Below is a (slightly edited) post that I originally published on this blog on October 5, 2005. Ever since we transitioned to a more standard blog format I’ve noticed a number of comments from opponents indicating they don’t get what we’re trying to say on the topic of media bias. My hope is that re-posting this now might help them understand. Of course–as I’ve noted before (and others have, too)–many of our opponents seem beyond persuading. But–for what it’s worth–about a month after the post below appeared, the Courant specifically referenced it in an article and described it as “recommended reading for anyone dissatisfied with the paper.”

Here ’tis:

What I want to discuss here are the bigger issues raised by…our thoughts are regarding the Courant and what we do and don’t mean when we speak of a liberal bias at the paper.

For starters, we’re not conspiracy theorists. No one at FIC thinks Courant reporters and editors work together to deliberately slant news coverage towards the cultural left. Nor do we think (in most instances) that they deliberately do so as individuals.

In fact, nearly every personal experience I’ve ever had with the Courant’s staff has been positive. In 1998, for instance, I was interviewed for an article on Feminists for Life that was scheduled to run on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Before the article went to press, Garrett Condon, the reporter, called and read all my quotes back to me to make sure they were accurate.

I’ve seen the same level of professionalism from Frances Grandy Taylor, who has had occasion to quote me at religious events, and Daniela Altimari, whose reporting on FIC’s effort to defeat the civil union bill was fair and balanced. Indeed, I was a recipient of Courant hospitality earlier this year when my wife was honored for writing one of the year’s best letters-to-the-editor. The Courant’s writers were gracious and charming hosts.

Second, we’re not hostile to the Courant as an institution. It’s the paper I grew up with—and I come from a family where we take our newspapers pretty seriously. My grandfather, Reggie Pinto, was a photographer for the old Manchester Herald for 40 years. Articles, columns and photos in the morning paper have been known to spark spirited debate around his kitchen table for hours—but it is out of a love for the medium.

So, if we don’t think the Courant is a liberal conspiracy, or that individual reporters deliberately skew their coverage, and we are not hostile to the paper as such, what is it about the Courant that we find unfair and biased?

About five years ago the Courant published a letter—oh, how I wish I had saved it!—from a woman in New Hartford responding to someone who had complained of liberal bias. Her argument was, basically, that when the news skews towards the left, it’s not bias. It’s just the truth.

That’s a pretty good summation of the problem at the Courant. It’s not that there’s a conspiracy or that writers and editors intentionally insert their agenda into their reporting. It’s that many of them come to their jobs with a certain worldview—that they don’t even realize they have, they think it’s just “the truth”—and it is reflected in their work: what they choose to report and not report and how, where the article appears, what the headline says, what photos run where, what the first few paragraphs of the article say, what’s buried inside the article, etc.

What are some examples? Just off the top of my head and in no particular order:

  • Henry Foster, President Clinton’s choice to replace Joselyn Elders as attorney general, was voted down by Congress in 1995 because pro-lifers objected to his having performed abortions. The Courant ran a front page David Lightman piece with the ominous headline “Outside Forces Influence Senate Vote.” But “outside forces” influence almost every vote in Congress! Yet the Courant only pulls out the sinister headline for social conservatives. (Much of Lightman’s reporting, by the way, is symptomatic of the slanting-the-news-without-realizing-it problem.)
  • Mark Pazniokas earlier this year described Love Makes A Family as “the most visible opponent” of civil unions. The Courant ran a half-hearted correction, noting that FIC and the Catholic Church are indeed opponents of civil unions (the “most visible” thing was never corrected). At the time I joked that, perhaps in the circles Courant reporters move in, LMF really is the most visible opponent of civil unions.
  • Just a few days after I made that joke, Courant gossip columnist Pat Seremet proved my point by writing about her visit to an LMF fundraiser: “Love may make a family, but at his grand manse in Bloomfield, which he shares with his partner, Bill Beeman, a resort financier, Michael van Parys made the dinner. First, it was an arugula wrap with prosciutto, mushroom croustada and spinach balls, followed by tenderloin with peppercorn crust, ravioli with lemon and artichoke sauce, carrots with cilantro, and the most gorgeous stemware a Cosmopolitan ever had the privilege to be poured into.” Pat also made it a point to report on the bumper stickers of cars parked outside a theater on the day The Passion of the Christ opened, the subtext being: aren’t these people weird? There was no similar item about the bumper stickers on the cars parked for the opening of Farenheit 911.
  • During the Clinton/Dole debate in Hartford in 1996 there was a pro-life protest against President Clinton. The only mention of it in the Courant was a brief aside in an op-ed by a Courant editor chastising them.
  • The anti-death penalty crowd, a much smaller movement than ours, held several rallies earlier this year. The Courant’s news articles provided time, date, location and contact information for those interested in joining. Never in a million years would the paper do that for us.
  • In February, 2004 we rallied—according to the capitol police—6,000 people at the state capitol. The Courant said we had “hundreds.” Instead of a picture of the crowd, the front page had a photo of a couple people holding a big picture of Jesus.
  • In a recent article on media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, a Courant headline reads “Even Fox News Ignores Spin Doctors.” No similar headline hinting of ideological bootlicking has ever been published asbout media outlets with liberal reputations, even in the wake of scandals like the one that ended Dan Rather’s career.

The problem at the Courant is not that they have staff with unacknowledged liberal worldviews. The problem is that those folks seem to make up the entire staff. There is no ideological diversity at the Courant. All the columnists are social liberals (yes, even Larry Cohen). Stan Simpson might not be, but religion, abortion, same-sex “marriage” and related issues aren’t really his beat.

Is there any columnist at the Courant who worships at a conservative evangelical church? Who homeschools her children? Who is opposed to the legalization of abortion and same-sex “marriage?” Who is opposed to contraception and practices natural family planning? Who belongs to a conservative Catholic lay group like Opus Dei or Regnum Christi? Who believes sex outside of marriage is sinful and something society ought to discourage?

The above paragraph describes an awful lot of people in Connecticut—more than you think. We know, because we work with them all the time. They form the backbone of the movement to protect marriage. And their voice is not represented in the pages of the Hartford Courant.

If the Courant could do one thing—just one thing!—to address its bias problem, I recommend this: hire a social conservative columnist, one who can answer “yes” to the questions I listed above. Break the liberal monopoly that has a stranglehold over your staff of regular columnists. I don’t mean someone who will appear occasionally on the op-ed page. I mean someone who will appear in the paper as often as Helen Ubinas or Susan Campbell.

There are entire worlds-within-worlds of the Connecticut experience that readers of the Courant are not being exposed to. A social conservative columnist plugged into those worlds would do the paper—and the state—an immense amount of good.

I know from conversations with several Courant personnel that the bias is not intentional, but it exists nonetheless. The paper could go a long way toward ending it by that one simple step of hiring someone who can shine a light on—and speak for—those not being heard in its pages.


One Response to “FIC Blog Flashback: Media Bias, The Courant & Us”

  1. […] The Courant itself called “recommended reading for anyone dissatisfied with the paper.” It is worth re-reading in its entirety but I want to draw your attention to one point in particular: The problem at the Courant is not […]

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