Scott Simmons is so irritated by what he sees as the liberal
bias in the press, he thinks all political reporters should
disclose whom they voted for in the last election.
"The power the press has to influence events and public thinking
is such that there ought to be some sort of measure of who these
people are," says Mr. Simmons, a New York investment banker.
Simmons is part of a growing segment of Americans who believe
journalists' personal opinions are increasingly intruding on their
political coverage. While many media analysts and reporters dispute
that, others admit bias sometimes creeps into their reporting.
But they contend such slants stem from journalists' cultural
backgrounds and the media's institutional needs. Those analysts
also believe the media could help restore their waning credibility
if they turned a critical eye inward to expose those influences
The issue of bias flared up again recently, when a poll of
correspondents who covered Congress revealed that 60 percent
identified themselves as liberal or moderate-to-liberal, 30 percent
called themselves moderate, and only 9 percent considered
themselves conservative or moderate-to-conservative. A whopping 89
percent said they voted for Clinton.
"The numbers were so overwhelming, and I never saw it followed
up on," Simmons says.
For decades, conservative ideologues have jumped on such numbers
and decried the liberal bias in the press while radical activists
have railed against its conservative, corporate mentality. The
press, meanwhile, could point to both and feel comfortable they
were doing their jobs in a professional, balanced manner.
"In my experience, reporters are professionals in much the same
way as root-canal specialists," says Marvin Kalb, director of
Harvard University's Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and
Public Policy. "Their personal opinions don't intrude into the work
Indeed, the poll done for the Freedom Forum, which found
Washington's congressional correspondents to be largely liberal
-to-moderate in their outlook, also found that 56 percent of the
public said press coverage of Congress is balanced, with 23 percent
finding a liberal bias and 10 percent finding a conservative slant.
"I think that reporters have shown us by the way they've covered
the Clinton administration that they can separate their own voting
behavior from the way they cover politics," says Andrew Kohut,
director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a
Washington-based media think tank.
Public confidence declines
But over the last decade, some polls have shown a marked
increase in people like Scott Simmons who believe they see more
bias in the press than in the past. In 1987, 62 percent of those
polled by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press felt
there was no bias in the coverage of presidential elections. In
1996, only 53 percent felt there was no bias, a drop of almost 10
Professor Kalb attributes that in part to the proliferation of
news talk shows, where journalists toss off the mantle of
objectivity and openly, sometimes passionately, express their own
"People get confused as to just what a journalist is," Kalb
says. "So far as they can tell from these talk shows, every
journalist begins every sentence with 'I think.'"
Kalb says those journalists are the exception. Most reporters
still simply cover the news without either the high profile or the
high salaries, he notes.
But pollster Kohut believes the introduction of the "celebrity
journalist" has brought a bias into the media. He believes it's a
bias "toward working in its own favor."
"The press goes after stories that it thinks will serve it well,
not taking into account how well they will serve the country,"
Kohut says. "That's where the question comes in of its being more
adversarial than it should be. …