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Last week, the Washington Post reported that Gannett, the media giant that owns hundreds of newspapers across the country such as USA Today, is reducing its opinion pages in order to counter public perceptions of political bias. Gannett-affiliated newspapers “have begun to radically shrink and reimagine their editorial sections, publishing them on fewer days each week and dropping traditional features such as syndicated columns and editorial cartoons.”
Following an April “committee of editors,” the decision was made to scale back even political endorsements, noting that those, as well as editorials and columns, are “frequently cited” by readers as the reason for subscription cancellations.
It’s a nice gesture, I suppose, given that the op-ed and editorial sections of the vast majority of newspapers in this country are so obviously slanted to the left. But frankly, it’s also irrelevant. That’s because the decision obviates the more ubiquitous problem in corporate media: journalism, and especially print journalism, is an overwhelmingly leftist profession, and thus even “straight, factual” reporting is informed by not-so-hidden leftist biases. Therefore, reducing the openly marked opinion content in these newspapers hides how most media outlets launder opinion journalism as reporting.
Corporate Media Undeniably Leans Left
The data on the liberal bias of journalists and media outlets is both well documented and incontrovertible. A 2014 survey found that four times as many journalists identified as Democrat as Republican.
A 2017 Ballotpedia study of contributions from donors identified as journalists discovered that “a majority of the donors or a majority of the donations (depending on the study) benefited Democrats or liberal causes.” And a 2020 survey conducted by several academics who explained their findings in the Washington Post found that of those journalists who said they identified with a political party, 8 in 10 said they were liberal/Democrats.
The only major television news network that doesn’t lean far-left is Fox News — it competes with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, among others, all of whom to varying degrees favor the left. With the exception of the Wall Street Journal, the editorial boards of practically every other major newspaper in the country, including heavy-hitters The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune, are decidedly leftist. Even media that historically didn’t even report on politics, like ESPN, now carry water for various leftist causes, from Black Lives Matter to LGBT messaging.
‘Factual Reporting’ Is Nothing But
Amusingly, Gannett’s own research in 2018 found that young readers “often can’t tell the difference between news reporting and opinion, especially online,” and that readers “often mistakenly believe that news stories are dictated by the paper’s editorial side.” Perhaps that’s because in many cases, there isn’t much of a difference.
George Mason Professor Timothy Groseclose in his 2012 book “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind” notes that the political slant of most media outlets is far to the left of most of their customers, and even of the typical member of Congress, so much that media bias alone shifts elections. In a 2005 study conducted by Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo, the two academics considered the think-tanks and policy groups most frequently cited by prominent mainstream media outlets, and determined a palpable leftist bias in those outlets “straight reporting.” Indeed, their study was limited just to news content and didn’t consider editorial, opinions, or even letters to the editor.
That was more than 15 years ago, and the biases have become far more obvious. An October 2017 Pew Research report noted that 62 percent of stories involving Donald Trump during his first 60 days in office were negative, compared to only 5 percent of stories that were positive. Barack Obama, in comparison, received far more favorable coverage in his first 60 days in office: 42 percent of stories involving Obama were positive, and only 20 percent were negative.
A May 2017 Harvard study of Trump’s first 100 days in office identified the same trend: 93 percent of CNN and NBC coverage of Trump was negative. That survey also found that 91 percent of CBS coverage and 87 percent of The New York Times coverage of Trump was negative. Indeed, The New York Times didn’t feature a single op-ed from anyone endorsing Trump in 2020.
Many Journalists Don’t Even Bother to Hide It
Even more remarkable than the fact that corporate media still tries to retain the veneer of being the unbiased fourth estate is that they really think that their leftist beliefs are unvarnished reality. Take the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, who in a May article noted that journalists “fell” for the rhetoric of the right by sometimes using the terminology of “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”
Sullivan writes: “When journalists agreed to accept terms such as ‘pro-life’ to describe those who oppose abortion, they implicitly agreed to help stigmatize those who support it. After all, what’s the rhetorical opposite of ‘pro-life’?” Sulllivan is saying that journalists should presume the pro-choice position. Of course, most corporate media already refer to the pro-life cause — which they almost universally attack — as “anti-abortion.”
That’s really just the iceberg tip. As I explained in a Federalist article last year, to read the Washington Post (or really, any major newspaper) in print is to subject oneself to a barrage of stories catering to the latest leftist talking points on race and sex, from the front page to the sports section. How many news stories has The New York Times run in the last 12 months that offer a critical perspective on anti-racism ideologues like Nikole Hannah Jones or Ibram X. Kendi, or drag queen story hour? If I said zero, based on absolutely no attempt to substantiate my claim, would anyone bother to question me? We don’t even need to fact-check.
In truth, corporate media is so deeply compromised by its ideological biases that there is little hope for its renewal as a source of trusted, unbiased news, barring a dramatic, survivalist purging of editorial boards and newsrooms. Corporate media push out or suspend without pay anyone who commits the slightest offense against woke ideology, while fools with an obvious ideological ax to grind are given extensive latitude to conjure up reporting that is obviously aimed at denigrating the right.
If Gannett, the Washington Post, or CNN are really serious about rebuilding public trust, the answer isn’t scaling back on opinions. They’ll need to fire at least half their staff. I can provide them with a list, for anyone interested.
Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at The Federalist and an editor and columnist at The New Oxford Review. He has a bachelor’s in history and master’s in teaching from the University of Virginia and a master’s in theology from Christendom College. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands.