Edsall's Stand for Shades of Grey

It's not something you often see talked about but there's basically an unwritten assumption in national political circles that if you're a political liberal and you're also a reporter, you should be willing to be a "team player" and not admit that you even are one.

This point is important, you see, because conservatives are liars bent on "hurting America" (to use Jon Stewart's phrase), so anything that gives them comfort is something you should never do.

That attitude was very much on display in an online chat today with former Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall. If you recall, Edsall was the one who caused a stir by admitting (to conservative talker Hugh Hewitt) the blatantly obvious fact that liberals dominate the national elite media. Everyone who has any sort of contact with the New York and DC press corps knows this. People who work for Democrats tell me it all the time.

But in the mind of some liberals, most of them journalists, this is something that should never be publicly talked about for fear that if "the little people" get wind of this fact, we won't believe the proposition that journalists are demigods who can invariably see past their personal and group biases. And if we don't believe that line from them, perhaps we'll begin to question the received wisdom we get from them on a daily basis. Maybe then, we might start realizing that what you believe is primarily shaped by the information you take in.

Thus, it's better that liberal journalists not even start down that slippery slope. Certainly that's what a Post reader claiming to be from Seattle, Washington appears to believe. Here's the question and Edsall's answer (h/t Jim Romenesko):

Seattle, Wash: Why would you allow Hugh Hewitt to bait you into stupid questions about mainstream media bias and your personal loyalties? He and his ilk thrive on maintaining the illusion of a vast left-wing conspiracy in the news, and you basically confirming his worst suspicions makes you look like a sap and just serves to worsen conservative distrust of your work and the work of your colleagues.

Really, what were you thinking even answering those types of questions?

Thomas B. Edsall: I think his questions about the ideological leanings of reporters and editors are valid and appropriate. Instead of hiding behind claims of objectivity, members of the press should acknowledge and discuss their leanings. If anything, that will make them better reporters. Transparency is the best policy for almost all circumstances.

Esdall is right on the money. It is eminently important to know the politics of a group of people claiming to know "the truth" and saying that's all they're interested in.

It's amazing that Edsall's questioner couldn't see just how black-and-white this idea sounds to a non-liberal observer. There are some things that truly are indisputable and are always true. But for most things (especially politics), there is going to be disagreement, bias, separate sets of facts, and few shared truths between groups.

Liberals ought to know this, since they're forever denouncing conservatives as incapable of seeing the shades of grey (we even had a troll here by that name remember?). The reality, however, is that it's liberals who are incapable of seeing differing viewpoints on most issues and being tolerant of those who disagree. Kudos to Edsall for being more open-minded than many of his ideological compatriots.

Update 15:54. I made a mistake in this post. I forgot to mention there is one circumstance where lefty journalists think it's OK to ask a journalist about their politics--if that person happens to work for Fox News.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013