"We wanted to understand them," explained editor Bill Keller. The Times' ombudsman later observed that the "decision not to create a liberal beat, it seems to me, reflected the reality that the Times' coverage of liberals had no gaps similar to those in its reporting on the conservative movement." Translation: The Times is staffed almost entirely by liberals and their news judgment flows directly from that fact.
Many mainstream news outlets have been caught flat-footed on some major stories in recent years precisely because of this attitude.
For instance, Van Jones, the White House "green jobs czar," was brought down by controversies that went ignored by most leading news outlets but were widely covered by (the hugely successful) Fox News and the thriving conservative press. It seems at times that if conservatives consider something big news, the editors at such places as the Times and the Post must first conduct an anthropological analysis: Why are these right-wing natives so upset?
It's difficult to exaggerate how bizarre this predicament is. In America, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by 2 to 1. And yet many of our leading journalistic bastions have found themselves stuck in something akin to media monasteries with a Fort Apache complex.
Now the Washington Post is scrambling to figure out how to cover conservatives. Part of the reason the Post looks so lost is that it seems apparent that it thought it was hiring a conservative to cover conservatives when Weigel was more like a libertarian-leaning liberal with a good conservative phrase book and a dashing right-wing pith helmet. A registered Republican, Weigel nonetheless voted for Barack Obama, John Kerry and Ralph Nader for president. Meanwhile, left-wing groups who find the news media insufficiently liberal are now clamoring for their own reporters to cover the "liberal beat."
What a strange hot mess the press has gotten itself into. And there are no easy answers about how to clean it up. One solution, offered by The Washington Examiner's Byron York: Hire a lot more openly ideologically committed -- and fair-minded -- reporters, but with one caveat: Have the conservatives cover the liberal beat and the liberals cover the conservatives. York rightly notes that a little ideological distance tends to temper the cheerleading. It's a good idea.
But here's some even simpler advice for liberal editors unwilling to break out of the bunker: Just try to keep in mind that these strange alien creatures are also potential customers.