Media Culpa

Right-wing media critics like to trumpet statistics showing that most mainstream journalists lean to the political left. What they don't like to talk about is the fact that a vast majority of newspaper publishers and broadcast executives—the people who sign reporters' paychecks—are politically conservative. That's why every Republican presidential nominee from 1932 to 1992 (except Barry Goldwater in 1964) was endorsed by a majority of big-city dailies. And it explains why 66 percent of corporate leaders recently polled rated the major media's business coverage "good" or "excellent."

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It also explains why papers such as Seattle's Times and P-I—whose board members are largely conservative—generally coddle right-wing causes while trashing liberal ones. In a March 30 P-I article, "Singapore a Model for NW Leaders," for example, reporter Imbert Matthee rhapsodized about the "economic miracle" unfolding in a place where "everyone has learned to work in harmony." Matthee glossed over the brutal means Singaporan leaders have used to achieve those ends, referring to their "paternalistic technocracy" more as an inconvenience to citizens than a system bent on oppression. Crime has virtually been eliminated, though only by executing drug traffickers, detaining people without trial for up to two years, and criminalizing such "offenses" as jaywalking and gum-chewing. And the "strong commitment to racial diversity" of which Matthee writes is a fantasy. In reality, minority (and darker-skinned) Malaysians are almost exclusively relegated to unskilled jobs.

Matthee goes on to suggest—in his own words, no less—that Puget Sound government leaders could learn from how Singapore "promotes consensus" by "discouraging public participation." The American system "requires public participation through which individuals can hold development hostage for years." Matthee sounds a lot like Singaporan Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who frequently files libel suits against political opponents and has criticized "Western-style liberal democracy and freedoms."

Times reporters Charles Brown and Hugo Kugiya fell into a similar trap in their March 26 story about the defacing of a billboard Barry Ackerley had loaned to Focus on the Family, a far-right, Christian-affiliated organization based in Colorado Springs. Someone scrawled on the billboard, "Remember, God loves everyone ... except those crazy faggots." Brown and Kugiya wrote off the graffiti as a mere "slur," ignoring its obvious intention of exposing Focus on the Family's support of anti-gay-rights initiatives, including Colorado's Amendment 2. The 3.5-million-member group, a spinoff of the Family Research Council, also opposes sex education, the teaching of evolution, the National Endowment for the Arts, and abortion. The organization financially supports more than 3,000 "Crisis Pregnancy Centers," facilities innocuously advertised as health clinics where staffers lecture about the evils of abortion and show gruesome videos to pregnant women.

The next day, March 27, Times editorialists went out of their way—and far outside their circulation area—to diss Jerry Brown's mayoral candidacy in Oakland. "Oakland needs a pothole guy," the paper wrote, "not moonbeams." The Times apparently found the prospect of a city being run by Brown (a former two-term California governor and Yale Law School graduate) more frightening than the possibility of David Duke (a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard) and Oliver North (a former arms-for-hostages dealer) running the country. The paper didn't think it necessary to editorialize against Duke's or North's campaigns for the US Senate earlier this decade.

Bias in the mainstream press, whether actual or perceived, is a sticky subject. Most media analysts agree, however, that since the days of Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the civil-rights movement, the pendulum has swung from the left to the right. One wonders whether only a repeat of such turmoil would cause it to swing back.

Loose change

Twelve programs originating on public-access Channel 29 earned awards last week from the Alliance for Community Media. Among them: C.R. Douglas' Northwest Week (Sundays, 9-10am) and Earth on the Air's Storytime (first Monday of the month, 8-9pm).... Bainbridge Island's YES! magazine (formerly In Context) welcomes to its staff sustainability gurus David Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) and Fran Korten (formerly of the Ford Foundation).... NBC News' "Fleecing of America" has dropped its investigation into the NordstromPine Street scandal because, a network staffer says, parking garages are "boring."... Australian media mega-mogul Rupert Murdoch—whose contributions to the world include Cops and Married with Children—has been knighted by Pope John Paul II for "promoting the interests of society, the Catholic Church, and the Holy See." ... Only 1 percent of the major media's early reporting of the Clinterngate scandal was based on two or more identified sources, according to the Committee of Concerned Journalists.... A Georgia high-school senior was suspended last month for wearing a Pepsi T-shirt to school on "Coke Day." ... Verso has published a stylish edition of the Communist Manifesto that one fashion expert says "could make a snazzy accessory to a designer dress."

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