Speak No Bias: The Times Only Concedes 'Insufficient Tuned-in-ness'

Poor Clark Hoyt. He has the toughest job in journalism. As public editor of the New York Times, it is his job to explain away the Gray Lady’s bias.

Whenever the Times doesn’t report a bad-news-for-the-left story or mangles a hit piece on a conservative he’s there to tut-tut, but never under any circumstances will he concede the error is due to political bias.

He was tapped this past weekend to explain away the non-coverage of ACORN by the Times. He concedes the Times ignored the story:

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior. An ACORN worker in Baltimore was shown telling the “prostitute” that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an “independent artist” and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from ACORN, the Times stood still. Its slow reflexes -- closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser -- suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like the Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

But that’s a bum rap, don’t you know? The Times editors rush forward to explain that it was just that they weren’t “tuned in” to what conservative media was covering. Left unsaid is that conservative media is covering what the Times doesn’t and won’t report -- anything unhelpful to Obama or the Democratic Party.

Hoyt is forever examining the Times’ hit pieces on conservatives -- whether on Sarah Palin or John McCain. He’s forced to offer excuses for being late on the Reverend Wright story. (He even has to clean up after Maureen Dowd’s plagiarism.)  And yet he never quite seems able to connect the dots. The sheer number of  flawed stories, the consistency of the bias, and the shoddiness of his colleagues’ excuses never lead him to the conclusion that the only plausible excuse is that the Times is populated solely by liberals who either consciously or not skew news coverage to help their side.

At least Hoyt’s counterpart at the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, is honest enough to admit the personnel issue. He wrote recently:

The most authoritative recent research into the political leanings of newsrooms (including television, radio, magazines, and wire services) shows they are considerably more liberal than the general public. At daily newspapers, those who "lean to the left still far outnumber those who lean to the right," said Indiana University journalism professor David H. Weaver, whose researchers surveyed 1,149 journalists in 2002 and recently conducted a follow-up study of 400.

A recent Pew Research nationwide survey said only 26 percent of those questioned believe news organizations try to protect against political bias, while 60 percent said news organizations are biased.