Media bias starts in college

Posted: Dec 11, 2002 12:00 AM
It was a strange sight. The day before the Berkeley, Calif., mayoral election, a gray, 60ish man grabbed stacks of the University of California at Berkeley Daily Californian and surreptitiously threw them in the garbage. A thousand newspapers straight into the dumpsters. Several students saw the man and did double takes. "Is he doing what it looks like he's doing?" they thought. "Would a politician like Tom Bates really do that?" Yes, he would. Tom Bates, the challenger and eventual winner in the Berkeley mayoral race, was trashing the Daily Californian because it endorsed his opponent, incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean. Bates, the famed progressive, didn't even throw the papers into the recycling bin. The witnesses immediately phoned the Daily Californian offices, and the student paper sent out a reporter to investigate. The story ran the next day. But it omitted any mention of Bates, despite corroborated witness testimony linking Bates with the crime. A mayoral candidate fascistically destroying college newspapers in the "free speech capital of the world" is surely big news. So why didn't the Daily Californian quote the witnesses and name Bates? The answer: The Daily Californian didn't believe in the witnesses' reliability for the simple reason that they were Republicans. Nothing was wrong with the witnesses. The UC police believed the witnesses' testimony. Two weeks ago, they concluded their investigation and recommended charging Bates with petty theft. Last week, Bates admitted responsibility for the incident. After Bates' admission, the Daily Cal worked itself into a lather of righteous indignation over the crime, despite its refusal to break the story when it first occurred. Only college newspaper staff members think that a Republican is automatically unreliable -- especially when accusing a liberal. "I called the Daily Cal to let them know that Mr. Bates was taking their publication," Steve Sexton, editor in chief of the conservative California Patriot student newspaper, told me. "I thought they might want to do a story on it and try to recover their papers. They sent a reporter down. The reporter spoke with all four witnesses. Then, the news editor came down as well to try and see what was going on. "This is when it gets kind of frustrating. He said basically that all four of us weren't reliable because we were Republicans. Nothing to do with the story. In fact, he asked us if we could find witnesses who weren't Republicans." Andrea Irvin, treasurer of the Berkeley College Republicans, also recalled the exchange. "When we went to the Daily Cal with the story, the editor told us that they could not print the story with only four witnesses, since we are all Republicans. He told us that we weren't credible since we presumably had an ideological bias against Bates." Ideological bias? All the candidates in the mayoral race were extremely liberal, with no Republicans even attempting a campaign. Why would a Republican bother slandering one of these candidates for election purposes? For his part, the editor in chief of the Daily Californian, Rong-Gong Lin II, denied that the student paper disregarded witnesses' testimony because of their ideologies. "They're completely incorrect in their assessment of the reasons behind the editorial decision," he told me. "We weren't able to independently verify (their story), and because of that, we didn't print it." Sexton's response: "Obviously, he's spinning. What he says contradicts what his news editor told me that day and in subsequent conversations. He's not even on the same page as his news editor." Of course, university newspapers are not immune to cover-ups. Just six weeks ago, the UCLA Daily Bruin tried to prevent me from breaking a story about California Gov. Gray Davis referring to Wall Street Journal employees as "a bunch of f--king a--h---s." The only witness willing to go on the record was an employee of the Daily Bruin. This student felt that if he gave me the story, the Daily Bruin would fire him. Only after John Fund of The Wall Street Journal got involved did the Daily Bruin allow the student to go on the record. It makes you wonder how much vital information is suppressed at major student newspapers, thrown away because it reflects badly on liberals. It's unprofessional, biased and ridiculous, but that is how college newspapers are run. Then, students who work on the student newspapers grow up and go to journalism school. When they graduate, they end up writing for The New York Times and shaping the views of millions around the country. The roots of media bias can be found at your local university.