Johnston: Breeding bias

It is pretty hard to deny a leftward bias in the news media these days. On the one hand, the National Enquirer reported that the former vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Party had an affair, and the media studiously ignored the story for months, even through his second presidential campaign. When he finally admitted to the affair, the story was briefly mentioned, then left behind.

Three days after the introduction of the Republican vice-presidential nominee, the media began to report an elaborate story, sourced from the lefty netroots, that she had lied in claiming to have delivered her fifth baby. When, forced to respond to the slanders, she revealed that her daughter was five-months pregnant, the media immediately treated the revelation as a massive scandal.

From the flood of articles and commentary on the subject, one might be excused for thinking the media were trying to sink Gov. Sarah Palin’s reputation before she even had a chance to introduce herself. Or, if reporters were merely “doing their jobs” in looking into the sexual transgressions of the candidate’s daughter, they reveal their own incompetence in the case of the sexual transgressions of the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate himself.

It is unlikely that this double standard will be rectified. Recently, positions in the news media are simultaneously higher-class and harder to come by. While many college graduates wish to become journalists, the number of available jobs is in decline. The result is that a higher proportion of journalists have graduated from elite schools. And elite schools produce more liberal graduates.

Elite schools do not enforce liberal political ideologies, or even intentionally make life difficult for those on the right. Most have moved beyond the speech-code era of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. However, they immerse their students in the principles and assumptions of modern political philosophy. In other words, elite schools form the minds of their students according to the systematic account of political justice dominant in modern thought: liberalism.

Most cannot articulate the effect of this immersion. Yet, surrounded by the liberal ideal of individual autonomy, their political thought undergoes a transformation. Just think about the twinkle in the eye of the student who describes his politics as “economically conservative, socially liberal.” It is clear that he feels himself initiated into the Gnostic cult of the modern intellectual elite, those who have escaped the prejudices of the mass and stand in the vanguard of history. As soon as such students learn about the conditions of autonomy, they shift into modern Democrats, still firm in their social liberalism, but able to countenance economic redistribution to a limited degree as long as its purpose is to grant autonomy to the poor

It is no surprise, then, that the media bias to the left. Though reporters may strive to be objective, that objectivity is limited by the doctrines of liberalism. This liberalism attempts to achieve the conditions of autonomy while delegitimizing any collective substantive good.

The problem is exacerbated when reporters theorize on the social function of journalism. For as journalism is understood to be the objective basis for public democratic discourse, journalists take upon themselves the responsibility of informing readers of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

Now that society has been shorn of old-time mores, “fit to print” is not construed as a limitation on that which is vulgar but as a filter to eliminate the primitive, that is, journalism from the point of view of traditional norms. Any journalism relating to religion, for example, becomes a form of pop sociology.

Thus the real scandal of the Republican vice-presidential nominee: She is primitive. She attends an evangelical church and takes advice from pastors on how to follow God’s will in government. Those pastors think the Bible is the literal Word of God. She considers babies, even her disabled fifth-born and the unexpected pregnancy of her daughter, as blessings rather than burdens. And she wants these retrograde views to influence public policy? Obviously, she does not understand the great boon of autonomy, the product of centuries of political thought, the essence of all that for which the Enlightenment stands.

The enlightened journalists of the news media cannot help but let their condescension seep into and through their reporting.


  • Anonymous

    That's a poor, anecdotal argument for a 'leftward bias in the news media,' given that looking at something like newspaper and television network ownership gives you the exact opposite sense of where the media bias is in this country.

  • Alum '07

    I second what #1 said. In addition, have you heard of separation of church and state? That might be just one reason that people are disturbed by Palin. Also, if you seem to agree with Palin that unwanted pregnancies are blessings, not burdens. Maybe you should try telling that to a rape or incest victim.

  • Martin JE '06

    Peter, I attend an evangelical church, take advice from pastors on how to follow God's will in my career, think the Bible is the Word of God, and consider all babies to be blessings from God. And I think Sarah Palin is an absolutely awful vice presidential candidate. She has no national or foreign policy experience, and she does not even seem to be knowledgeable about these policies. The news media need not drag Palin's daughter through the mud, but they are doing their job by reporting everything that they can find out about this unknown that McCain has recklessly nominated.

  • ASH

    This is a really poor argument for liberal bias. The author doesn't cite any legitimate (non-blog) news sources that actually covered the Bristol Palin pregnancy (or conspiracy theory) before Palin announced it herself. The New York Times, like most newspapers, didn't cover the Edwards story until it moved out of the rumor stage. Likewise, they didn't cover the Palin pregnancy story until it moved out of the rumor stage. The one example cited doesn't pass. As far as scandal-making goes, you could look at the Clinton scandal for a good example of conservative bias.
    In general, I feel that while the mainstream media may be made up of many liberals, in its eagerness to appease conservatives it demonstrates a conservative bias--it is especially easy to argue this of all television media. For a handful of examples of the media's conservative bias, see this article (, or Eric Alterman's book "What Liberal Bias."