By Sarah Laribee
My Saturday mornings of late have been spent helping my best friend’s family remodel their house. It’s a chance to learn how to re-coat wood floors. It’s a chance to learn how to install doorknobs. It’s a chance to listen to National Public Radio.
Like most college seniors desperate to sound erudite, I do find myself prefacing the news events I am talking about with the phrase, “I was listening to NPR yesterday and…,” knowing that this gives whatever follows an automatic air of credibility.
But like most conservatives, I also find myself listening somewhat defensively to the broadcast.
Cries of a liberal bias within the media seem as central to the conservative paradigm as anti-gin control and anti-abortion legislation. You can frequently find conservatives bemoaning the fact that as we listen to NPR or ABC or the CBS Evening News, we must constantly cipher through what is accuracy in reporting and what is the biased views of a particular reporter or news program. I think Peter Jennings is as handsome an anchor as ever there was, but I often find him reporting with an unabashed leftist slant.
It is not only what reporters say that has conservatives in a tizzy. It is what they often do not say. There often seems to be an overabundance of selective reporting, a weeding out of anything that might seem unpleasantly muddled when it comes to erecting the archetypes of conservatives and the opposing archetypes of liberals.
On the November 3 edition of the ABC News spin-off This Week, host George Stephanopoulos was interviewing former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about an anti-gay statement Alex Sanders, a candidate for the South Carolina Senate, made about an opposing candidate. Sanders, a Democrat, referred to opponent Lindsay Graham by saying, “He is an ultra-liberal. He supports gay rights. He supports banning all handguns, he supports abortion, his wife kicked him out and he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu. Is that South Carolina values? I don’t think so.”
Giuliani and Stephanopoulos then proceeded to discuss the strangeness of the situation. If a Republican had made the anti-gay statement, it is likely that media coverage would have been huge, somewhat akin to the coverage of the Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell anti-homosexual comments made shortly after Sept. 11. Instead, it is mentioned briefly on a Sunday morning talk show, hosted with admitted irony by the former wunderkind of the Clinton administration.
Giuliani mused, “If a Republican did that in a major race, it would be major news for four or five days. Absolute major news. And the issue would have been calling Republicans small-minded, petty, they’re prejudiced. They don’t embrace the rights of other people. In this particular case, a Democrat did it. There was a small item, kind of like I think a gossip item in some of the newspapers, but it didn’t have the significance. And I do think there’s a double standard.”
It is difficult for conservative Republicans to shake the label of closed-minded bigots when we don’t feel there is a sense of fairness in the presentation of the media. Fox News does represent a conservative slant, but that’s part of the problem, too. Because it does seem so frequently biased towards the right, it is not taken seriously. But strangely, the more liberal media outlets are. Why else would we want to quote NPR?
The conservative outcry against the “big, bad liberal media” is actually not for a media outlet that would stand up and say some good stuff about us for once. It is a cry for journalists to return to their roots and to start reporting the news without a bias of any kind, conservative or liberal. When columnists start posing as reporters, the general public can no longer take the accuracy of their news seriously. There is a reason this column is not published on the front page. It holds an obvious bias. It belongs on the Opinion page.
But journalists who are published outside the realm of opinion must examine the bias that ekes out in the business of daily reporting. It must be weeded out so that those for whom you report can trust the accuracy of the facts that are printed. Let the public’s conscience hold sway. Never your own.