Bias in the News: Blame it on Their Zip Code
For years, journalists have bristled at allegations of liberal bias in the news. “If you think we have a bias,” some of them would say, “that only proves one thing: that you’re the one with the bias.” When my book Bias came out at the end of 2001 –despite a surprisingly good review in the New York Times – so-called mainstream reporters generally denounced the book. “Liberal bias?” they asked incredulously. “What liberal bias?” A few even called me a “traitor” for supposedly turning on my colleagues, which is kind of funny since these are people who won’t call a real traitor … a traitor.
Well, now we have Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent at NBC News, breaking ranks (sort of) with his fellow journalists. In an interview with Politico, Todd says, “To me, the ideological bias in the media really hasn’t been there in a long time. But what is there that people mistake for ideological bias is geographic bias. It’s seeing everything through the lens of New York and Washington.”
Not really, but it’s good that Chuck Todd at least seems to be acknowledging that there was, once upon a time an ideological bias in the mainstream media. To say it “hasn’t been there in a long time,” acknowledges that it was there, once. This is something a lot of journalists would never admit.
To Chuck Todd, bias in the news simply stems from too many elite journalists living in too few places, Manhattan and DC. But what Chuck Todd doesn’t quite seem to understand is that geography influences culture and culture influences ideology. People on the Upper West Side of Manhattan don’t see Obamacare, for example, the same way people in Alabama see it. That’s not because of geography. It’s because of ideology. Or to put it another way, there are a lot more liberals on the Upper West Side than there are in Montgomery.
Todd is hard on political journalists, but only up to a point, and makes sure we understand that they’re not slanting the news in favor of liberals because they themselves are liberals. The reason, he says, has a lot more to do with zip codes than party affiliations.
“I think sometimes there are too many people who cover politics that don’t understand the grassroots of the Republican Party,” he correctly tells Politico. And why don’t they understand? Because they cover America from a safe distance, embedded in the nation’s two media capitals – Washington and New York. “Part of what animates them [political journalists] is if [Middle Americans are] pushing it, I’m against it. But also that we don’t understand their day-to-day lives. That we don’t respect the fact that they go to church twice a week. That when we look down our noses upon Wal-Mart, they see it as the only place to shop.”
Let’s see if I have this right: The sophisticates in Manhattan and Georgetown don’t like anything that the hayseeds who live in Middle America like. If the unwashed in Flyover Country are for it, the elites in New York and DC are against it. That, Chuck, is not a geographical bias. It’s the same old bias conservatives have been complaining about for years. It’s a bias based on the reporter’s ideology, the journalist’s liberal ideology.
By blaming it all on geography, Chuck Todd, intentionally or not, tries to take the edge off of the problem. If it’s only geographical, it speaks only to a blind spot. It says, “Hey, we live in a bubble, that’s why we’re biased. And it has nothing to do with our politics.” Yes, they do live in a bubble, but make no mistake: inside that bubble journalists don’t simply share the same geography -- they share the same ideology. They’re almost all liberals inside the bubble who share the same values, and believe those values are moderate, mainstream and reasonable while conservative values are extreme and dangerous.
“Too many people mistake ideological bias for what really is a matter of geography,” is how he ends his interview with Politico.
Sorry, Chuck, but you’re the one who is making a mistake. If almost all the media elites live in Washington and New York and are liberal, is the problem that they live in Washington and New York or that they’re liberal? If there were more conservatives in the ranks of elite journalists – editors, producers, anchors – it wouldn’t matter if they all lived on the same block.
But let’s give Chuck Todd some credit for even bringing up the subject of bias in the news. Halley’s Comet flashing across the sky over the USA is a more commonplace event than a mainstream reporter admitting any kind of bias. Still, it’s too bad, since he’s in charge of political coverage at NBC News, that Todd forgot to tell Politico about how supposedly objective journalists fell madly in love with Barack Obama four years ago and decided they would not settle for being eyewitnesses to history. The election was too important. This time, they felt, they had to they help shape history. So they put on their short skirts to go along with their pompoms and shamelessly became cheerleaders for Mr. Obama -- and will probably do it again once the Republicans pick their nominee. That kind of journalistic bias has very little to do with geography and whole bunch to do with ideology.
So, one cheer for Chuck.