It turns out that newsrooms may look an awful lot like college campuses, at least when you use to quite inaccurate measure of campaign contributions. Just as those professors who give in recordable amounts contribute overwhelming to Democratic and liberal causes and candidates, so do the men and women who report and analyze our news.
I’m shocked, I say, shocked.
Of course, we can’t conclude anything from this about the propensities of the non-contributors. For all we know, the non-contributors are overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. Right.
Of course, some news organizations either prohibit or discourage campaign contributions, because that behavior lends credence to an argument about bias. But such policies only cover up potential evidence in a discussion of bias and change absolutely nothing in the opinions of those who populate the newsrooms.
We’re told, of course, that journalists respond to professional norms of neutrality, and I’m will to concede that lots of them try. But we are, as Aristotle was one of the first and by no means the last to notice, bad judges in our own cases. All too often, our motives and biases are unself-conscious. In a setting where one family of opinions or general line of argument tends to predominate, what seems neutral, unbiased, and reasonable may not be.
I don’t think that there’s any cure for this unself-conscious bias (or for fully self-conscious agenda journalism). I’m not about to call for affirmative action for conservatives in America’s newsrooms. Still, I can’t help but think that well-documented, well-informed criticism offered on sites like this, and the existence of a multiplicity of news sources provide a kind of counterpoison.
I say: let ’em make campaign contributions, the more transparently the better. And uphold the professional norms. But realize that the professional norms can be best enforced, not by company policies (someone once called things like this "parchment barriers"), but by the critical oversight of a well-informed public that can, if it loses confidence in a journalist, find its information elsewhere.