Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online. She previously worked at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington, D.C. think tank. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, the Women’s Quarterly, New York Press, and a number of other publications.
Brian Montopoli: What would the ideal American press corps look like?
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Bill Buckley would be dean, naturally …
It would be fair. What does that mean? Simplest solution: They would all be opinion journalists — that’s what many of them are now; in my world, they would be honest about it. European countries do it. You have your right-wing paper and your left-wing paper and you read both — or you pick one, but you know what you’re picking — and decide what you believe, do some piecing together. In this day and age especially: You go to X website for your primary docs on whatever the issue is, you go to your favorite webzine (National Review Online, naturally) and blogs of all stripes for your analysis. Find your filter of choice if you are on the run. You listen to Rush or Sean or “Talk of the Nation” or Franken on the drive home.
The objective media thing is a charade. I’m not sure what the point of pretending otherwise is. We’d have livelier pieces to read and more serious debates, I think, if everyone just became an honest reporter/editor/publication. Report and do it with your slant. Just stop pretending to be doing otherwise.
BM: A common complaint from the right is that the mainstream media has a “liberal bias.” I was hoping you could talk a little bit about exactly what that overused phrase means. Do conservatives generally believe that this presumed bias is conscious or subconscious? That is, do people on the right think that the New York Times and CBS News consciously tried to get John Kerry elected, or simply that reporters and editors couldn’t keep their natural biases or their personal world view from coming through, despite their best efforts?
KJL: You’re right, “liberal bias” is a cliche. I always want to stop myself when I start talking about it — don’t want to be paranoid, sound like a broken record, but … fact is, it is there — the bias is, I mean, not just the cliche. Get me a button that says “I believe Bernie Goldberg,” because, well, I do. (And he got some honest folks like Tim Russert and Bob Costas, etc., to talk to.)
And I believe Myrna Blyth — it’s not just the political media. Myrna’s the ex-Ladies Home Journal editor who wrote Spin Sisters last year (and writes for NRO now — full disclosure) in which she told tales out of school about where the liberal bias in women’s glossies is coming from — it’s the same kinda thing Goldberg was talking about, it is the same world.
No, I don’t think reporters necessarily say, “Good morning, boss, how can I best help kill the Bush campaign today?” But they go to the news desk with certain biases. I understand completely how it happens. To so many in the MSM (Mainstream Media) — as some of us have come to call it out in the “alternative media” — it is just common sense: Liberal bias is not “liberal bias,” it is just what most of the people you are around (I’m talking about liberal reporter X) know, think, and say.
A quick example: During the election, I got a forward from an NRO reader who was friends with or had two degrees of separation from — something like that — a reporter for one of the big women’s glossies. Doing a story on the election. Couldn’t find women who were supporting Bush.
Couldn’t find women who were supporting Bush?
I wish I had the old email to quote from. I emailed once or twice with the reporter — she had emailed her address book, basically — and in that circle, and her neighborhood/office circle, she didn’t find W-supporting women. She lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (if I remember correctly — could’ve been East — but it was Manhattan … you get the idea). The Internet being the Internet, she eventually found some Bush-supporting gals, but I don’t think most Americans could even fathom that: Not knowing any women who supported Bush? They sure came out in November. And for some monumental reasons, in my book.
That’s where a heck of a lot of the national media is coming from. But you’re seeing that challenged on a daily, hourly basis — the blogosphere is hugely important, Fox is important, new conservative imprints — not just the slash-and-burn bestsellers either, sharp, intelligent ones — they are all so important. A) Because they give people options/alternatives. B) Because the watchdogging and diversity make the debates more interesting. It’s a good thing for the country — the media have a direct effect more often than not on how policy debates play out, for instance.
BM: Who are the best national reporters — not commentators — working today, and who are the worst?
KJL: I will leave someone out, so I apologize in advance. Some, off the top of my head: John Burns of the New York Times should be commended for so much of his Iraq work.
Claudia Rosett (Wall Street Journal, and another NRO-er, occasionally) actually deserves a Nobel Peace Prize if this Oil for Food scandal gets, finally, adequately handled. She’s totally underused and undervalued. (She’s on the editorial page of the Journal, so you might call me on her being a reporter, but I’m holding my ground if Dana Milbank is considered one.)
Susan Schmidt at the Washington Post is fair and smart and thorough. She might even have some conservatives’ numbers in her Rolodex!
Lisa Meyers at NBC does some really hard-hitting stuff.
Newsweek’s Howard Fineman — you don’t see the usual caricature of conservatives in his stuff.
The worst? You’re kidding, right?
I’m about to start naming names, but, it’d be unfair — because the ones I’m coming up with are not doing anything dozens of others aren’t. Can I just name whole organs here? NPR. CBS, Reuters. … The thing is, like I said earlier, they — the members of the big bad MSM — do not deliver what they pretend to. Call them opinion journals and I’ll respect ‘em. I don’t mean to make it so simple, but, at base, it is.
BM: Beneath the confident veneer, how much faith do conservatives really have in George W. Bush? I was at the CPAC conference this past year, and there wasn’t exactly a unified chorus of support. And I remember seeing Bill Kristol’s less-than-wholehearted endorsement of the president on Jon Stewart’s show before the election. But there are also a number of true believers out there who really seem to feel Bush is something of a godsend. Do conservatives have more or less enthusiasm for Bush than they did for people like his father and Ronald Reagan?
KJL: Conservatives don’t speak with one voice — which is usually a healthy thing. But then libs don’t either. It’s a big country and all, and so are the political movements.
That said, I think President Bush is tremendously important for our country to have as president at this moment in time. Nothing’s been perfect by a mile — including Iraq, I’d be a liar to spin otherwise. But, especially since 9/11, he’s held his ground and been clear-thinking on Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance. But even in those debates — I’m forever furious he hasn’t been clearer on ties between Iraq and terrorism, for one thing.
But even before 9/11, I was impressed how he handled the stem cells, to name another issue, in the weeks before the attack — really giving it a principled compromise that respected the dignity of human life. He showed a respect for a melding of science and ethics that was a lot more thought-out than a lot of the [the rhetoric] … on the issue. (And don’t get me started on the media coverage of that topic.)
Is he, at heart, a conservative? I don’t know. Have we gotten conservative policies from his administration? Will we get more? Yes and yes. Does he talk to/work with conservatives? Sure does. Is every man and woman in the administration a conservative? No. And some high-ranking [ones] aren’t necessarily. (Though, contrary to the rumor, there is no Vast Right Wing Conspiracy membership card, so there are not actual numbers available.) And some days that’s more of a problem on some issues than others. But what’s the alternative? Gore or Kerry? Not a hard choice. … [I]f it’s a contest between a clear thinker on Iraq and Senator Positionless of Massachusetts (or many positions, rather, on Iraq), I know what’s my first priority.
At the end of the day, Bush is a moral leader with a lot of conservative instincts. Why do I say that? He’s a man who challenges the UN to prove its legitimacy to the world. He may very well change Social Security as we know it. Huge. And I’m cautiously optimistic that despite a lot of gearing up on the Left, he’s going to leave a strong, positive, and yes, conservative — though not in the activist sense — legacy in the courts.
Don’t get me wrong, NRO will have its problems with the GOP, White House, W. But taken as a whole package, it’s not too hard to pick sides.
BM: Finally, if you were going to be locked in a room for 24 hours with three prominent liberals, but you could choose who they would be, whom would you pick?
KJL: Can I do something easy like monitor Iraqi elections instead? I’m kidding. Did I mention I’m quitting my day job to become a standup comic? Though I hear Jon Stewart is hiring Tucker Carlson to be his sidekick — the job I was angling for. So much for that.
Does this room have windows, just in case?
Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Arlen Specter.
Sorry. Just kidding again (not entirely this time, truth be told).
Seriously: Gloria Steinem. I’d love to know what she really thinks of the fruits of the Ms. revolution. (A failure — that should get the conversation rolling.)
Jim Carville. Just because. Though — wait — a whole 24 hours? Let me rethink that. Actually, since this is all hypothetical: Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Smart and he has stories to tell. And I could have a drink with him when Gloria got tiresome.
Bill Clinton. Supposedly he can win over anyone one-on-one. But in a 24-hour isolation cell? He can’t be that skilled. It’s not happening. And in that amount of time, he couldn’t be on the whole time. It could be interesting (unlike, say, his book).
Or … maybe I’d just go with Kerry campaign bandleader Jon Bon Jovi. I’d get a lot less grief about him when I got out and I’d be finally be able to sing the same tune with someone in the room.Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.