Saturday, January 12, 2002

Michael Kinsley acknowledges the prevalence of liberal views among journalists, and concedes that it leads to a certain amount of bias in reporting. But this liberal "tendency" in the press, he argues, is no different from the conservative inclination of most corporate executives. His conclusion? "Liberal-bias obsessives should calm down and learn to live with it. It's really no big deal." (Tough words, indeed. So much for soft-hearted liberal compassion for the underdog, I guess.)

It's funny, though--I've been reading Kinsley for years, and not once have I ever seen him suggest, say, that environmental obsessives should quit whining about corporate polluters, or that unions should just suck it up and accept employers' miserliness and cruelty towards workers, or that civil rights advocates should stop expecting big business to treat minorities fairly. Yet surely these behaviors are by-products of the conservative, pro-business, anti-environmental proclivities of corporate executives, just as liberal bias in reporting is a by-product of the liberal views of journalists. If Kinsley really thinks that a liberal tilt in the newsroom is the moral equivalent of a conservative tilt in the boardroom, then why does he apparently consider it quite reasonable for people to take to the streets, organize boycotts, publish angry exposes, and generally speak out in righteous tones against the consequences of one, but not the other?

Of course, as a liberal, Kinsley cannot be expected to find liberal bias in the media as personally upsetting as conservative bias in industry. But for a journalist publicly to condone ideologically slanted reporting is an entirely different matter. Most CEOs, under pressure from customers, competitors and the general public, at least pay lip service to the liberal ideals of environmental friendliness, respect for workers and appreciation of diversity. And all the commercial television news organizations--even Fox News--make a show of claiming objectivity, knowing they could never market themselves successfully as openly partisan news sources. Kinsley's unapologetic "whatcha gonna do about it?" attitude towards liberal press bias is thus a clear anomaly--an expression of arrogance usually heard only from, say, representatives of powerful monopolies with no accountability.

But then, that (as Kinsley more or less admits) is exactly what liberal journalism has been--until recently, that is. The irony of Kinsley's "bias now, bias forever" stance is that it's rapidly losing its viability even as he expresses it. CNN, hemorrhaging viewership to Fox, has already begun an effort to improve the balance of its news coverage. Liberal newspapers and opinion journals no longer overwhelmingly dominate political debate, having yielded ground to their explicitly conservative counterparts as well as to more accessible, and hence more ideologically diverse, alternative fora (such as talk radio and the Internet). Kinsley's pugnaciously unrepentant admission may soon look, in retrospect, like the last gasp of a dying breed--journalism's ruling liberal establishment. I sure hope they all have their retirement funds in order.

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