It sometimes seems to me that it would be easier to invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a bar mitzvah than to defend the press to fellow conservatives.
I’ve tried it before, penning a tongue-in-cheek column about the insidious blogosphere acronym MSM (mainstream media), only to be pelted with FU and SOB initialism from offended right-leaning readers.
As a career journalist and lifelong Republican, I’ve often found myself caught between an elephant and a newspaper rack. How does one justify happily being a press-pass-carrying member of all that conservatives have come to detest?
Recently, a reader gently explained my problem to me: I’m suffering from the Stockholm syndrome.
Interestingly enough, every time the latest Iraq kidnapping tale hits the wires, my journalism colleagues note that I would make a horrible hostage. Between demanding a mirror to fix my hair before the requisite al Jazeera video and flinging my best flippant Arabic phrases at the New Balance-clad captors, I would, estimate my colleagues, be dead within ten minutes.
But being a hostage of the liberal media ain’t half-bad. Sure, one must endure sleep deprivation, and sources occasionally would like to rip your fingernails out, but newsrooms feed hostages well, with a steady supply of chips and salsa, and free pizza provided on nights of elections and national disasters. These are the people with whom I laugh, cry, drink, the people with whom I spend my holidays and watch televised police pursuits. Every day I willingly return for more.
But the Stockholm syndrome isn’t just about being comfortable in ’a hostage situation. It’s about developing loyalty to your captors.
When I briefly left the newsroom to helm a magazine, the 9-to-5 schedule, office with a view, impeccable carpets, and living wage completely depressed me. Within a year, I was back to the asylum and happier than Hugo Chavez in a red-shirt store.
I have never remotely denied that newsrooms lean liberal. I personally don’t care how a reporter or editor votes, as long as their work is objective and fair. Journalists on both sides of the political spectrum can unfortunately be biased, or give the impression of bias. I quickly learned my lesson as a newbie reporter when I pulled up to a Democratic election-night victory party with a GOP sticker on my car and nearly got chased away by a mob with torches.
I’ve worked full-time in five newsrooms, and can report there are lots of liberals, lots of moderates (usually socially liberal, more conservative on crime and defense or fiscal matters) and a few conservatives. Cynical liberals and irreverent conservatives adapt best in newsrooms. The smug liberals and pious conservatives generally don’t fare as well. Unifying factors among journalists usually include South Park or similar non-PC humor.
I’ve never been shy about my electoral preferences–not that it wasn’t obvious that I was one of two or three people giddy on election nights 2000 and 2004 in a sea of newsroom glum. But through the years my desks have been decked out with stuffed GOP elephants, Reagan shrines, and a “Let’s Make Fun of the French!” calendar.
Sometimes my captors have pleasantly surprised me. A couple of years ago, I bought a talking Donald Rumsfeld doll for my desk. Instead of stringing Rummy up by his little loafered foot, a liberal co-worker bought him some friends: George Bush Sr. and Dennis Miller dolls. It’s like a big right-wing tea party on my desk now–or what’s starting to look like Republican Chucky.
Sometimes my captors have scared the bejeezus out of me. One birthday, my colleagues at the time presented me with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton (sans Big Mac) inscribed on the back, “Dearest Bridge, Can’t we all just get along? … P.S. My place at six.” Bill was soon after adorned by yours truly with a GOP baseball cap and lacy red bra, and a Bush-Cheney button was pinned on his lapel.
Fred Barnes once mused that the politically homogenous newsroom–from 53 percent liberal and 17 percent conservative in a 1971 survey to 34 percent liberal and 7 percent conservative in a 2004 survey by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press–was due to increased diversity recruiting. “In truth, the effort to hire more minorities and women has had the effect of making the media more liberal,” he wrote.
But I would add that the drop in conservatives in the press is also due to news-happy conservatives avoiding the mainstream media; the explosion of blogs has especially provided a home for right-wing news junkies to write without fearing a partisan editor over their shoulder. Yet conservatives really need to take the bull by the horns and enter the mainstream press–in all echelons of the newsroom–and not just complain about leftist slant. Strive to be as fair and objective as you’d wish all of your colleagues to be, work hard and volunteer to bring the chips and salsa once in a while, and you’ll be fine.
But will newbie conservative journalists become victims of the Stockholm syndrome as well? I’d ruminate on that, but I’ve got to go–my captors need me to shoot another video.