John Leo

In response to the survey, some argue that personal social and political views make no difference if a reporter plays the story straight. Well, yes. But nearly half of those polled told Pew that journalists too often let their ideological views color their work. This is a devastating admission, something like an umpire?s union reporting that half its membership likes to favor the home team. Even apart from loaded reporting, the selection and framing of news stories have a way of reflecting the opinions of editors. That?s why the steady march toward a more liberal newsroom is so puzzling. The news media have to cope with a declining readership and viewership and intense scrutiny of their wayward practices by right-wing outlets and relentlessly critical bloggers. Yet the mainstream media have only those few in-house conservatives who might warn their bosses when news reports are skewing left.

Why does the news business keep hiring more and more people who disagree sharply with the customers, many of whom are already stampeding out the door for a variety of reasons? One explanation is that national journalism is now an elite profession, staffed by people­ -- black and white, female and male -- ­who went to elite colleges and who share the conventional social views of their class. This was not true a generation ago. When I was at the New York Times, the leadership was full of people who had gone to the wrong schools and fought their way up with brains and talent. Two desks away from mine was McCandlish Phillips, a born-again Christian who read the Bible during every break, no matter how brief. Phillips was a legendary reporter, rightly treated with awe by the staff, but I doubt he would be hired by most news organizations today. He prayed a lot and had no college degree.

The news business is deeply concerned­ -- I would say obsessed­ -- with diversity, but it has a narrow and cramped view of the word, rarely applying it to background and social attitudes. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew survey, said the fact that ?conservatives are not very well represented? is having an effect. He added: ?This is something journalists should worry about. Maybe diversity in the newsroom needs to mean more than ethnic and gender diversity.? Do tell. A great many thick skulls still must be penetrated by this idea. But eventually it will get through.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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