Former New York Times editor Bill Keller candidly acknowledged in a recent Politico interview:
I think the Times tries very, very hard not to let itself not be typecast as a liberal paper. And God knows the efforts that have gone into constructing a wall between the opinion section and the rest of the paper are formidable and admirable. But the Times—back when Dan Okrent was our first public editor, he wrote a column with the headline, “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” The first sentence of the column was, “Of course it is.” Nobody bothered to read on to his explanation of what he meant by that. He did not mean that the Times panders to Democrats and gives short shrift to the Republicans; what he meant was that the Times is a big, urban, East Coast newspaper, run by liberal arts majors who respect science, who probably give short shrift to religion, who are liberal in the small-l, liberal arts sense of the word, not in the large-L Dennis Kucinich sense of the word.
In other words: We try not to be liberally biased, but not to the point of doing anything about it — and so what do you expect? Besides, we’re not loony liberals like Kucinich.
For people who make a living investigating lack of diversity, they sure do swim in a pristine lake of liberalism. Unless you are entirely unaware of confirmation bias — the human habit of excluding facts and ideas that don’t fit in your worldview — or think your people are super-human in the self-awareness department, hiring such people again and again means that you are cultivating bias, not trying to eliminate it.
Conservatives, contrary to the object of their criticism, don’t insist on “unbiased” MSM reporting. What they’d like is some transparency. (“All the news liberals see fit to print” is the more accurate New York Times slogan.) But by elevating themselves as the “real” news and labeling everything else as ideological, they convert their own biases into readers’ blinders. And by refusing to cover entire subjects, they mislead and handicap their readers in dealing with unpleasant facts. In a real sense, they encourage polarization and contempt for ideological opponents’ views.
I’m especially interested in the topic as I’m reading Megan McArdle’s excellent book “The Up Side of Down.” She uses the extreme example of “60 Minutes” and the phony Bush National Guard documents to make a salient point. Giving Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes every benefit of the doubt in the catastrophe that brought them both down, she writes: “Confirmation bias is not a sign of bad character; we do it even when we have no particular reason to care about the outcome. Of course, when we do have emotional reasons to care, this tendency is exacerbated.” And she cites research suggesting this is worsened by recruiting bias: “Once you’ve got a theory about something, you’re bound to notice stray facts that otherwise would have slipped your attention. Once you’ve got enough recruits, they start reinforcing each other, until you hardly notice the big hole in your left flank.” In the case of “60 Minutes,” Mapes “had been arguing for [the documents’] veracity for so long that she didn’t know how to stop . . . [S]he began demanding that others prove a negative, rather than accepting her own responsibility to be certain they were real.”
Not every error, overlooked story or naive acceptance of a liberal administration’s spin as gospel need be as bad as the “60 Minutes” case. But precisely because there usually is no calamity to unmask the problem and ruin careers, the MSM generally goes on and on, hiring the same sort of folks, reinforcing the same worldview and churning out the same shaved version of the news. It is worse in domestic politics because the emotional investment (President Obama winning over Republicans, legalizing gay marriage) is so great for many liberals.
Inertia is a powerful thing, but if you really are committed to “not be typecast as a liberal paper,” you have to do something about it. Otherwise, just give up the ghost and admit you’re in the tank for the Democrats.