Tony Snow recently received a Freedom of Speech Award from the Media Institute. In a graceful, humorous, and non-aggressive speech, he traced the First Amendment risks that arise from a monolithic liberal media. He begins by pointing out that it is a fact that the mainstream American media is overwhelmingly liberal and ascribes it to a historical process that began with the long run Democrats had in Congress:
The Roper Organization conducted a poll after the 1992 election and discovered that 93 percent of Washington political reporters voted for Bill Clinton. Only 2 percent identified themselves as “conservative.”
Subsequent surveys have indicated a similar spread in party affiliation, which makes the Washington Press Corps the most reliable Democratic voting bloc in the nation.
This is not a smear or a criticism. It is a fact, and it’s worth examining. My theory is that liberal – Democratic – sympathies flourish among reporters for very practical reasons. Democrats ran every major institution in Washington for 62 years – between 1932 and 1994. That’s the longest string of effective one-party rule in the history of democracy. Reporters knew that to get news, they needed to cultivate the people who made the news – who shaped legislation, who passed the laws, who peopled government departments and agencies – in other words, the people who really pull the levers in Washington. They needed to know elected officials, staffers, bureaucratic gnomes – the vast bulk of whom were Democrats.
Year in, year out, reporters and sources worked together. Over time, many became friendly, if not friends. They attended the same parties. Their kids went to the same schools. They shared stories of their ambitions and fears. They developed empathy for one another.
Reporters knew liberal arguments inside and out, because they heard them all the time from their sources. Meanwhile, they remained strangers to conservative viewpoints, even (or especially) during the heyday of the Reagan Revolution.
I will never forget receiving several calls the day after the surprising Republican landslide in 1994. Political reporters called me, a known conservative in the journalism fraternity, seeking introductions to the exotic breed known as Republicans.
The scribes harbored no personal animosity toward conservatives. They just weren’t used to dealing with them. They felt the need to approach them cautiously, with the blend of suspicion and fear you might feel if someone asked you to stroke a Gila monster.
Having established that there is such a monolithic liberal viewpoint — and having done so without attributing bad motives to anyone (typical for the genial, graceful Snow), Snow goes on to explain just why it is so dangerous that the media has a single viewpoint and, even more damagingly, a viewpoint blinkered by the orthodoxies of political correctness:
The ideological sameness of major news organizations is bad journalism, bad business and bad for the First Amendment, which was designed to foment ferocious debate – not orthodoxy.
A free press is supposed to relish and weigh ideas, not discard some simply on the basis of polite fashion. It’s a good thing to walk in someone else’s shoes, to try to see the world as they do. The quest permits one to look at issues and events from different angles and perspectives, to encounter new ways of thinking, and to add to one’s mental toolkit. It makes an already interesting job even more stimulating, and can make smart reporters even sharper when it comes to understanding national stories and trends.
But smugness isn’t the only threat to the First Amendment. Political correctness also stands in the way. It routinely imposes the kind of censorship journalists ought to hate most –prior restraint. It forbids the mere contemplation or acknowledgment of views that ruffle the feathers of self-appointed arbiters of the acceptable. These grandees usually find some kindly explanation for their banning of forbidden topics and thoughts – the communications in question hurt people’s feelings, invoke stereotypes, that sort of thing. But let’s be clear: the First Amendment didn’t create allowances for censors.
The Constitution’s authors would have grasped the utter frivolity of political correctness. It isn’t necessary. American society has a wonderful record of rejecting demagogues and verbal exhibitionists, without prodding or intervention from self-appointed scolds. The votaries of hatred and division occasionally have their day, but never for long. Americans have little patience for tub-thumping maniacs, and they reject demagogues with regular and ruthless efficiency.
In fact, the average Joe is far less susceptible to shabby fads than the PC police, who have become so ubiquitous and whose ministrations have become so absurd that even my elementary-school children are making fun of them – and not because Daddy has prompted them to do so.
Unfortunately, some in the press have adopted PC etiquette and practice without coercion from a Grand Inquisitor. There are questions some media organizations simply don’t ask. For instance, is racism as bad as it was two decades ago? The answer is no. If you doubt it, check out your kids. They’re refreshingly devoid of the bigotry and self-consciousness that characterized our youth. This is an immensely positive development, but nobody dares acknowledge it. It’s forbidden. And so race-baiters generate headlines, while healers and innovators toil unnoticed.
Snow doesn’t stop with those points, but goes on to discuss the blindness behind conventional wisdom, the dangers of elevating gossip journalism to front page status, the hostility to religion that the traditional media displays, and a few other points of weakness. It’s vintage Snow: intelligent, accurate, humorous, and without meanness. I urge you to read it all, which you can do here.
UPDATE: See also Noel Sheppard’s coverage.