Social Scientist Took Media to Task, Alleging Liberal Bias

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Linda S. Lichter, 53, a social scientist who helped lead a research institute that studies the news and entertainment media, and whose book "The Media Elite" found a wide audience over its depiction of journalists and liberal bias, died Jan. 10 at her home in Rockville.

A spokesman for the Thibadeau funeral home in Silver Spring said the cause of death is pending further tests by the Maryland medical examiner's office.

In 1984, Dr. Lichter and her social scientist husband, S. Robert Lichter, founded the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington. She was co-director for many years and most recently vice president.

She co-wrote several books arguing that evidence pointed to overwhelmingly liberal political leanings and religious secularism emanating from leading practitioners of journalism and TV entertainment.

These elite image-shapers were far to the left of Americans generally, wrote Dr. Lichter, who often collaborated with her husband and the social scientist Stanley Rothman.

Their best-known book, "The Media Elite" (1986), said the liberal tilt can affect coverage unconsciously. The authors focused on case studies of issues such as the energy crisis of the 1970s, nuclear power and busing to foster racial integration in schools.

The book became widely cited but was harshly criticized by media leaders, including then-Washington Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee and Michael Kinsley of the New Republic.

Sociologist Michael Schudson, writing in the Los Angels Times, asked: "First, do journalists report their own views or do their stories reflect the division of opinion among powerful elites outside journalism?

"The former may be true, but the latter is the more powerful factor. If journalists' own views on busing, for instance, are as homogeneously liberal as the authors suggest, it is hard to explain why they find anti-busing themes dominant in the media in 1974-75, even in a paragon of liberalism like the Washington Post.

"Growing division about busing among politicians, however, is a likely explanation. Journalists report what legitimate authorities say."

Linda Susan Belloti was a New York native and a 1977 graduate of American University. She received a doctorate in sociology from Columbia University in 1981 and became a senior research fellow at the Research Institute on International Change at Columbia.

Dr. Lichter's opinion articles for the Wall Street Journal on the theme of lost chivalry in the modern age attracted the attention of book editor Judith Regan. The result was Dr. Lichter's book "Simple Social Graces: Recapturing the Joys of Gracious Victorian Living" (1998).

"If Victorian chivalry was a ruse to keep women in their places, it was equally effective at keeping men in theirs by defining a large measure of their self-worth and reputations," she wrote. "If men still had this positive outlet for expressing their masculinity, perhaps they would stop verbally and physically brutalizing women and each other."

Survivors include her husband, of Rockville.

-- Adam Bernstein

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