Articles in the The Washington Post often draw hundreds of provocative, emphatic, critical comments online. Every few weeks, the author of a recent Post Magazine story will interview a reader who has weighed in.
Earlier this year, I interviewed 52 young conservatives — campus activists and professionals in their 20s — for the Post Magazine. The idea was to find out what future GOP leaders think of President Trump. In writing the story, I wanted to treat my sources fairly. I also wanted readers to get to know my subjects — because one service I believe journalism can provide is to introduce readers to people they wouldn’t otherwise speak to.
But among those who commented on the article were a number of (presumably liberal) readers who didn’t seem to share this view of journalism. They argued that The Post has been giving too much attention to conservative voices. “Oh THANK GOD WaPo did a piece on Republicans cuz that haven’t done ANYTHING on them or conservatives in such a looooong time,” wrote one commenter. “For the love of God, please stop with these stories about Trump or Republican voters! Who cares??!?” wrote another.
One commenter who made this argument was Roy Brander, 60, a retired senior infrastructure engineer in Vancouver. “I should be able to look forward to five or six stories about college liberal activists and Democratic party volunteers,” he wrote. “But of course there will be one, or none — there will more likely be yet another story about how elite media are ignoring the poor Trump voters, then two more stories about them.”
Last month, I called Brander to discuss his critique. Conservatives have long argued that they are marginalized in American culture — but Brander told me he finds this argument absurd. Because of the structure of the Senate, he said, Americans in South Dakota have a more powerful vote than those in New York City. Farmers in Iowa, meanwhile, command great power in determining the presidency. And the concerns of rural Americans are well reflected in country music and westerns. “There are no movies about the Peace Corps,” Brander said, but stories about “heroic conservatives shooting bad guys” dominate the screen.
Mainstream journalists, he argued, fall into the trap of over-amplifying conservatives because they write about the powerful. “I’m not saying they cover the right more favorably,” he explained, but the topics they focus on skew toward the right’s interests. “You are just far more likely to see concerns of a farmer on an American newscast than concerns of an inner-city black person,” he said.
That’s an intriguing — and perhaps fair — criticism, but I wanted to bring Brander back to his specific charge that the media doesn’t cover left-leaning young people. Parkland survivors David Hogg and Emma González, for instance, are national celebrities. Brander acknowledged a Post Magazine story describing the financial struggles of a first-generation college student, and added he’d like to see more stories like that. But isn’t there space, I asked, for different kinds of stories, including ones about conservatives?
Brander was unmoved. “Why [do] we have to cross the line and go interview the broad population that believes in conservatism when it would never occur to Rush Limbaugh to go interview people in Miss [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district?” he said, referring to the Democratic socialist congressional candidate in New York City. I countered that Limbaugh is an opinion journalist, and The Post, like most American newspapers, takes an objective approach to reporting. Should we abandon the effort to cover both sides, I asked? “I’d say you are bending over backwards out of concern that you are not serving people you don’t agree with,” he argued. “If you feel that somebody is being underserved, you are going to do extra effort for them. My point is they are not being underserved.”
“It’s the natural tendency of the whole society to be kind of conservative — to fear foreigners, to fear crime, to want there to be some order in the universe,” he added. “I don’t think that needs any help.”
As a journalist interested in all kinds of voices, I couldn’t really concede Brander’s point. I told him that, for me, the comments from irritated liberal readers just confirmed the conventional wisdom that people don’t like to read about those they disagree with. He laughed and said, “That’s always true, isn’t it?”
Eliza Gray is a writer in New York.