A new survey of 141 journalists indicates that the Washington press corps is more conservative than the general public on a range of economic issues from taxes to trade to health care to Social Security. The surveyconducted for FAIR by Professor David Croteau of Virginia Commonwealth Universityreveals that while most national journalists identify themselves as "centrists," their views on bread-and-butter issues are often to the right of public opinion.
In a questionnaire targeted primarily at America's most powerful news outlets, journalists were asked policy questions modeled on ones mainstream polling firms had previously asked of the general public. Among the findings:
- STATE OF THE ECONOMY: The Washington press corps is far more bullish than the public: Only 5% of the surveyed journalists said that economic conditions today in the U.S. are "fair" or "poor" compared to 34% of the general public who chose "only fair" or "poor" in a recent nationwide poll. Most of the journalists declared household incomes at $100,000 or more, with 31% at $150,000 or more. (The median US household income is roughly $36,000.)
- CORPORATE POWER: Washington journalists are more conservative than the public on the question of concentrated corporate power. Asked whether "a few large corporations" have "too much power," journalists were much more evenly divided than the public, with 57% to 43% responding affirmatively. Nationwide polls have consistently found the public to be quite one-sided on the question, with 77% (vs. 18%) responding in the affirmative in a 1995 poll.
- TAXING THE WEALTHY: The general public appears to be more populist than the press corps on taxation. Asked about President Clinton's 1993 economic plan, journalists responded fairly evenly as to whether the plan "went too far" (14%) or "not far enough" (18%) in raising taxes on the rich. This contrasts with the results of a similar 1993 poll question in which 72% of the public chose "not far enough" and only 15% chose "too far."
- TRADE TREATIES: As fervent free-traders, most of the Washington press corps are strongly at odds with the American public. Most polls reveal a public that is negative or dubious about NAFTA's impact on the US. But in overwhelming numbers (65% vs. 8%), journalists assess NAFTA as having had a positive impact.
Also, the public opposes giving the President "fast-track" authority to negotiate new trade treaties almost as vehemently (67% opposed in a recent poll) as the surveyed journalists support "fast track" (71% in favor).
- ECONOMIC PRIORITIES: Asked to prioritize various issues for the President and Congress, journalists and the public are often at odds.
On entitlements, journalists overwhelmingly chose "reform entitlements," by slowing growth in Medicare and Social Security, as one of the top few priorities. In contrast, most of the public chose "protect Medicare and Social Security against major cuts."
On NAFTA expansion, 24% of journalists chose expansion of NAFTA to other Latin American countries as one of the top few priorities, but only 7 % of the public did. It was actually put "toward bottom of list" by 44% of the public.
On health care, only 32 % of journalists chose "require that employers provide health insurance to employees" as one of the top few priorities, while 47% of the public did.
- GUARANTEED MEDICAL CARE: The general public is more emphatic that it is Washington's responsibility to guarantee medical care for all people without health insurance. While journalists were somewhat split on this proposition (43% pro, 35% con), the public supported it in a 1996 poll by a 2-to-1 majority (64% to 29%).
- ENVIRONMENT: The only survey question in which journalists appeared to the left of the public asked respondents to choose whether stricter environmental laws "cost too many jobs and hurt the economy" or "are worth the cost." Journalists responded 79%-21% in favor of "worth the cost"; in a 1996 poll, the public also heavily favored that option, but by a lesser majority (63% to 30%).
- "I'M A CENTRIST": When asked to characterize their political orientation on social issues as "left," "center" or "right," 57% of surveyed journalists chose center, 30% left and 9% right. When asked to characterize their orientation on economic issues, 64% of the journalists chose center, 19% right and 11% left.
"There appear to be very few national journalists," concluded Croteau, "with left views on economic questions like corporate power and tradeissues that may well matter more to media owners and advertisers than social issues like gay rights and affirmative action."
In the debate over media bias, FAIR has always argued that journalists' private views are less important than their public performancefor example, who they rely on as sources and experts. "While this survey deflates the conservative caricature of a leftist press corps," said FAIR executive director Jeff Cohen, "it should not be used to reinforce the notion that journalists' views are the primary factor in news bias. The studies that best illuminate bias are FAIR's content examinations of Nightline, PBS's NewsHour, NPR and major dailies."
(read the full report at http://www.fair.org/reports/journalist-survey.html)
- Contact your local news outlets and ask them to cover the study, which is available in its entirety on FAIR's web site (http://www.fair.org/reports/journalist-survey.html).
- Whenever you see news articles or discussions about media that assume a "liberal bias," please bring this study immediately to the attention of that news outlet.
- It's standard on the talk show circuit to take the claims of a "liberal media" at face value. This study deflates that myth. With the work of local media activists around the country, we can work to retire this old canard once and for all.