In the United States, we have several major news outlets. On television: ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. There are also several national-ish newspapers (and a diminishing number of local ones): New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and smaller ones in Los Angeles and Chicago. On radio, there are networks for various hosts, but not many specific organs per se: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, are the best known hosts; the largest political network is PBS. The internet, as we all know, is all over the place.
On TV, by far the largest source of news for most people, all but Fox skews left politically, both fiscally and socially. For newspapers, all but the WSJ skew left, again both fiscally and socially. In radio, the opposite is true: most hosts skew right, except PBS, which is leftist. Everybody watches television, newspapers are more influential with so-called cultural elitists, and radio listeners are generally middle to lower class. Everybody is aware of these distinctions and divisions, they are common knowledge, and they have been in place for a long time.
Anita Dunn, whose “favorite political philosopher” is mass murder Mao Tse-Tung, is the White House communications director. She appeared on CNN last week to plaintively complain about its rival network Fox. She claimed that Fox was not a genuine news agency and that it instead appeared more like “the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.”
Leave aside that Dunn’s, and therefore the Whitehouse’s, ploy paints her and her boss as whiney—to weep that you control all TV outlets but one is surely pathetic. Also ignore that her charge is largely true—by any measure, Fox is conservative. Focus instead on what information Dunn has provided about Fox by her statements—which is exactly none. Or none that was new, because everybody already knew the political stance of that network.
Of course, Fox struck back: it was one of their hosts who dug up the clip of Dunn (who quite literally chews her words) lovingly quoting old Mao. And now float stories that Dunn might soon retire to “pursue other opportunities.” This series of events were entirely predictable—and avoidable.
For consider the journalistic principle “Full Disclosure.” This mandates reporters admit to interests they have in stories they deliver. This includes financial ties, emotional ones, relative ones (as in nepotism), and so on. It helps the reader to know, for example, that the gentlemen being interviewed was once the reporter’s boss. Or that the journalist owns a substantial chunk of stock in the company under scrutiny. Or that he once worked on the politician’s campaign, perhaps as a speech writer.
The idea behind this policy is sound. It is not that reporters cannot be disinterested in their stories even though they have had past or current connections, or that they expect future ones, but that everybody is aware that humans are sometimes unable to quash their biases, or are sometimes unaware of them.
The full disclosure principle is medicine, for example, ensures that experiments, whenever possible, are blinded, meaning the experimenter has no idea of the specific treatment he is administering. And the Federal Trade Commission, frightened of bloggers (like your author: fear me!), has required that they disclose any and all financial ties they have with companies that produce any product the blogger discusses in any way on his web site, lest they face a hefty fine.
So why not require journalists to fully disclose their ties, especially in the political arena?
Thus, here is my proposal, which I offer in earnest: All reporters should be required to suffix a ‘D’ or ‘R’ after their names depending on which president they last voted for (or an ‘N’ in the rare case of no vote). So, next time Charlie Gibson (were he to unretire) interviews a vice-presidential candidate, the screen would show “Charlie Gibson (D)”. At the start of the CBS news, a graphic would announce, “News read by Katie Couric (D)”. And when Sean Hannity is quoted in the Times, we’d see an ‘R’. That goes for the Times writers themselves, of course: the byline provides plenty of space for their Ds.
This proposal returns a modicum of honesty to the reporting process. Journalists would no longer embarrass themselves by declaring their “independence.” These open and obvious lies have always diminished their authority, and have led to the querulous state in which we find ourselves. I suspect, too, that this requirement would lead to a decrease in opinion in reporters’ content, since they would be aware that readers can see their Ds.
I can find no reason not to implement this (voluntary) policy. Since the benefit of news stories is for the readers and not for the reporters, those reporters have no good excuse to avoid this new requirement.
If you agree with this proposal, please pass it on to as wide an audience as possible. We can make it happen.
Update As recommended by reader Harry G: this piece was written by me (R).
Update: Clarification The letter designator is not to distinguish which party the journalist is a member. For example, I am, and have been for a long time, an independent. The only party I ever joined was the Democrats. But I was much younger.