Collins-CArtoonI recall seeing a political cartoon that contrasted the way the media treated Tim Tebow versus how it treated Jason Collins, the first openly-homosexual NBA player. It depicted Tebow saying: “I’m a Christian,” and the reporter turns his back to him and walks away muttering: “Keep it to yourself.” Next to that picture, Collins is depicted saying: “I’m gay,” and the reporter lifts his microphone towards him and exclaims: “Tell me more, you big hero!!!”

Have you noticed a difference in the way the media covers liberals versus conservatives? When it comes to left-wing economic and social policies, do you find that the media functions more as advocates than reporters? In fact, the media bias is so rampant in this election cycle that Michael Goodwin of the New York Post was forced to write: “American journalism is collapsing before our eyes.”[1]

Why are journalists so liberal? Or perhaps to put it more precisely: How can an institution that claims to be impartial and objective in its reporting turn out to be so blatantly biased? There was a time that journalism embraced its role as political advocate. For most of the nineteenth century, print media was explicitly partisan in its perspectives, and openly sought to persuade an increasingly literate public to particular political positions and policies.

However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, journalism, along with Western society as a whole, went through two fundamental changes reflective of a cultural turn towards secular liberal values. First, journalists began to reimagine their craft as an extension of scientific rationalism which sought to analyze events objectively and impartially, irrespective of the preconceptions of the reporter. According to media historian Richard Kaplan:

Under objectivity, journalists adopt the pose of scientist and vow to eliminate their own beliefs and values as guides in ascertaining what was said and done. Supposedly avoiding all subjective judgments and analysis, the journalist strives to become a rigorously impartial, expert collector of information.[2]

This is why the journalist is never part of the story he or she is covering, since such an inclusion would violate the perception of objectivity. This ‘perceived absence’ is a primary way in which journalists establish themselves as mediators of information comprised of data and facts.

While the first change involved the journalist conception of knowledge, the second change involved the journalist orientation towards values. Scientific rationalism erects new boundaries of knowledge that effectively censor religions, traditions, customs, and cultures from the realm of what can be known. Indeed, scientific facts are considered objective precisely because they transcend the biases and prejudices innate to cultural values and norms. And so what emerges from this pre-commitment to scientific rationalism is what has been called a fact/value dichotomy: facts are objective while values are subjective, facts apply to all while values apply to only some. Thus, as the journalist transforms into an impartial observer of economic, political, and social events, he or she begins to view moral and religious sensibilities in terms of personal lifestyle values which are relative to individuals or cultures. Today, virtually every media outlet features prominently a “Lifestyles” section where we can learn about everything from the sex habits of entertainers to our horoscopes.

There is, I believe, an inescapable global consequence to these twin commitments of secular liberalism: inexorably, the secular liberal reimagines the world bifocally as comprised of those who embrace secular liberal values on the one hand and those who reject them on the other. Those who embrace secular commitments are by definition rational and liberal, while those who reject them are by definition irrational and repressive.

And when journalists transcribe this bifocality to the political arena, it is applied to two political parties: one which, through its support of abortion, LGBT rights, and strict separation between church and state, demonstrates its commitment to secular liberal values, while the other, through its insistence on traditional morality and social structures, demonstrates its resistance. Thus, one party is viewed consistently as rational and liberal while the other party is viewed as irrational and repressive. And when challenged on such a perspective, journalists can always fall back on objective and impartial ‘facts.’

And so, when you see the media calling an Olympic swimmer who self-identifies as a crime victim a liar, while hailing a male decathlete who self-identifies as a woman a hero, well, now you know.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.



[2] Richard Kaplan, “The Origins of Objectivity in American Journalism,” in Stuart Allen (ed.), The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism (Routledge: New York, 2010), 25-37, 26.

[3] Mark Allen Peterson, Anthropology and Mass Communication: Myth and Media in the New Millennium (New York: Berghahn Books, 2003), 83.

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