Ed Driscoll

More Fallout From Greenhouse Admissions

Earlier this week, we mentioned Linda Greenhouse, the New York Times reporter who finally, much like the Times itself did in 2004, came clean about her bias. Betsy Newmark writes:

What is funny is how Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, reacts to this question. He’s just peachy happy to have a reporter be so open with her opinions precisely because he agrees with those opinions. If her views were the opposite, he’d have problems with it. It’s not the openness that he would draw the line at, but the opinions themselves. And he’s willing to admit that!

Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times, blanches at hearing of Greenhouse’s remarks, but agrees with her tough critique of the White House.

“If I was the Washington bureau chief and she was my Supreme Court reporter, I might have to answer to the editors in L.A. for that,” Nelson says. “But I would do my best to support her.”

Asked if he would defend Greenhouse had she said something he disagreed with, however, Nelson laughed — and said he would take issue if she had backed Bush policy.

This is a totally consistent worldview within the elite portions of the legacy media. Back in April, Michael Barone wrote a piece that ends with an anecdote that dovetails nicely with Nelson’s quote:

Let’s say you were part of a group designing the news media from scratch. Someone says that it would be a good idea to have competing news media — daily newspapers and weekly magazines, radio and television news programs. Sounds like a good start.

Someone else says that it would be a good idea to staff these news media with people who are literate and well-educated. Check. Then someone says let’s have 90 percent of the people who work for these organizations be from one of the nation’s two competitive political parties and 10 percent from the other.

Uh, you might find yourself saying, especially if you weren’t sure that your party would get the 90 percent, maybe that’s not such a good idea. But that’s the news media we have today.

Surveys galore have shown that somewhere around 90 percent of the writers, editors and other personnel in the news media are Democrats and only about 10 percent are Republicans. We depend on the news media for information about government and politics, foreign affairs and war, public policy and demographic trends — for a picture of the world around us. But the news comes from people 90 percent of whom are on one side of the political divide. Doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.

Of course, a lot of people in the news business say it doesn’t make any difference. I remember a conversation I had with a broadcast news executive many years ago.

“Doesn’t the fact that 90 percent of your people are Democrats affect your work product?” I asked.

“Oh, no, no,” he said. “Our people are professional. They have standards of objectivity and professionalism, so that their own views don’t affect the news.”

“So what you’re saying,” I said, “is that your work product would be identical if 90 percent of your people were Republicans.”

He quickly replied, “No, then it would be biased.”

And a few years ago, when Hollywood’s Lionel Chetwynd was holding a press conference for his Showtime docudrama, DC 9/11, he was asked by a reporter:

Question: “You did contribute to [Bush’s] campaign?”

Chetwynd: “Yeah, the limit was $1,000… Would it make a better film if I’d given $1,000 to Gore?”

Question: “Yes.”

Chetwynd: “Why?”

Question: “Because it would show less potential bias.”

Regarding Jack Nelson’s comments about Greenhouse, Betsy wrote:

This is how conservatives always suspected things were at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. It’s nice to have them admit it overtly. That’s all I’ve ever wanted them to do – stop hiding behind the pretense of being totally objective without any agenda and let the readers and viewers of the media take that into account just as we do when we hear politicians praising or criticizing someone or some policy.

As I wrote yesterday, confirming an anecdote by James Taranto of Opinion Journal, the media have been much more willing since 9/11 and the rise of the Blogosphere, to let it all hang out. (These guys really let it all hang out a few months ago, incidentally.) And I’m happy for them to do so. At this point, the stragglers who still hold a viewpoint that their profession is completely objective and without bias seem like those stories of soldiers rescued after decades on a desert island, who haven’t heard that WWII is over. (A couple of years ago, Stefan Sharkansky had some thoughts about a completely neutral press would be covering. And it wouldn’t be pretty.)

Or as I wrote back in April, Michael Kinsley’s right: this is the Twilight of Objectivity, but it was a surprisingly brief era to begin with.