Whenever a writer for one of America's most influential newspapers states his or her opinions about liberal media bias, it should be brought to the attention of NewsBusters readers (unless, of course, said writer merely offers some variant of the lame, threadbare "we get complaints from both the right and the left, which tells me our coverage is balanced" argument).
Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten also occasionally writes long pieces for the paper's Sunday magazine. In a Monday web chat concerning Weingarten's admiring profile of Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau, a questioner charged that the Post ran that story and others in order to help the Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. In today's chat, when the same questioner posted a good-humored follow-up, Weingarten addressed media bias in general terms (emphasis added):
In terms of coverage of news, newspapers honestly do make a strong effort to be nonpartisan. I can tell you there is NEVER any covert hidden agenda, wherein editors will say or think or act on the notion of: "Hey, the election is coming up and we think the Dems are better this year, so let's have some nice stories about them to help sway the votes." Never happens.
This does not mean there is no subtle bias. There is, and it is of this nature: Most journalists personally lean liberal. You and I could have a long debate about why this is, and my views would infuriate you, but it is true and it is silly to deny it.
Note: When the media-bias issue was raised in one long-ago chat, Weingarten asserted, essentially, that journalists are more liberal than the average person because they are better informed than the average person.
Now, back to Gene:
What that means is that, in the general way they view the world, most journalists take certain things for granted: free speech is very important, diversity in most things is a plus, gays are the same as straights, no difference, none, and deserve equal considerations about everything, a woman should be able to choose abortion if she wants, etc. Journalists as a general rule probably are pretty suspicious of the religious right.
Do these views creep into what we write? Maybe. If you make certain assumptions about life, they are going to color a general attitude in your writing, particularly in nuanced feature stories. If I were writing about a single mother on welfare, for example I would probably not take a subtle tone of condemnation that a writer with a different worldview might take. That person might argue that I was tacitly endorsing a lifestyle of dependency; I might argue his story was showing unattractive bias.
I'll tell you, though, that most good writers are aware of their biases, and make an effort to counteract them. I am sure many, many stories in the Post have included pretty invalid dissenting opinions, not because the writer felt that the truth of the story demanded it, but because he or she was bending over backwards to get another view in. Sometimes, our biases result in a story imbalanced in favor of the other side.