The Media Monoculture

Tierney is hitting hard at the secular consensus at the newspaper. Its readers are seeing things not usually on their radar screen. I bet there are some habitués of the coffee shops on the Upper West Side of Manhattan sputtering into their cappuccinos.

A column entitled “An Elite Affiliation,” published in mid-October, is a case in point. Tierney comes down solidly on the side of those who have been complaining for decades about left-wing media bias. He says the bias is real. “The Left,” he writes, “has a lock on journalism and law schools.” That line appeared in the New York Times, not in a right-wing journal of opinion.

To buttress his case, Tierney offers the results of a study of the political affiliations of the faculties at 18 elite journalism and law schools made by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The study found, by examining voter-registration rolls, that Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 to 1 at the law schools. At the schools of journalism, only one school, the University of Kansas, had a preponderance of Republicans, at a ratio of 10 to 8. At the other schools, there was a Democratic ratio of 6 to 1 — 13 to 1 at the University of Southern California, 15 to 1 at Columbia.

The routine response to findings such as these is two-fold. They argue, first, that this domination of progressives in the media and the academy is the result of a self-selection process rather than any bias on the part of the institutions; that journalism attracts people who want to right wrongs and see the government as the best instrument to realize that goal. They also insist that their preponderance in the media does not affect the way they teach or report the news; that they are “professionals” who can keep their personal views out of the story.

Tierney doesn’t buy it. Indeed, he contends that this rationale is “proof of how detached” modern leftists have “become from reality in their monocultures”; that we are witnessing what social scientists call the “false consensus effect: a group's conviction that its opinions are the norm. Liberals on campus have become so used to hearing their opinions reinforced that they have a hard time imagining there are intelligent people with different views, either on campus or in politics.”

Amen. I can vouch for Tierney’s proposition from the years I spent working at a high school in the northern suburbs of New York City. There were many instances when I reacted to an expression of disdain by a fellow-teacher for what he or she considered an “Archie Bunker” attitude on issues such as censorship, abortion, welfare programs, Fidel Castro, etc. My reaction was likely to be a version of something I had read in National Review or Modern Age. My colleagues were always taken aback to discover there was an intellectually sound way to counter the reigning secular consensus on the issue at hand, one that they could not dismiss out of hand; that one did not have to be a wild-eyed racist, sexist and a homophobe to disagree with…well, with the editorials of the New York Times.

It must be stressed that Tierney harbors no personal animus against his colleagues at the Times or the other publications where he has worked. “I realize,” he writes, “from experience at six newspapers, that most journalists try not to impose their prejudices on their work. When I did stories whose facts challenged liberal orthodoxies, editors were glad to run them. When liberal reporters wrote stories, they tried to present the conservative perspective.”

How, then, does he account for the bias? “The problem isn’t so much the stories that appear as the ones that no one thinks to do. Journalists naturally tend to pursue questions that interest them. So when you have a press corps that’s heavily Democratic — more than 80 percent, according to some surveys of Washington journalists — they tend to do stories that reflect Democratic interests.” Thus the tendency to jump on any hint of an impropriety in the Catholic Church or in the Bush administration, and the reluctance to demand an explanation for, say, how the billing records for the Rose law firm popped up one day on the desk outside Hillary Clinton’s office in the White House.

This is also why, Tierney continues, when “journalists do exposés of government malfeasance, they usually focus on the need for more regulations and bigger budgets, not on whether the government should be doing the job in the first place.” It is why the people in charge of our newspapers and network television, “like the tenured radicals in law schools and the rest of academia,” tend to hire “ideological cronies” who will shape “their institutions to reflect their views.”

Tierney’s answer to this problem? He does not want journalism or law schools to be “forced to have ideological balance on their faculties.” He does not think we need a “solution by government.” His retains hope that the leftists in control of our schools and the media will make the necessary reforms once they recognize that the complaints about their biases are legitimate and not the product of right-wing paranoia.

But he admits to being puzzled about why it is so difficult for establishment liberals to recognize the hypocrisy of their behavior: “They keep meticulous tabs on the race and gender and ethnic background of their students and faculty. But the lack of political diversity is taken as a matter of course. As long as the professors look different, why worry if they all think the same?”

Amen, again.

James Fitzpatrick's novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church, is available from our online store. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at

(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

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