Alex Taylor Column September 28, 2008

Elite? Who me? Stereotype doesn’t accurately reflect media reality

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama share something in common at this very moment. They can both make you very angry at me. All I have to do is put one of them on the cover without putting the other one on the cover and some of you are sure to call me and give me an earful.

As publisher of a daily newspaper, I frequently get phone calls from readers concerned about how we play a given story. Over the last few weeks, those calls have picked up significantly and have become far more passionate.

I love the calls. I love hearing from readers and talking things out. However, I have been particularly struck by many people’s deep-seated belief that there is an ingrained bias in our news reporting. People always talk about media bias, but more so than ever these days. I agree that it exists to some degree at places like The New York Times and on Fox News. But I take exception that it exists at The Daily Sentinel.

I’d like to use this space to talk about the perception and misperception of media bias, how things work here, and to assure anyone reading this that we take our journalistic duty to our readers very seriously — particularly during an important election.

First off, a common misperception is that the “media” are liberal. It’s a conspiracy theory fed mostly by the GOP. I heard a lot of remarks during the Republican Convention about the “elite media,” what “they” want you to believe — the “lies” that they will spread. I thought to myself “I guess I’m a bonafide member of ‘the media.’

Am I guilty of these atrocities?”

They referred specifically to the Washington Post and The New York Times. Perhaps there is bias in those newsrooms. However, the media are not a liberal juggernaut. They certainly never mentioned The Wall Street Journal, which is twice as large as the Times and could never be considered liberal by any stretch. They never mention the New York Post, one of the largest papers in the country and very conservative minded.

In fact, Editor & Publisher Magazine (the trade publication all of us publishing types get) has followed the political endorsements of daily newspapers in every race since the 1940s. In all but three presidential races, the majority of U.S. newspapers endorsed Republicans (Johnson, Clinton and Kerry were the three exceptions).

That’s not necessarily a good diversity of endorsements, but it certainly should dispell the false rumor that the media — this mystical group of all newspaper, radio and television executives — are all liberal. Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch are certainly more than enough to counter-balance Arthur Sulzberger at The New York Times and Washington Post Publisher Katherine Weymouth.

I’m proud to say that The Daily Sentinel takes equal criticism from both sides. I thought that because we have historically endorsed more conservatives than liberals that we would be accused of a conservative bias. Yet callers this year have equally accused us of being both the most liberal rag they have ever read, or so utterly conservative they can’t bear to read it. While I’m not proud of being viewed as anything extreme, I am proud that we take equal criticism from both sides.

There are opinions at The Daily Sentinel. We read and we watch our leaders and power brokers. The members of our editorial board compose opinions about those people and about the politics of our region.

We tend to be fiscally conservative, environmentally conservation-minded and, I hope, just plain common-sensical.

Yet, whatever our opinions on politics may be, we never allow news reporters in on those conversations. No reporter in our newsroom sits in on an editorial meeting where we decide what our political opinion is going to be. If I ever thought that a reporter or someone laying out a page was intentionally infusing their personal political bias into the news, they would be reprimanded and possibly dismissed.

But that really doesn’t happen. Reporters are a very idealistic bunch. They take great pride in being independent minded and reporting the balanced facts, whether one side likes it or not.

If Obama comes to Grand Junction and we put that story on the front page, I get angry callers asking why we didn’t put McCain on the front page. Well duh! He was in St. Louis. When he comes to Grand Junction, it will be a big story.

When we put Sarah Palin on the front cover after her big speech at the convention, several people called me to cancel their subscription — accusing me of media bias. Well that was the biggest story of the day; Obama didn’t do much of anything that day.

We are under increased scrutiny during heated political times. I appreciate that. But I assure you all that we take great pride in providing accurate news coverage put into the proper perspective so that you can be informed and make wise decisions.

You put a great trust in us and we take that responsibility very seriously. Thank you for being a reader.


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