist Who Laments Reporters Aren't Openly Liberal Enough

On the morning before NPR announced its internal review of its leftist purge of Juan Williams for appearing on The O'Reilly Factor, media reporter David Folkenflik was "reporting" that the problem with the American news media is its painful lack of bias. Come again? "Mainstream news reporters don't tell you what they think enough of the time." That came from the star of the Folkenflik story, journalism professor Jay Rosen, a favorite of Bill Moyers. On the website, the story was headlined: "American Media's True Ideology? Avoiding One."

Anchor Steve Inskeep began: Yesterday on this program, we heard a story from London about the boisterous world of British newspapers and how they, unlike their American counterparts, openly embrace a point of view. Today, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik brings us an influential media critic who argues that mainstream American journalists do cling to their own ideology. It's not exactly on the right, not exactly on the left. He calls it the voice from nowhere."

It's not hard to imagine that Jay Rosen is "influential" in liberal media circles when he tells them they're not being liberal enough for him. Folkenflik set up his theory and his hopes and dreams for more bias:

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: What with websites and cable talk shows, it's hardly as though opinions are hard to come by in today's media landscape.>

KEITH OLBERMANN (MSNBC): In exchange, we're selling out a principal campaign pledge and the people to whom and for whom...[tiny clips of other shows, including Morning Joe]

JAY ROSEN (Media Critic): I'd like to know something about their background, like where they're from, who some of their heroes and villains are, any convictions - deeply held convictions - they've developed by reporting on the story over a long period of time.

FOLKENFLIK: Rosen is an associate professor of journalism at New York University. He says there would be a real benefit to such disclosure.

Mr. ROSEN: We can tell where the person is coming from and apply whatever discount rate we want to what they're saying. And I also think that it's more likely to generate trust. And this is the main reason I recommend here's where I'm coming from as a replacement for the view from nowhere.

FOLKENFLIK: The view from nowhere - that's the name Rosen gives to what he says is the media's true ideology, a way of falsely advertising that they can be trusted because they don't have any dog in the fight. For much of the conventional press that is, of course, crazy talk.

LEONARD DOWNIE (Former Executive Editor, Washington Post): I believe The Washington Post does make clear where we're coming from. Where we're coming from in our news gathering is no partisanship or ideology of any kind. We are transparent about where we're coming from. And our reporting speaks for itself. It is not coming from a point of view.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Leonard Downie, the Post's former executive editor and a leading advocate of impartiality in reporting. He went so far as to not vote when he was editor. Downie says true objectivity is an unrealizable goal but that dedicated journalists working together can carry out vital watchdog reporting without carrying a brief for any particular side. It's that impartiality that allows readers to trust his paper, Downie says.

DOWNIE: I would be very disturbed if The Washington Post tomorrow became an avowedly conservative or avowedly liberal newspaper. But you make it seem like all we have to do is admit that's what we already are when, in fact, it would mean changing what we are.

Here's where Folkenflik should be suggesting someone is issuing "crazy talk." Downie was famous/infamous for saying he doesn't vote. But anyone who picked up a copy of The Washington Post would find a newspaper that "voted" for the Democrats with their reportage pretty much every day.  Folkenflik didn't seek out legendary Ben Bradlee, the former Post executive editor who relished ruining Richard Nixon in Watergate who said at the height of the Iran-Contra scandal “I haven't had so much fun since Watergate.” It continued:

FOLKENFLIK [pictured at right]: Downie and Rosen agree on one thing: The principle of impartiality is an accident of economics. A century ago there were several newspapers in every big city and each allied to a political faction, but as papers died off, the surviving dailies sought to strip blatant opinion out of their news pages to appeal to a wider audience.

But those values are under siege. Rosen points to the decision of Peter S. Goodman to leave his job as national economics correspondent for The New York Times to become business editor at the liberal Huffington Post. Goodman says he's less sure his shift represents anything so grand.

PETER S. GOODMAN (Business Editor, Huffington Post): I mean, this is not about ranting. It's not about getting individuals elected. It's about the same mission that I think has been part of quality journalism forever, which is uncovering truths that aren't always so easy to uncover.

FOLKENFLIK: Then again, Goodman says his reporters will have some liberties other might not.

GOODMAN: I don't want them feeling like they just have to hand - you know, well, these people said this and those people said that; here, dear reader - you know, you figure it out. I would like them engaged in a process of getting to a satisfying conclusion.

So what you have here is a liberal (taxpayer-subsidized) media outlet reporting on how the media's problem is that it  doesn't have a liberal bias, and the honored talking heads in the story are a liberal professor, a former Washington Post editor, and a New York Times reporter who joined The Huffington Post. Isn't the story missing a conservative? Folkenflik offered a quick sentence, so the conservative view could be quickly dismissed:

FOLKENFLIK: Conservatives have complained for years about what they see as a pervasive liberal sensibility in the media. This is different. Rosen says that view from nowhere too often limits political reporters to obsessing about winners and losers -- who's up or down -- rather than the harder work of determining who's telling the truth, or the effects of the policies those politicians adopt.

ROSEN:  Removing all bias from their reports is something professional journalists actually aren't very good at. And they shouldn't say that they can do this, because it's very clear to most of the people on the receiving end that they fail at this all the time.

FOLKENFLIK: Jay Rosen argues that journalists will rebuild trust only if they reveal their beliefs, not suppress them. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

Rosen spent the Bush years arguing the Bush White House was trying to "decertify" reporters, to deny them their essential role as political actors. Here's the sentence in the Folkenflik story that absolutely floored James Taranto in his Best of the Web Today column for The Wall Street Journal opinion section:

Many old-line American news organizations are holding onto those values–-or at least want to be seen doing so. NBC News suspended Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough for failing to get approval to make contributions to political candidates, though both are opinion hosts on cable channel MSNBC. Their suspensions were widely considered to be relatively light, at just two days apiece. NPR terminated the contract of former news analyst Juan Williams for repeatedly voicing personal views in other news outlets.

Taranto underlined: "That's right, NPR is touting its firing of Juan Williams as evidence of its objectivity and lack of bias. OK, we suppose Rosen has a point. Here is at least one news organization that may as well abandon any pretense of being unbiased or objective."

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