Commentary Magazine


Media Bias and the Real Opportunists

Politico’s savvy and generally reliable media news columnist Dylan Byers wrote about Sharyl Attkisson’s forced departure from CBS news. In a piece published shortly after Attkisson expressed worries about her computer being tapped—at a time when we learned about government spying on Fox News’s James Rosen and several other journalists at the Associated Press—Byers broke the story about the antipathy for the investigative reporter’s work uncovering information about Obama administration scandals on the part of most of the CBS staff. It was clear, Byers wrote, that many of her colleagues thought that her fearless reporting was out of line. The majority of those working in the mainstream press think that giving Barack Obama the same aggressive scrutiny that had been directed at George W. Bush is unacceptable or even partisan. Thus, Attkisson’s departure earlier this month came as little surprise to Byers or anyone else.

But now that Attkisson is writing a book about her experiences and thinking about the next chapter in her career, Byers is taking a cynical tone about her struggles. In a piece published on Friday titled “Media career path: Cry media bias,” Byers seems to be saying that the same person he had previously praised as a “dogged reporter” who had not played political favorites with her coverage is merely doing what is necessary to get a big payoff and perhaps even land a gig at Fox News:

It’s an increasingly well-traveled path: Over the course of the past two decades, a handful of journalists have left mainstream media jobs while decrying what they saw as an inherent bias in their own industry. Among them: Bernie Goldberg, John Stossel, and Doug McKelway — all of whom found a home at Fox News, a cable news channel that markets itself on the premise that the media is unfair and unbalanced.

To those who don’t believe there is bias in the media, such criticisms can seem like a self-promotional stunt. Various national surveys show that a majority of the population doesn’t trust the media. So if you’re going to leave it, why not fashion yourself as a martyr, pick up a loyal following in the process, and prove your bona fides to Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the hope that he’ll offer you a contract?

While Byers finds sources to support and oppose this thesis, it is a preposterous argument. While it is true a few outliers have gone public with their complaints about the monolithic political culture of most mainstream broadcast and print outlets and eventually found their way to Fox, what happened to them is the exception that proves the rule. There’s a reason why people like that wind up at Fox. By breaking the code of silence about the supposed objectivity of newsrooms like the one at CBS, they have nowhere else to go.

Labeling those who call out media bias as opportunists turns truth on its head. While Goldberg and Stossel (and perhaps now Attkisson) did not suffer for their candor the fact is the media practices de facto segregation when it comes to politics.

Anyone who wants to stay on the mainstream media gravy train either agrees with the industry’s liberal groupthink or keeps their mouth shut. Those few who do speak out about it are more or less ostracized and forced to seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile the vast majority of those who continue to work at the big broadcast networks and most of the influential dailies are so biased they actually think critical reporting about a liberal president they personally support is somehow wrong and those who pursue such stories are worthy of suspicion rather than praise. The chattering classes may actually believe their pose of objectivity is based on the truth, but that is just an illustration of how distorted their viewpoint has become. It is they who are the real opportunists, not Goldberg, Stossel, or Attkisson.

Liberals—including the ones who currently work at the White House—look down their noses at Fox and dismiss the stories and the opinions it broadcasts. But it bears repeating that the reason it was created and for its astounding success is that it provided a much needed and long-delayed alternative to the stultifying and uniform liberalism broadcast elsewhere on the dial. The genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was in addressing the needs of an underserved market niche composed of almost half the American public.

Sharyl Attkisson’s fate at CBS wasn’t an illustration of opportunism but rather one that showed what happens to those who dissent from the liberal party line. Let’s hope she lands on her feet. But the bias problem she leaves behind at CBS and that at other liberal mainstream papers and broadcast outlets remains a glaring indictment of the American press.

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