WASHINGTON -- The other day in The Wall Street Journal, my friend Fred Barnes deposited a few thoughts on journalism provoked by the discovery to a mother lode of left-wing bigotry, screeds and semi-literate gibbering. He hastened to tell his readers that there was no conspiracy behind the journalists' "tilt" to the left, but rather, "The media disproportionately attracts people from a liberal arts background who tend, quite innocently, to be politically liberal." Then he filed a caveat, noting that "hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism."
Well, let me address Barnes' thoughts before jumping on the JournoList controversy. I rather doubt that journalism was ever a conspiracy. In fact, I doubt that journalism was preordained to be dominated by liberalism. There was a day, before the New Deal, when there were plenty of journalists who were not guided by left-wing ideas or any motive at all. The clever journalist, usually, just wanted to get a good story. Yet the New Deal came along and then the war and, finally, television. At first, it was humanitarian to be in sympathy with the New Deal. Then it was patriotic to be in sympathy with what was a growing homogenization of views among news gatherers. Finally, it was good sense to be a liberal newsperson. By the time television came into its own, liberalism was the corporate mentality of the news gathering business. Hence you can take television news gatherers or print news gatherers and plug them in interchangeably.
But by the 1990s, this corporate mentality had begun to change. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes saw a market. They dissented from the media's corporate mentality and presented the news from a conservative perspective. Talk radio came along and presented a conservative talk venue. Now Fox News alone brings in more revenue than the combined revenue of CNN, MSNBC and the network news shows on ABC, NBC and CBS. The corporate mentality was suddenly in trouble.
Instead of breaking up along reasonable lines, it has tried to remain coherent and viable against the odds. Though Murdoch and Ailes at The Wall Street Journal and Fox have employed ideologues and entertainers, the media's stalwarts are all "true" journalists who have continued gathering the news, pronouncing on it and covering their glutei maximi when some poor wretch, such as Dan Rather, proves to be an embarrassment.