THE BALTIMORE SUN and THE WASHINGTON POST: A Little Ideological Fairness Credit Where Credit is Due

–Richard E. Vatz

[Bulletin, if I may…I just learned of the death of William Safire, exquisite speechwriter, columnist and rhetorician. I cannot think of a better conservative than he. We shall all miss his erudition tremendously, as well as his brilliance and decency. — REV]

I have for longer than I can remember been fascinated by the ideological agendas and biases of major newspapers and other major media. More specific, over the years, newspapers’ protestations of disinterest coupled with blatant, liberal bias (examples too plentiful to cite; just look at The New York Times’ coverage of the 2008 presidential election as synecdoche) have made claims of good journalism in major newspaper outlets laughable.

Worse, many major newspapers have visited draconian measures upon those who criticize them in the media. For about six years I was blacklisted from writing any politically-related articles or letters in the Sun and then for a time from writing anything. Unfair journalistic practices ranged from censorship to politically correct coverage of the news, wherein important issues and important evidence were neglected in order to support liberal perspectives, liberal principles and liberal principals. In the 2006 election year there was not one — not one — article supporting Maryland’s sitting governor accepted or printed by the Sun on the op-ed page (or anywhere else). On a personal note, I had long been disabused of my childhood fantasies of journalists’ generally being the good guys.

Over the last couple of years, some significant, unannounced correctives have occurred. There is nothing worse than criticizing untoward behavior and not noting when significant efforts are made to rectify that behavior, and so let me make the following observations:

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First, a few words about The Baltimore Sun. The most liberal, censoring and unprofessional editor I have ever encountered, Dianne Donovan, and several of her acolytes and ideological brethren have been removed from that paper. The new editor, officially the “Head of Maryland Voices,” Andrew A. Green, is a man I met when he covered several of Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s visits to my class. He is an excellent journalist and a man of integrity – all the qualities necessary to practice journalism well. His op-ed editor, Michael Cross-Barnet, is now free to do his job with integrity. The newspaper is now open to conservative voices. Ron Smith has a regular column on the op-ed page. None of this means that The Sun lacks a liberal bent, but the newspaper, depleted though it may be, has its soul back.

Second, a few words similarly about The Washington Post. I have written on these pages concerning some writing in that paper that surprisingly has avoided hewing to the liberal line recently, but nowhere has this been more evident in the last few years than in the columns of their excellent ombudsmen, Deborah Howell and Andrew Alexander. I have also written here before about the honesty and courage of Ms. Howell, and it appears that Mr. Alexander has the same hierarchy of values. In his ombudsman’s column of September 20, 2009, “Wrongly Deaf to Right-Wing Media,” Mr. Alexander writes an exceptionally brave and accurate piece on liberal news filtering, attributing the lack of coverage of issues unfriendly to liberals to the likelihood that “…news outlets like the Post simply don’t pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.”

Liberal-conservative disinterest and lack of political bias are critical to good journalism and probably to circulation of major news outlets. The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post deserve some significant credit for their addressing of these issues.

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University

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