Noonan cheers for ships headed right

ttall5Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has, in an indirect way, jumped into our discussion of media bias. Her latest column has much to say about the impact — journalistic and financial — of that yawning culture gap that exists between most mainstream journalists and a rather large chunk of readers, especially out there in flyover America and the deadly red zip codes. Click here to get to “Not a Bad Time to Take Stock: Thoughts on the decline of the liberal media monopoly and the future of the GOP.”

Before you read it, please let me make a personal comment or two.

First of all, I really don’t care much about the future of GOP, seeing as how I am a conservative Democrat. However, I guess it pays to pay attention to the GOP issues, since those of us on the pro-life side of things end up facing the terrible voting-booth choice of selecting between pro-business Republicans who say they are pro-life and almost as fiercely pro-business Democrats who, unless you live in a dozen or so congressional districts, are pro-abortion rights. Please, in the comments, don’t get pulled off into arguments about Noonan’s politics. Let’s talk about journalism.

Also, I know that technology — like this blog — is leading us into an era of niche media. I accept that and I know that much of what Noonan says is accurate about how this will open up news-media options on the right. But I still cannot celebrate this trend. I cannot find a way to slap a smile on my face and dance on the grave of the American Model of the Press. As I just said in a comment on the “Ships sail on” post:

When an industry is sliding the way the MSM is right now, it is a good thing to listen to customers and respond as best you can, without compromising your ethics. In this case, seeking a diversity of voices on the hottest issues in our culture sounds like good business, to me. I care about the future of the newspaper industry. A lot. I want it to be harder for conservatives to attack it. …

You see, I really believe that it is possible to have a newsroom that cares about intellectual and cultural diversity and, thus, contains reporters who have a gut instinct about when a newspaper’s coverage is simply shallow, inaccurate, unbalanced, twisted or all of the above when it comes time to deal with the morally conservative side of American life. I believe that newsrooms don’t have to lean 90 percent in one direction on the hottest controversies of our day and that it would be good for journalism the craft, and journalism the business, if that were not the case.

I am pro-diversity. Period. Real diversity. But, you see, I think that is possible in mainstream newsrooms — not just in the cable TV, talk radio and WWW world that is dominated by the European Model of the Press. I like newspapers and wire services, thank you very much. I am an American journalist.

Thus, it is painful to read something like this from Noonan:

We are in a time when the very diminution of the importance of network news leaves some old news hands to drop their guard and announce what they are: liberal Democrats. Nothing wrong with that, but they might have told us when they were in power. The very existence of conservative media — of Rush Limbaugh, of Fox, of the Internet sites — has become an excuse by previously “I call ’em as I see ’em/I try to be impartial” journalists to advance their biases. Actually, it’s more Fox than anything. The existence of a respected cable network that is nonliberal and non-Democratic (or that is conservative, or Republican, or neoconservative — people on the right have polite disagreements about this) is more and more freeing news outlets, encouraging them actually, as a potential business model, to be more and more what they are. Is this good? Well, it’s clearer. Then again Time magazine this week illustrated a story about Republicans in Congress with a drawing of a merry circus elephant surrounded by the Republican leadership. They were covered, I’m not kidding, in the elephant’s fecal matter. (It’s on page 23. Time will no doubt call it chocolate.)

No, I can’t find the illustration on the Time site. If you can, send us the link.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One big problem is that even those of us who are wary of media bias pick up some of the liberal mainstream media’s stereotypes created by the way the news is sometimes spun.
    You sort of alluded to it in your comment on “business Republicsns who say they are pro-life.”
    However about a year ago I saw buried in the Boston Globe (I believe it was) on page 3004 in a little story that described a vote in the U.S. House. It involved a law that would have made business provide more health benefits to pregnant women. The pro-life organizations were strongly for it, the business interests adamantly opposed. The Republicans had a choice–they overwhelmingly sided with their pro-life constituency against their business constituency. The Dems–at the urging of the pro-abort crowd went pro-business.
    But this vote didn’t fit the stereotypes so I saw it mentioned very little in the mainstream press. Can’t let the public think the Republicans might not be in business pockets on every vote.
    In the meantime all the liberals on the Supreme Court stole every “little guys” right to his castle by giving a combine of political hacks and big business the right to eminent domain you -and widows and orphans- into the street. While ALL the conservatives (Republicans) stuck up for the right of the “little guy.”
    Again the stereotypes didn’t fit the pre-ordained mold– so I saw–except on a few conservative sites–little comment. Mustn’t do anything to shake those stereotypes.

  • Tom Breen

    The disappearance of the “American Model” of news reporting should be a matter of concern for everyone who cares about democracy.

    Of course, perfect objectivity is impossible. But striving for that objectivity has given citizens the chance to evaluate the same body of facts when making their decisions about the country they live in.

    If we switch to a European model, where most sources of news don’t even try to be objective, I don’t know what kind of consequences that will have. But I don’t like the idea of it.

  • Avram

    I don’t know what point Noonan’s trying to make, but it looks like the Time article is this one (no elephant poop illo, sadly), about the Abramoff financial scandal, and whether Delay’s successor can clean up the GOP’s reputation. I suppose the mere fact that the article exists, and doesn’t buy into the GOP’s “Democrats did it too” talking points, might be taken as evidence of anti-GOP bias, but the picture sounds like a fairly obvious editorial cartoon illustrating the point of the article.

  • tmatt


    It seems that others share your point of view, only they are more angry about it.

    They used words more harsh than “buy into….”

  • Avram

    Lots of people are angrier than I am, Terry. It’s a shame about the W Post‘s blog comments, but there was clearly (by the ombudsman’s own admission) some sloppy writing there that blurs the distinctions between important facts.

  • Maureen

    I remember that when I was a kid, there was a Republican newspaper and a Democratic newspaper in our area. For national news, one of them was AP and the other one was UPI. For local news, they both had their own staffs of reporters. But the only real difference was that their staffs were different sets of people with different strengths so one would sometimes scoop the other; and both had different editorial personalities. Oh, yeah, and different sets of comic strips and columnists. That’s it.

    The facts were the facts. The editorial pages were the editorial pages. There was a clear distinction between the two. That’s what I want from the news, whether it’s on TV or in a newspaper or even on a blog.

    Nowadays, you have all this “let’s ignore this important story because we don’t like it” and “let’s report only one side of the story” crud going on, and it’s just ridiculous.

  • Daniel

    I have to wonder whether Peggy Noonan and the political movement she is connected with aren’t part of the problem that is discussed elsewhere about journalistic integrity. If you are part of a political movement that bleats on and on about media bias in an attempt to gain a rhetorical advantage, it diminishes journalism even if allegations of bias aren’t true. Republicans (and conservatives) have used the media bias complaint as part of a very effective strategy to say “don’t believe what you read (even if it is true).

    So now we are left with Fox News and the Washington Times which are unadbashadly slanted and biased, with commenters on their pages accusing the MSM of being biased. It’s like you’ve stumbled into a rabbit hole.

  • Stephen A.

    Daniel, the Right really is “left with” just about Fox News and the Washington Times. Not the best, but the best we’ve got. It’s not bleating, it’s a fact: conservatives are belittled and isolated in the national mass media.

    When the blatant slanting and sometimes *overt* bias is so obvious it’s ridiculous (c’mon, do the conservatives have to be portrayed as knuckle-draggers in almost EVERY news story?) it should give more journalists cause to navel gaze – this time over something important, like Groupthink and institutional/cultural biases.

    And this site would go dark if the national and local media woke up about things like religion and started to understand these “little people” who pay to watch their filthy movies or attend the “right” parties in Soho and L.A.