Those media-bias ships sail on

Porthole panel21In reaction to my latest post about media bias, Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher posted a short item on that newspaper's editorial page blog in which he asked his colleagues for their reaction to it. The key question: Am I on to something when I insist that the key media-bias issue today is that the vast majority of mainstream journalists are sailing left on moral and cultural issues, as opposed to issues of economics, foreign policy, health care and other similar "political" issues? Dreher thinks I'm correct about this. Thus, he wrote:

This is a big reason why so much of the public is alienated from the mass media. When people ask me what the orientation of the DMN editorial board is, I usually tell them "business Republican," which is not the same thing as conservative. That is, we tend to be conservative on economics and foreign affairs, but liberal on social issues. Some call this "progressive conservatism," which to me sounds like an oxymoron, but it basically means that as an editorial board (as distinct from individuals) we're pretty libertarian. Do any of you disagree? ...

I was just thinking about this, and I think I'm the only member of the editorial board who is a social conservative. Mike probably comes closest to me, but he's more of a libertarian conservative than a social conservative. Most everybody else is a social moderate or liberal, right? Help me out here.

So far, the only editorial board member to respond is Michael Landauer, who confessed:

I'd say that's a fair assessment. I personally, away from politics, am pretty socially conservative, I think. But when it comes to government on social issues, I probably am more libertarian or, some would say, even liberal.

The important point that Dreher makes is that the most explosive issues in media-bias research are not linked to fights between Democrats and Republicans. It may appear that way, but if you dig deeper you find lots of mainstream journalists are Republicans, but they are "business Republicans" who are pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights and take similar stances on other issues that, in this day and age, dominate the headlines about religion, politics and religion in politics. You can find evidence of this gap in a wide variety of studies, not all of them by researchers on the right.

A 2004 study over at the Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism led to an infamous column by Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post in which he directly addressed this "religious" side of the media-bias wars. Here is a piece of what I wrote about that at the time:

"The survey confirmed that national journalists are to the left of the public on social issues," wrote Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. "Nine in 10 say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral (40 percent of the public thinks this way). As might have been inferred from the upbeat coverage of gay marriage in Massachusetts, 88 percent of national journalists say society should accept homosexuality; only about half the public agrees."

There's more. Only 31 percent of national journalists still have confidence in the public's election choices, as compared with 52 percent under Clinton. For Kurtz, the implication was clear that "many media people feel superior to their customers."

Bingo. This is why GetReligion keeps returning to this topic over and over.

The main purpose of this blog is to lobby for improved coverage of serious religion news in serious American newspapers. Yes, that is not a left vs. right matter. However, it is clear that this social issues gap is an important one, especially in an era dominated by religion headlines about abortion, homosexuality, religion in public schools, euthanasia and a whole host of other hot-button topics. This gap is important in an era in which newspaper sales are on the decline. You see, your friends here at GetReligion (confession is good for the soul) are in favor of the survival of mainstream, balanced, "American model of the press," mass-appeal newspapers.

So is Peter Brown of the Orlando Sentinel. He once provided another crucial piece of this puzzle, noting that it appears that many or most mainstream journalists simply lead radically different lives than the people that they cover. They live in different places, read different magazines, live in different kinds of homes, enjoy different movies and, yes, spend their Sunday mornings in radically different places. In fact, Brown said that the biggest gaps between journalists and readers were linked to patterns in family life, religion and the split between cities and suburbs.

In the end, the biggest clashes were linked to religious and cultural issues.

So, how many true cultural conservatives are out there in the marketplace? How many no longer read a mainstream paper? How many are poised to cancel that subscription? How many continue to hang on, avoiding certain sections of the paper because they feel like their most cherished beliefs and values are under attack in stories that they believe are biased or unbalanced or both? Is the number 10 percent? Closer to 50 percent? As Brown once told me:

Any business that doesn't understand or respect the lives of somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of its potential customers isn't a business that is very serious about growing or even surviving.

How many editors and publishers are thinking about this? I mean, other than those who have bravely spoken up.

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