For Truth in Journalism

by Patrick J Buchanan – January 21, 2004

In 2002, Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto, the managing editor for business at the network, contributed $1,000 to a fund-raising dinner for President Bush.

So reveals Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post.

Informed of Cavuto’s contribution, John Moody, Fox News vice president, lamented, “I wish he hadn’t.” Moody has circulated a new network policy discouraging political contributions. “I hope our people will follow the advice I’ve given to them voluntarily. The potential perception is that they favor one candidate over another.”

Kurtz lists dozens of contributions from media heavyweights to candidates, with most of the money going to Democrats or to the 2000 campaign of John McCain. Surprise, surprise.

But what is wrong with Neal Cavuto contributing $1,000 of his own money to re-elect a president he believes has been good for his country? By putting his political convictions out in the open for all to see, Cavuto’s contribution seems to me open and honest. Anyone who has watched the Cavuto show on Fox is not going to be shocked that George W. Bush is his man.

What of Moody’s fear, “The potential perception is that they favor one candidate over another”? But in Cavuto’s case, and the other cases cited by Kurtz, the perception is reality. The media folks who made those contributions wanted those candidates to win. And if the perception is reality, why should not people know the truth about the leanings, loyalties and allegiances of the men and women who cover and comment on politics?

Moody seems to prefer the viewers of Fox News to remain in the dark about where Fox’s anchors, reporters and commentators stand. But why? Well, he understandably fears that, otherwise, viewers may suspect that Fox’s journalists are slanting the news or tilting the commentary. But cannot the people, informed where a journalist stands, make that judgment for themselves?

The truth is that journalists, who are among the best informed and most ideologically committed of Americans, do favor and disfavor causes and candidates. Why should the public not know of these preferences, prejudices and allegiances? Is public ignorance better than public knowledge?

For generations, our media elite have fed the people the party line that journalists are objective and neutral observers who call it as they see it, concerned only with fairness, truth and accuracy, and who are ever on guard to keep their opinions out of their copy. The media have a vested interest in perpetuating this myth.

But it is not the truth. In many cases, it is wholesale consumer fraud. Almost everyone in journalism, and much of the public, knows it.

When this writer served in the Reagan White House, the big battle was over aid to the Contras, the Nicaraguan guerrillas who were seeking to oust the Sandinista regime aligned with Moscow.

When a close vote in the House went against us, and our aid package went down, the White House press corps erupted in hoots and cheers. Did the American people not have a right to know the anti-Contra bias of the White House press corps? Would it not have been better for democracy if people knew the truth about the beliefs of the men and women covering a president who believed in the Contra cause?

In 2000, there were reports that CNN executives on election night had to tell CNN staffers in the newsroom to stop cheering when the network awarded another state to Al Gore, because the cheering was going out over the air. Folks might get the mistaken impression that CNN was in the Clinton-Gore camp.

Years back, a survey was taken among the Washington press corps, asking them to name the candidate they had voted for. The returns that came back were astonishing. McGovern and Mondale, both of whom lost 49 states, had crushed Nixon and Reagan among the media elite by four- and five-to-one. Only African-Americans had voted as solidly liberal and Democratic.

This shredded any pretense that the Washington media elite was a mirror of America. But, as it was the truth, and the truth shall make your free, why should not the people know the political leanings of those feeding them the “news” about the candidates and causes they cover?

The question, finally, is this: Do the people have a right to know the biases of the people from whom they get almost all their information about politics, politicians, candidates and causes? Seems to me that an honest journalist has to answer yes.

Why not a media policy of openness? All journalists are not only permitted to, but encouraged to participate fully in the political process through contributions. Moreover, they are encouraged to reveal in public forums whom they voted for, and why.

Media organizations would list all political contributions of their journalists on a website, so the public could judge whether the coverage and commentary was truly fair and balanced, or whether reporters titled toward the candidates who got their contributions.

Call it truth in journalism.