Why conservatives aren't hired by mainstream media


I greatly admire the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. He covers the media and covers it well. I think he makes every effort to be fair and open-minded and succeeds with only minor exceptions—I'm sure many people would say he does a better job at it than I do. One day some years ago, he wrote an article that included a description of me as a "right-leaning columnist."

I called him up and told him that I thought that was a fair description and had no objection to it. Then I asked him if he ever described anyone as a "left-leaning columnist." As I recall, he said he thought he never had. And I think he made the point that to call someone "left-leaning" might be taken as a suggestion that they were Communist-leaning. To which I believe I noted that the Cold War was over and that the concern about the implication of Communist leanings—perhaps a fair point in the past—was minimal today. Anyway, I noticed that in his later writings he did identify some writers as "left-leaning," in appropriate cases. I might add that his tone in these conversations was civil and friendly, as I hope and think mine was.

Today in his media column, Kurtz addresses the issue of why mainstream media like the New York Times and the Washington Post have tended to hire writers—many of them very good writers—who worked at left-leaning publications like the Washington Monthly, the New Republic, and the American Prospect but not writers who worked at right-leaning publications like National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator. Kurtz links to David Mastio's Real Clear Politics piece on the subject, which names names. Kurtz quotes Mastio's conclusion:

"Can anyone name for me a current New York Times or Washington Post reporter who was previously on the staff of National Review, The Weekly Standard or The American Spectator? No? Maybe that's because there are none."

To which Kurtz replies:

"But I would raise this counter-question: How many people from National Review, Weekly Standard, or American Spectator have applied for reporting jobs at the NYT or WP?

"My sense is this: Young people who go to the New Republic or Washington Monthly do so because it's a way to break into the business, and they then try to move up to bigger newspapers or magazines. At the Post or Times, they would generally be assigned to unglamorous Metro jobs, be required to prove themselves as reporters and writers and then try to climb the ladder.

"But do people at NR and the Standard want to become 'straight' reporters, or do they go to those magazines because they want to practice opinion journalism? I doubt that Rich Lowry or Tucker Carlson (to take two who joined their respective magazines at a young age) aspired to cover Prince George's County for the Post. They put themselves on a punditry path. And if I'm right about that, how are MSM organizations supposed to recruit from such magazines?"

My response: Certainly today Lowry and Carlson aren't interested in covering Prince George's County. Lowry is editor of National Review, and Carlson has a large family and surely makes much more from his work on television than he could expect as an entry-level reporter at the Post. But what about the younger writers working today on the conservative publications? To Kurtz's question, "How are MSM organizations supposed to recruit from such magazines?" my answer is 202-543-9226, 202-293-4900, and 703-807-2011, the telephone numbers of National Review (the Washington bureau), the Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator, respectively. Newspapers don't limit their hiring to people who apply; they also go out and recruit.

Editors read other publications, and sometimes they call writers whose work they admire and ask if they're interested in joining their publications. My friend and former U.S. News colleague Mark Mazzetti, who was covering the Pentagon for the Los Angeles Times, has just moved to the New York Times. Did Mark call the NYT, or did the NYT call Mark? I don't know, but it could easily be the latter.

Sure, not everyone you call is going to be interested in switching from a conservative magazine to starting off on Metro at the Post (though the salary at even a starting position at the Post might be attractive to someone at the entry level at the conservative magazines). But some might be. The evidence suggests that editors at the NYT and the Post have found it natural to recruit from the liberal magazines but that it does not seem to have crossed their minds to recruit from the conservative magazines. Why not?

Here's my guess. I once had a conversation with an executive at one of the three broadcast network news organizations that went about like this. "Don't you think the fact that 90 percent of your people are Democrats affects your work product?" "No, it doesn't affect our work product at all, because we have professional standards of objectivity," etc., etc. "Then what you're saying is that your work product would be the same if 90 percent of your people were Republicans?" "No, then it would be biased."

In other words, only liberals can see the world objectively. Conservatives are inherently biased. If that's your mind-set, it makes sense to recruit people from the New Republic and the American Prospect, and it makes no sense to recruit people from National Review, the Weekly Standard and the American Spectator.

Maybe that's not the real explanation, but it seems to fit the facts of the case.