Newsrooms Lack Ideological Diversity

By: Nat Hentoff

While there is continual justified concern about the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms — as vigorously noted in William W. Sutton Jr.’s “Five ways to a more diverse newspaper” (E&P, Aug. 27, p. 9) — hardly any attention is paid to diversity of attitudes in the Fourth Estate toward abortion, affirmative action, the Second Amendment, and the death penalty, among a variety of issues.

An exception in journalism publications was Julia Duin’s “Liberal dose of bias” (E&P, April 16, p. 22), where she wrote, “Managers are going to have to work harder to balance the newsroom in terms of ideological diversity” because, for example, “people of faith” in journalism often “go undercover.” Thisvhappens, in my experience, more often at large newspapers in big cities than at small papers in little towns.

Reading Duin’s piece, I recalled that after I had won a major journalism award some years ago, I was told by a member of the jury that there had been strong resistance among some jurors to giving me the award. “It was not,” she said, “because of the quality of your work.” The reason had more to do with the fact that this anti-capital-punishment, nonreligious, civil libertarian, who voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, adheres to the heresy of being pro-life. Earlier, I was shunned for a time at my paper, The Village Voice in New York, for having thus broken faith with my colleagues’ definition of true liberalism.

Have the American Society of Newspaper Editors or the Society of Professional Journalists, of which I am a member, ever featured a discussion on the lack of the other diversity in newsrooms? Has there ever been an article on it in Nieman Reports?

The question of whether the news-reporting establishment in the major cities tilts toward liberalism has arisen in the current furor over Bernard Goldberg’s new book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Regnery Publishing). While he charges instinctive rather than deliberate bias in TV news, his analysis, Goldberg tells me, also applies to print news. In newspapers, there is no dearth of conservative columnists — or owners, for that matter — but Goldberg points to a 1996 poll by the Freedom Forum and the Roper organization of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents: 89% had voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, and only 4% identified themselves as Republicans. Those polled represented papers from across the nation.

When the survey came out, Howard Kurtz, media critic for The Washington Post, said reasonably that “there is a diversity problem in the news business, and it’s not just the kind of diversity we usually talk about. … Anybody who doesn’t see that is just in denial.”

Goldberg, it should be noted, is not a conservative. He is pro-choice and for gay rights, and describes himself as “an old-fashioned liberal.” (He also is a first-rate reporter. I followed his 28-year career on CBS News, with 48 Hours among his assignments. He goes beneath the surface and makes connections.) Nor does Goldberg advocate a tilt to the right: “Does anyone think a ‘diverse’ group of conservative journalists would give us the news straight? I sure as hell don’t.”

Among abundant examples of how many of his former colleagues believe unquestioningly that their decidedly nonconservative views are in the mainstream, Goldberg tells of when he once asked a senior producer for the CBS Evening News “how many times she went to conservative women’s groups for on-camera reactions either to Supreme Court decisions or to votes in Congress regarding women’s issues. … She couldn’t think of a single time.”

Goldberg points out that most of the journalism “elites,” as he calls them, “share the same values on … abortion, gun control, feminism, gay rights, the environment, school prayer. After a while, they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way.”

Years ago, when a Washington Post managing editor asked his staff why hugely disproportionate space had been afforded an annual pro-abortion-rights march, in contrast to the minimal attention given an annual pro-life march, he was told, “We don’t know any pro-lifers.”

When Goldberg first expressed his contrarian views on the other diversity in a Feb. 13, 1996, piece in The Wall Street Journal, some of his colleagues stopped speaking to him, and he was eventually shunned out of CBS News. (He now reports for HBO’s Real Sports.) In reaction to Goldberg’s new book, CBS correspondent Eric Engberg charged that he had committed “an act of treason” — and even the usually thoughtful Bob Schieffer, CBS’ chief Washington correspondent, said of Goldberg to the Post‘s Kurtz, “In the end, he seemed to think his job was to report on CBS News, instead of reporting for CBS News.”

But that is precisely Goldberg’s point: Who watches the watchers when they don’t look at themselves? Do any of the all-too-few newspaper ombudsmen comment on this other kind of diversity?

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