The Growing Irrelevance of Liberal Journalism

As Christopher Lasch wrote in the 1990's, “Elites, who define the issues, have lost touch with the people.”

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on January 4, 2017

There once was a time when the three major TV networks, one’s regional daily paper, and Time, U.S. News, or Newsweek composed the well-read American’s universe of information. If you lived in the hinterlands (i.e., outside of Washington, DC or New York), you never read the New York Times or the Washington Post, although the cultural and political intelligentsia, so-called, did and found them biblical in authority.   

I have just described an anachronistic period of history, one now hard to imagine for anyone 35 and under. There’s no need to list the many means of obtaining news and information today; the smartphone in your pocket has them all.

The “mainstream” media is preponderantly liberal. This is not an aspersion but a statement of fact. Chris Matthews of Fortune Magazine wrote in 2015 that “study after study has shown that the mainstream media leans left … it is safe to say that the median journalist in America is to the left of the median American voter, and that this affects how the news is presented to the public.”

This is maddening to conservatives; the bias of the “mainstream” media has led to coverage that ranges from inadequate to offensively unfair. However, this bias should not cause conservatives nearly the upset it once did.

Why? Because of the growing insignificance of the heirs of Walter Cronkite on public opinion.

The American people are fed up with the often unvarnished liberalism of the mainstream press. In September 2016, the Gallup polling organization issued the results of a survey of Americans about their attitudes about the news media. Our “trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with (only) 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.” It is noteworthy that Gallup found that just 51 percent of Democrats find the news media trustworthy.

No one can escape his own worldview, which is why many reporters are mystified by conservatism. Talking with vigorous defenders of a point of view very different than their own is surprising, sometimes even unsettling to them.

As many conservative commentators, including me, have noted, it has been rather humorous to read the outraged comments flowing from liberal news organs concerning Donald Trump’s election and the sweeping Republican wins in November. Yet within this torrent of indignation can be detected a frantic recognition by self-professed mainstream, as well as candidly liberal, journalists, that their ability to sway the public mind is not diminished but has become something of a joke.

Does anyone seriously believe that any mainstream news anchors or reporters or television political interviewers voted for Donald Trump? I’m all for exercises of faith but am not a great fan of delusional thinking.

An increasingly diffuse media, one characterized by multiple outlets and a fascinating resemblance to the historic “party press” of the early Republic, has diminished dramatically the hold of “we know best” liberalism on print and electronic media. Our desire to read, watch, and listen to unapologetically conservative media can only reinforce one’s own biases, of course — we like to watch and read things by people who agree with us — but the mainstream media’s lack of credibility makes an ideologically divided news media unavoidable.

I served as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and at a large trade association. I’ve worked with reporters from the national “bigs” and from little towns more concerned with a local bridge repair project than American relations with China. Most, although not all, try to be fair. Most are pleasant and intelligent. Like any other profession, some are diligent and curious and others are lazy and essentially re-write news releases and call them their own stories.

But no one can escape his own worldview, which is why many reporters are mystified by conservatism. Taught in college and journalism school by professors whose political bias is preponderantly sympathetic to the Democratic Party and working in newsrooms where liberalism is accepted much as the eastern rising of the sun, they are unfamiliar with such concepts as constitutional originalism or such conservative intellectuals as Frederick Hayek, Russell Kirk, and Michael Novak. Talking with knowledgeable conservatives, thoughtful Evangelicals, and vigorous defenders of a point of view very different than their own is surprising, sometimes even unsettling to them.

And then there are ordinary Americans, not just skilled laborers or people without a college degree but many well-educated professionals, who are sick of being told to be quiet and eat their spinach while their betters, e.g., the Hillary Clintons and Barack Obamas of the political world, govern as they think best. Mainstream reporters interview this vast range of their fellow citizens respectfully, for the most part, but they often seem to find many of them startling and perhaps even a bit scary.

“Elites, who define the issues, have lost touch with the people,” wrote the brilliant Christopher Lasch in the early 1990s. These elites “tend to congregate on the coasts, turning their back on the heartland and cultivating ties with the international market in fast-moving money, glamour, fashion, and popular culture. It is a question whether they think of themselves as Americans at all.”

“Elites, who define the issues, have lost touch with the people.” — Christopher Lasch

These is a tough indictment, but is augmented by comments made a few years ago by former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg. Writing of the skepticism of even many Democrats and independents toward the press, he said, “Most liberal journalists don’t get any of this. … Their arrogance makes them less and less relevant with each passing day. And they don’t believe that, either.”

American journalists rightly love the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. But do they also love their own viability? If not, their continued existence, let alone relevance, will become an even greater question in coming years.

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