CNSNews.com loves stories about big bad liberals and conservative victims -- but not the other way around.
By Terry Krepel
CNSNews.com is probably the most journalistically responsible member of the ConWeb, in a relative sense. There is a definite conservative slant -- soft-pedaling Otto Reich, its insistence on using the word "homosexual" instead of "gay," to name but a couple of instances -- but its writers have shown some evidence of a journalism education and do know how to bury their slant most of the time.
There is a slant, though, and one of the ways its manifests itself is, to quote Brent Baker's handy guide to identifying media bias at CNS parent Media Research Center, bias by story selection. To quote Baker: "If charges of impropriety are leveled at two politicians of approximately equal power, one liberal and one conservative, compare the amount of coverage given to each."
Baker, of course, was talking about "liberal media bias," but it works both ways, and Baker is certainly not going to tell his readers that. Let's take a look at some of the recent ways CNSNews.com has engaged in this particular form of bias:
Subject: Rewriting stories to add slant. CNS ran two stories in May about how ABC's Peter Jennings allegedly rewrote news stories to serve an alleged liberal bias. One accuses Jennings of manipulating news scripts during the 1980s "in order to praise the Marxist-backed Sandinista government in Nicaragua" but cites only one example; the second quotes former ABC correspondent Bob Zelnick making the same accusation (but without specific examples) and alleges his contract wasn't renewed because of the Regnery-published book he wrote about Al Gore.
As if the conservative media has never done that. But don't take my word for it.
The January-February 1991 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review features an article by Kathleen Salamon about why she quit the Sacramento Union newspaper: "... I had seen a bad situation go to worse and then to incredible. By the time I left the paper ... I had seen the news tampered with at even the most basic of levels to reflect the owners' and editors' religious and political biases."
The owner: Daniel Benvenuti Jr. The editor: Joseph Farah.
Somewhat innocent, surprisingly, is Richard Mellon Scaife, who owned the paper for several years and sold it to Benvenuti. "Scaife's years were marked by bitterness and labor strife, but the out-of-town owner kept his fingers out of the news, and employees now look back on his time with nostalgia," Salamon wrote.
Benvenuti was the man who hired Farah, who made some immediate changes according to Salamon:
One of the first things Farah did was to issue memos prohibiting reporters from using the words "gay," assault rifles," and "women's health center." These were replaced by "homosexual," semi-automatic rifles," and "abortion clinics." He edited a story by one of the paper's state bureau reporters so that the National Organization for Women was defined as a "radical feminist group" and former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., was described as having "consistently struck down all legal protections of the unborn."
Another former reporter is quoted as saying, "If I didn't find a story the way (Farah) wanted, I was told he wouldn't give it time or space. He was telling anybody who disagreed with him that they were bad reporters."
Salamon also states that "making sure the staff has the 'right' political thinking seems to be a priority with Farah," noting a letter from a job applicant made clear that the applicant had talked with Farah about abortion, homosexuality and Christianity. "I mentioned to you that I've resolved the homophobia and personal hatred toward homosexuals that I once had," wrote the applicant, who in the end was not hired. "I don't hate them as individuals, but I believe they are an evil influence in our society and need to be opposed and their propaganda barrage combatted by truthful reporting. ..."
In a separate article, Farah responded, saying the Union has been "victimized by the reportorial hatchet jobs of some colleagues," adding that "it is simply untrue, as some of these critics charge, that our strong point of view has destroyed the standards of balance and fairness in our news columns" and dismissing the charges as "a handful of examples of alleged bias, most of which pale in comparison with the excesses of subjectivity in the pages of our liberal counterparts and competitors."
A conservative slant didn't work businesswise; the Union folded a few years later. Farah went on to create WorldNetDaily, where the continued employment of Jon Dougherty is just one sign that Farah continues to put ideology above journalism. So where's the CNS outrage about that?
Subject: Web sites threatened with lawsuits. A May CNS story reported on the shutdown of www.boycott-hollywood.us, "an Internet website that has gone after Hollywood actors for their past statements against the Bush administration and its policy of removing Saddam Hussein from power," after its domain registrar received a letter from a law firm representing the William Morris Agency, accusing the site of "libel and potentially other civil and criminal offenses." A recent check of that address, though, takes Net surfers to a different address, which showed it to be quite active, though with a very wordy disclaimer.
Missing from CNS is any mention of the lawsuit seeking $500,000 in damages conservative talk show host Michael Savage (actually, the company that syndicates his show) filed against the operators of Web sites critical of Savage, such as SavageStupidity.com, MichaelSavageSucks.com and Take Back the Media.
Subject: John Lott. This one more accurately falls under another of Baker's categories, bias by omission. A May 20 CNS story plugs the new book by Lott, which claims that the media fails to report armed citizens stopping crimes in progress. It includes lots of statistics as well as a researcher who points out that Lott has not submitted his work for peer review -- a standard in academic research -- but adds his compliance with two other research standards, making the raw data available and using control data, "more than compensates."
Why bother to do all that? Writer Jeff Johnson doesn't say, even though he wrote an article a week earlier designed to set up and knock down questions about Lott's work. (The headline: "Liberal Academics Continue Assault on Pro-Gun Research.") CNS' sudden interest in the veracity of research comes from accusations against Lott that he lacks the supporting data to support a statement in a previous book that "98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack." CNS' Johnson does not address this particular charge in either story.
Also left unaddressed by Johnson is Lott's admission that he and/or members of his family have -- under the name Mary Rosh -- posted favorable comments about his work on Amazon.com and other places.
Brent Baker is turning a blind eye to his CNS colleagues about their bias -- after all, if it's bad for liberals to do it, isn't it bad for conservatives to do it, too? But one also has to wonder, since he knows so much about it, if he taught 'em how it's done.