For most of my lifetime, criticism of media bias was largely confined to those on the right side of the political spectrum. When I first moved to Washington in the mid-1970s, conservatives called The Washington Post "Pravda on the Potomac" for its uncompromising liberalism and disdain for all things conservative, which spread far beyond the editorial page and permeated its news coverage, as well.
Today, the situation hs changed a great deal. While conservatives still believe that the major media are biased against them, one hears more and more criticism coming from the left. Indeed, judging by what one reads on the left-wing blogs, there are many liberals out there who truly believe that the major media now have a conservative bias.
In my view, the media did have a strong left-wing tilt for many years. But over the last 20 years or so, I think that has mostly disappeared. Major newspapers like the Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage. Their editorial pages are still pretty liberal, of course, but the Post in particular is far less liberal in its editorial positions than it was in the 1970s.
If, as I believe, the major media tilted left and have moved toward the center, then this means they moved to the right. It is this movement that the left has picked up on and is complaining about. But the idea that the media now tilt toward conservatives is absurd.
However, I do think that in some ways conservatives have become better at using the media, taking advantage of its institutional biases to spin stories in conservative directions. Contrary to what the left thinks, this is not something nefarious, but simply the application of good public relations skills.
Journalist Michel Wolff -- someone who is hardly sympathetic to conservative thinking -- explains how Republicans have learned to use PR to their advantage in the April issue of Vanity Fair. One simple technique is that Republicans make themselves available to reporters, while Democrats often don't.
"The one constant I've observed, in 27 years as an on-again, off-again political reporter, is that Republicans return reporters' calls and Democrats don't," Wolff observes.
When I first began dealing with the media as a congressional aide 30 years ago, we were taught that Republicans had to try harder to get our message out in order to combat the media's liberal bias. One thing we were told was to always return reporters' calls promptly and politely.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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