So, is your ox being gored right now?

So, is your ox being gored right now? by David Lias I was somewhat of a free spirit last Thursday, during the dedication of the Al Neuharth Media Center.

I hitched a ride to the event.

I met up with Cindy about half-way through the ceremony. Afterwards, our group had dinner, and then Cindy and I went our separate ways.

She drove home to work on lesson plans for classes she was teaching the next day.

So I found another ride to the Al Neuharth Media Center Symposium. The theme of the event, held in Slagle Auditorium on the USD campus, was �Is the Free Press a Fair Press?�

The short ride home after the event wasn�t particularly quiet.

My companion, who was now driving me back to the Plain Talk office where my car was parked, was practically livid.

The participants in last week�s symposium are some of the leading journalists of our time: Louis D. Boccardi, former chief executive officer of the Associated Press, Tom Curley, his replacement as the AP�s CEO, Robert MacNeil, journalist, author and former host of The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, John Siegenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center, and Judy Woodruff, anchor and senior correspondent at CNN.

At one point during the night�s discussion, it was noted by at least one panelist that not all news organizations are fair.

Fox News Channel, easily identified as the more conservative of the major television network news organizations, was singled out, since it has adopted �fair and balanced� as its motto.

�The Fox claim is a con on the public,� MacNeil said. �I think (Fox�s) claim to being fair and balanced is a public relations con job.�

Fox News, MacNeil said, is blatantly unbalanced and has picked up on the aroused patriotism of the country and is �beating it to death,� he said. �Because of the present mood in the country, it has produced a certain rise in their ratings.�

Many of the people seated in Slagle Auditorium that night were students at USD.

Or professors.

Or other members of the media.

A majority of them applauded MacNeil�s comments.

That�s what had my driving companion�s blood boiling afterwards. You see, he�s a Fox News fan. Woodruff�s CNN and many of the mainstream media we�re exposed to day after day, he noted, are a bunch of liberal weenies.

Woodruff didn�t soothe my friend�s mood when she noted that a true �news� organization doesn�t need a motto.

�Fox is concerned about its news reputation. At CNN, we don�t need to use those terms,� she said.

Is the media in this country liberal, and therefore unable to be fair?

It was a question that really couldn�t be answered, even by a panel of experts, in the 90 minutes allowed.

David Croteau a member of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Sociology and Anthropology, has spent considerable time researching this very topic.

He concludes that people of a more conservative nature (in other words, most of the population of South Dakota) maintain two strong beliefs about the media:

1) they feel that journalists� views are to the left of the public�s, and

2) journalists present news in a way that accentuates that. In 1998, Croteau published the results of his research into the supposed left orientation of media personnel by surveying Washington-based journalists who cover national politics.

He also talked to reporters and editors across the nation who report on U.S. economic policy.

Among his findings:

? On select issues from corporate power and trade to Social Security and Medicare to health care and taxes, journalists are actually more conservative than the general public.

? Journalists are mostly centrist in their political orientation.

? The minority of journalists who do not identify with the �center� are more likely to identify with the �right� when it comes to economic issues and to identify with the �left� when it comes to social issues.

Croteau�s report is long, his research is quite complex. It�s spread over a wide variety of topics, and he talked to lots of people while gathering his data.

�This survey shows that it is a mistake to accept the conservative claim that journalists are to the left of the public. There appear to be very few national journalists with left views on economic questions like corporate power and trade � issues that may well matter more to media owners and advertisers than social issues like gay rights and affirmative action,� he concludes.

Panelists at Thursday�s forum were asked about journalists� perceptions, and the conclusion made by many people that the media is unfair.

�Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and whose ox is gored,�MacNeil said.

So why do some members of the media, as my friend would insist, appear to be leaning to the left? Is it a prerequisite to the job or something?

I don�t think that�s the case. I think a lot of it has to do with the people that journalists talk to day after day. People who write stories on business or health care or taxes are probably going to seem conservative.

Why?

The people they�re often in touch with to provide the �objective� flow of information back to their newsrooms are conservative.

Those who write about social issues likely will seem liberal because the people quoted in their stories more may lean to the left politically.

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