Missouri’s liberal press just don’t get it
January 25, 2005
“The notion of a neutral, nonpartisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto. Now it’s pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things.”
— Howard Fineman, Newsweek, Jan. 11, 2005
If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Missouri Southern Baptists concerning the liberal bias of the news media, surely they may now rest in peace.
Take for example St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Deb Peterson’s Jan. 12 column in which she implies that an offensive remark was made at the Jan. 5 Prayer and Commissioning Service for Gov. Matt Blunt, the state’s judiciary and the 93rd General Assembly sponsored by the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission, The Pathway and Concord Baptist Church. Her reference was to the commissioning message brought by my friend, Jay Scribner, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Branson. Here, in part, is what Peterson wrote:
“Scribner … opened the ceremony with a prayer and made some comments. One of them got people talking. According to a couple of breakfast attendees, Scribner described a trip to New York City during which he visited the Statue of Liberty. Talking about how he got to the statue, Scribner said: ‘I got on a ferry – the boat kind.’ Unfortunately, the attendees said, the line got a couple of laughs.”
I think any person who was there knew exactly what Scribner meant. Peterson must not have read Peter Pan or, as a child, been visited by the mythological “Tooth Fairy.” So I will leave it to Pathway readers to decide what got “a couple of breakfast attendees” and Peterson so bent out of shape.
To be sure it was written to get attention – and not just from me either. The day after her column was published Kitt Wagger, the respected state Capitol reporter for the Kansas City Star, called Scribner and inquired about his remark. To Wagger’s credit, he took the time to come to the Baptist Building where he viewed a tape of Scribner’s address so he could understand the context in which Scribner’s remarks were made. I do not know what he plans to write about the event if anything, but the general feeling by MBC staffers who were with Wagger was that he seemed satisfied that Scribner’s comments were not offensive. Not all press coverage of the event was unfair. The Jefferson City News Tribune published an accurate account that was thoroughly professional.
Peterson’s cheap shot is typical of a newspaper that is considered one of the most liberal in America. Unfortunately in her column Peterson could not stop with a poke at Scribner and Missouri Southern Baptists. She accompanied that by mocking the appearance of the state’s First Lady. (All of this should provide further evidence as to Peterson’s political views.) We know her newspaper has little use for conservatives, particularly if their last name is Blunt and one who attends a Missouri Baptist Convention church.) Quoting another woman who attended the Blunt inauguration, Peterson had this to say about the First Lady who is seven months pregnant:
“Blunt’s inaugural outfit of a white fur-trimmed cape and hat set tongues wagging across Missouri. Elaine Kellogg Briscoe of St. Charles, a self-appointed member of the fashion police, seemed to sum up the sentiments in an e-mail, ‘I want to sincerely thank Mrs. Blunt for giving us comic relief from all the tragedies going on in the world, by wearing the most ridiculous choice in clothing I’ve seen in many a year. What was she thinking?’ Briscoe wrote. ‘My strongest wish today is that the photos of her will not appear in any kind of national publications, thereby making Missouri the butt of many jokes.’”
I am proud to say that the First Lady’s picture can be found in this publication on page 8. As for Peterson, she had nothing positive to report on Mrs. Blunt in what was an opinion column, but one for which she is paid by the Post-Dispatch for expressing such views.
Missouri Southern Baptists should expect more such treatment among its ranks as we urge lawmakers to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research/cloning, euthanasia and homosexual marriage – all supported by Peterson’s employer.
This, of course, is not the first time Missouri Southern Baptists have seen liberal bias. For example, there was the Springfield News-Leader’s Aug. 19, 2002, editorial supporting Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America’s decision to accept homosexuals as mentors to children.
When pro-family leaders warned against such recklessness, the newspaper unleashed its fury, accusing them of preaching “hatred” and howling that, “Such rhetoric is as vile as it is ridiculous. Being gay does not automatically make someone a pedophile or in any other way dangerous to kids.”
Mind you this editorial was written at the height of the Roman Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal and following research showing how homosexuals represent two percent of America’s population, but account for 33 percent of the nation’s child molesters.
Then there was the hate crime committed by homosexual activists who vandalized and terrorized First Baptist Church, Gravois Mills. As Missouri Southern Baptists learned in this incident, bias is not just what or how something is reported, but in some cases what is ignored. Not one secular media outlet in Missouri reported the crime – even after the FBI refused to pursue the perpetrators. (It should come as no surprise that no major news media have touched the chilling story in Mt. Vernon, Ill., featured on page 3.)
All of these incidents, including Peterson’s column, reminded me about recent research conducted on the news media in general, proving how badly it is infested with liberal bias:
• A Freedom Forum study in 1996, found that of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, 89 percent supported Bill Clinton for president, while seven percent voted for George Bush. Nationwide the vote was 43 percent to 37 percent (Ross Perot got 19 percent).
• In a February 2003 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans surveyed said the media were too liberal, 15 percent said they were too conservative.
• A survey of 547 journalists conducted March 10 – April 20 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released May 23 showed that nearly five times as many news media professionals call themselves liberal or very liberal (34 percent) as those who embrace the label conservative (seven percent), and the percentage of self-identified liberals has increased by 12 percentage points in the last decade. In fact, the press is almost the mirror opposite of the general public on values: while 34 percent of journalists are liberals, 33 percent of Americans are conservative.
• The Project for Excellence in Journalism studied mainstream media stories in September and October. During the first two weeks of October, 59 percent of the stories about President Bush were negative, while only 25 percent of the stories about Sen. John Kerry were negative. Some 14 percent of the stories about Bush were favorable, while 34 percent were favorable to Kerry.
One would think with all the new studies on the subject that leaders in the news media might do something. Some are trying. For example, consider one of the most damning indictments yet. It came in a memo on abortion and liberal bias by Editor John Carroll of The Los Angeles Times, America’s second-largest newspaper, on May 22, 2003:
“I’m concerned about the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.”
Carroll went on to say, “The reason I’m sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times.
”I’m no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same.”
There also was the February 2002 warning to colleagues from Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar with the Poynter Institute, an organization for journalists and one that is hardly a bastion of conservatism and if anything, leans liberal:
“The media, notably certain powerful big city dailies and the network news divisions that generally follow their lead, reflect a worldview that is not only distinctly liberal in character, but hostile to those who hold alternative views.
“This most routinely and vividly shows itself in the coverage of so-called ‘hot button issues’ involving race, sexuality and gender. On emotionally wrenching issues of enormous moral complexity such as abortion and affirmative action, the media tends — sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly — to champion the liberal position and disparage the conservative one.”
Despite such efforts, much work remains as evidenced by Peterson’s twisted mockery. A perfect illustration of how oblivious the news media is to its own liberal bias was captured by Pauline Kael’s famous remark after Nixon’s 1972 landslide: “I don’t know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don’t know anybody who voted for him.”
One of the more recent insulting examples of liberal bias was when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, a former wag in the Carter administration and for the late House Speaker Tip O’Neal, challenged former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., over former Sen. Zell Miller’s, D-Ga., citing the soldier as the person responsible for freedom of the press, not the journalist. Simpson explained that Miller’s speech at the Republican National Convention in August was from a long-time quote about the soldier/veteran defending America’s freedom. And the quote was part of a pamphlet distributed at the World War II Memorial in Washington.
That prompted Matthews to sarcastically respond: ‘’I feel bad now. I feel bad that I didn’t know I was offending a pamphlet.’’
Matthews ought to be columnist for the Post-Dispatch.
Perhaps most disturbing among all the latest data on the news media’s liberal bias, at least for Christians, was disclosed in the May 23 Pew study. It revealed that the media holds to anything other than a biblical worldview. While 58 percent of the general public believes that morality is tied to belief in God, an astounding 91 percent of the national press maintains belief in God is not necessary for morality. And, while a slim majority of Americans (51 percent) believe society should accept homosexuality, 88 percent of national media believes that society should accept homosexuality.
Such data helps one understand why a pro-homosexual, pro-abortion columnist like Frank Rich of the New York Times would refer to a pro-family, pro-lifer like James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, as “Godzilla” before mendaciously linking him to the Klu Klux Klan.
So what are Missouri Southern Baptists to do about this? My conservative colleague, Jim Smith, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, rightly suggests two things: First, encourage fellow believers to pursue careers in the media and bring their biblical worldview with them. Second, help fellow Christians identify media bias in the news and point them to publications that espouse a biblical worldview – like The Pathway. Let the liberal media crow all it wants about striving for unattainable “objectivity,” but The Pathway has set its sights on a higher standard – one based on the inerrant, infallible Word of God.