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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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June 04, 2004

The biases of journalists

It was no surprise to me that among the national news media, according to a recent Pew study, only 7 percent of journalists described themselves as politically conservative, and 34 percent describe themselves as liberal. Among local media, the balance is 12 percent conservative, 24 percent liberal.

As someone whose politics are sort of conservative (more libertarian, really), itís something Iíve known all my career. Itís true. Iím used to it, and I donít think a whole lot can be done about it.

The politics of journalists cannot be regulated by an affirmative-action law, because Americans donít do that with political orientation (and thank goodness). And except on editorial pages, you canít expect management to ask about the political beliefs of job applicants. Probably it would be illegal. And anyway, the source of the bias in journalism is not hiring bias, but a bias in the pool of applicants.

Journalists are mostly liberal because journalism students mostly lean slightly left, if they have any political leanings at all. At the university, the slightly-to-the-rights are in engineering, or accounting, or someplace else. They are not in journalism. There are a few in journalism who are strongly conservative or libertarian. There are also a few on the hard left, but not many; the Marxists find the American press horribly conservative, and take refuge in academia.

So you get a biased group. It is not the only occupational group with a political lean. If you surveyed the politics of social workers, or executives of pulp-and-paper companies, you would find even stronger biases. But those folks arenít in the information business, so we don't hear complaints about them.

The bias of journalists has been around for decades, and has all the looks of a permanent condition. The one change is that conservatives have created outlets like the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard and talk radio, which are far more biased to the right than the mainstream press is to the left. The conservative press does help the national dialogue, but career-wise it is a ghetto, and if you work in it, you are labeled by it.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at June 4, 2004 03:58 PM



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