A call to the right
Conservatives battle the 'liberal media' by growing their own ranks and offering training and support to journalists from the left and right.
For Bernadette Malone, her choice of career after graduation had a lot to do with how she voted.
"I wanted to be a conservative in action," she says of her plan to join the Marines.
But along the way she discovered journalism, becoming the editor of the conservative paper on campus, then the protégée of conservative commentator Robert Novak. Now, almost eight years after earning her degree, she is a regular fixture on the op-ed pages of the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire.
Her story is similar to that of other young conservatives, who never really thought about journalism or how to pursue it as a career. Like Ms. Malone, their experience changed when they encountered conservative organizations that offer training and support to journalists.
What often gets lost in discussions about liberal media bias are the efforts conservatives make not only to grow their own ranks in the Fourth Estate but to encourage all journalists generally considered to be a liberal bunch to include a wide range of viewpoints in their stories.
Many conservative groups are using training and education as an alternative to simply complaining about their concerns including the fact that journalists don't rub elbows with conservatives enough, or don't understand issues that the right champions, like free-market economies.
Conservatives are heard in more venues these days on cable TV, the Internet, talk radio. But they argue that journalists with their ideology are still absent from traditional outlets like the Big Three television networks and daily papers, places that set the agenda for the nation.
As a result, they are approaching working with the media from many angles: training their own to be skilled journalists, working with reporters of any ideology to explain how to do database research, and offering rigorous education in fair and accurate reporting. That's the goal of a program offered at the National Journalism Center, which began in the 1970s and welcomes students from the left and the right. It's one of at least 10 training programs, many of which are relatively new.
"It's a reflection of a changing market," says Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, which tracks media bias. "The media has exploded, between cable news and the Internet, and that really is what's fueled this concept."
The idea, organization leaders say, is not to indoctrinate anyone, but to foster fairer and more balanced reporting. After all, they note, they don't want to create a counter bias to the one they argue already exists.
"The guiding philosophical light with these people is not to bring in a conservative world view; it is to bring in a broader perspective to the issues. Which is why there are some people who have gone through some of these programs who are not at all conservative," says Mr. Bozell.
Quietly teaching people about free markets as a way to combat bias may sound like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose, especially given how ingrained the problem is, according to pundits and authors.
Last year, network news veteran Bernard Goldberg's bestseller "Bias" got people talking about the perennial concern. And following on its heels is this week's No. 1 bestseller, "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right," a book that includes media bias in a wider attack on liberals.
Its author, Ann Coulter, an attorney and conservative commentator, is herself a graduate of the program offered by the National Journalism Center. "Ideology was not taught," she recalls. "Reporting was taught; do research and get your facts right."
Ms. Coulter agrees that training and recruiting more conservatives is one solution to reducing bias, especially if it would mean having more representation outside the realm of opinion journalism.
"It would be nice to get in on the objective news side of the media and not be restricted to opinion commentary," she says via e-mail. "It is true that conservatives win in any media where there is competition [radio, the Internet, book sales], but I'd trade them for ABC, NBC, CBS, and all national magazines and newspapers."
Training programs are helped by a growth in activism at colleges, and, suggests Mr. Bozell, by the success of the Fox News channel. "There is suddenly an openness to have someone who is not an ardent liberal on staff, which there wasn't 10 years ago."
One problem the programs often face is that many young conservatives want to write mainly opinion columns to be the next Mr. Novak rather than do the non-editorial reporting Coulter refers to.
Even more difficult to overcome is that conservatives frequently aren't interested in the profession at all.
"I've tried to encourage young conservatives, with very little success over the years, to go into journalism," says Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, and a host on Fox's cable news channel. "They are more interested in politics than in journalism."
Mr. Barnes is director of the Institute on Political Journalism, sponsored by the Fund for American Studies. The IPJ offers a summer program at Georgetown University for 100 students, who take courses in the free market and journalism ethics, and intern in Washington-area news organizations.
This year, the program has roughly 20 students who are conservative, two who are libertarian, with Democrats, Independents and those unaffiliated rounding out the bunch. (Students are asked about their ideology after they are accepted, to place them in appropriate internships.)
Executive director Bill Keyes says the group teaches a free-market-economics course, which he doesn't have a problem labeling as conservative, but he notes that many of the students would probably not make the connection.
"We haven't pushed a conservative agenda on them," he says. "The world does not need conservatives that will go and inflict their conservative bias on readers to counteract [a liberal bias]. What we need are people who will be objective," he says.
Students who participate in the programs say networking and the opportunity to learn how to break into journalism including through courses in print and broadcast media, and even foreign reporting are most valuable.
"It's a big leap from being interested to actually knowing how to get started or how to get a foot in the door," says recent Princeton grad Xiaochin Yan, who has been helped by The Collegiate Network, which offers support to conservative college journalists. "The CN's numerous contacts, conferences, speakers, and visits make that leap a bit easier and show that it is possible to make a difference and give you more of an incentive/opportunity to go for it."
Ms. Yan was publisher of a conservative newspaper on campus. She had planned to go to law school when she graduated this past spring, but instead she's bound for Hong Kong to work as an intern at the Asian Wall Street Journal, thanks in part to financial help from the Collegiate Network.
She resists the idea that she is on a crusade to correct a bias in the media. "I'm not going out there to fix a liberal bias with my conservative views. I'm going out there to do the best job I can."
That's also the goal of Adam Housley, a correspondent with Fox News. He won't talk about his political leanings, but the former baseball player will discuss the course in broadcast journalism he took in 1997 from a group called the Leadership Institute. "I learned more there in three days than I did in my journalism classes [in college]," he says. "They never pushed an ideology, they pushed fairness. That's what Fox pushes. I was impressed by that."
If conservatives agree that more of their ranks in the media would reduce bias, they don't always agree that training can achieve that. Some say it depends on where people are being placed. Max Boot, op-ed editor at the Wall Street Journal, says it's one thing "if they are training people to infiltrate The New York Times. But if they are training them to go to the National Review, I don't think there's a point to that."
Still, right-leaning outlets do offer more opportunities for conservatives who are thinking about journalism. Tucker Carlson, a cohost on CNN's "Crossfire," remembers how difficult it was to get a job at a mainstream outlet in the late '80s. Instead, he broke into the profession by writing for the many magazines conservatives published then.
And Malone, the would-be marine, says it's fine to recruit young people, "but they have to have places to go." "You might not get into the living rooms of average Americans who want to be swayed one way or another," she says, "but the people who are out there looking for it, like I was when I was 18, are relieved when they stumble upon this journalistic community, even if it's an insular one."
The Leadership Institute nurtured her interest in journalism. She realized that, as with the military, the profession would provide her with a salary she could live on and the ability to enact her conservative principles. "And," she jokes, "I wouldn't have to do any pull-ups."