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Friday, April 24, 2009
MRC Keeps the Blinders On
Topic: Media Research Center

We've detailed now the Media Research Center is so blinded by their tunnel vision that they blame "liberal bias" for every media woe even though other explanations are much more plausible and demonstrable. But logic isn't a tool in the MRC arsenal, so they have chosen to remain willfully blinded.

In an April 22 NewsBusters post gleefully relating how the New York Times Co. is purportedly "burning full blast towards oblivion," Stephen Gutowski noted the Associated Press' listing of the actual reasons the newspaper industry is in trouble -- the recession, marketing shifts, and "many people are doing without newspaper subscriptions because they can read much of the same information for free on the Web" -- then dismisses them, claiming, "I think those of us here at NewsBusters know better than that." He then quotes another blogger referencing "left wing hack newspapers" and adds, "And bias certainly hurts because, truthfully, if you consistently alienate large swaths of potential customers through undeniable and absolutely despicable bias its bound to affect your bottom line." He concludes that the Times must "incorporate the genuine balance and true professionalism that people want from their news sources. Because if you don't eliminate the hackery, which has become so common and so obvious, soon you won't be around to do so in the future."

Let's take a moment here and see what a real expert has to say on the issue. Donna Barrett is the president and CEO of newspaper chain Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., and we're pretty sure she has significantly more working knowledge about the newspaper industry than Gutowski:

There is no shortage of other theories on why newspapers are hurting. Most come from those without direct responsibility for the financial health of a newspaper. Some popular explanations:

1.) Newspapers are too liberal and drive off readers as a result.
2.) Newspaper publishers are slow to embrace new technology.
3.) Newspapers are losing readers to the Internet.

As my father used to say, they don’t know what they don’t know. In reality, none of these theories is responsible for newspapers' woes.

Overall readership is growing. Most publishers embrace technological advances to serve their audience, but they face a real-world problem that these advances usually provide much less revenue than their core business.

Finally, newspaper companies are losing classified revenue, not readers, to the Internet. In one of life’s ironies, newspapers are growing audience through the very outlet that takes away so much revenue.

Don't look for Gutowski or anyone else at the MRC to acknowledge this -- they're too invested in their blinders.

Speaking of Gutowski's fellow MRCers, Dan Gainor testified in front of a House subcommittee on April 21 in a hearing about newspapers, in which he downplays actual facts and clung to the liberal-bias canard. From Gainor's statement:

While it is fair to blame much of the decline in newspapers to technology, it is not the only factor. The newspaper industry has changed too – for the worse. Standards have slipped or all but disappeared. The concept of a journalist as a neutral party has become a punch line for a joke, not a guideline for an industry.

We all saw how poorly the mainstream press covered the last election. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, voters believed that the media wanted Barack Obama to win the presidential election. “By a margin of 70%-9%, Americans say most journalists want to see Obama, not John McCain, win,” Pew reported. Other surveys confirmed it: According to Rasmussen, "Over half of U.S. voters (51%) think reporters are trying to hurt Sarah Palin."
And while newspaper credibility has taken a hit among both Democrats and Republicans, it is lowest among Republicans with the [New York] Times having just a 10 percent credibility rating in that group. One person in 10? You could write graffiti on a wall and have more people believe you.

In other words: lilberal bias. But citing polling supporting that view ignores the decades of work and millions upon millions of dollars spent by conservative organizations like Gainor's employer to foist that view on the public. Indeed, NewsBusters blogger Tom Blumer let that cat out of the bag last year, proclaiming that such poll findings mean that "twenty or so years of very hard work by the Media Research Center and affiliates, including just over three years at NewsBusters, has paid some dividends." Not that there's any truth to it, mind you, but that sufficient money has been spent to make enough people believe it.

Additionally, The Times has been a major target of the MRC, having devoted an entire website to bashing it.

Gainor also said: "You don’t have to tell me that the newspaper business in changing. Three of those organizations I have worked for are now out of business. Until recently, I wrote a column for the Baltimore Examiner, but it closed putting dozens of friends and fellow journalists out of work."

But the closing of the Baltimore Examiner disproves his assertion that liberal bias is alienating newspaper readers. That paper was a sister paper to the Washington Examiner, which has an unmistakable right-wing bias. We can presume that the Baltimore paper had a similar bias; "liberal bias" could not have been an issue with that paper's demise.

Gainor further ignores the fact that right-wing papers like the Washington Times, the New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (and, one can assume, the Washington Examiner) are not the dominant publications in their respective markets, have consistently lost money for decades, and remain in business only because of deep-pocketed owners who are willing to absorb the losses (and keep secret just how much money is being lost). By comparison, the losses at mainstream newspapers have occured only within the past couple of years, and most are owned by publicly held companies so revenue is publicly disclosed as well. Thus, the losses at those papers have gotten public attention, while the losses at right-wing papers have not.

Gutowski and Gainor are stubbornly putting their employer's talking points above the facts. But then, that's what they get paid to do.

Posted by Terry K. at 1:33 AM EDT

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