Left Turn: A modest experiment, part 2

We continue with our exclusive preview of Tim Groseclose’s new book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Although he wears his learning lightly, Professor Groseclose is a distinguished scholar — he is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA, holding a joint appointment in the departments of political science and economics — and this is an important book.

We have previously posted the preface, the introduction, and chapter 8 part 1. This is the second of four parts making up chapter 8 — An “Alien” Conservative Injected into a Liberal Newsroom and the Topics She Might Cover — featuring our friend Katherine Kersten in her work as a metro columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune (footnotes omitted):

Kersten’s Article and Its Impact

Before Kersten wrote the flying-imams story, several journalists had reported aspects of it. What they failed to note, however, was that the lawsuit targeted not just airline but also unnamed “John Doe” passengers on the flight. “Many of the stories” said Kersten, “did little more than copy facts from the press release of the CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an ally of the imams]”.

“With that story,” said Kersten, “the typical reporter would investigate a little and say, ‘Nope, nothing more there.’ But I did some research on those guys, and there was one, Omar Shahin, who had a very checkered background. When I researched him, it took so much time. I worked so many hours. Yeah, my conservative perspective definitely contributed. If you’re not interested, if you don’t see a story, you won’t do it. To do these sorts of things, you need to have a sort of antenna up—that there may be something fishy about those guys. Most reporters didn’t have that antenna.

“I think I was the only one who actually read that whole court document,” she said. “And then, there it was, in that one paragraph. They were suing the ‘John Does’ on the flight. I thought, ‘This is awful.’”

“The Real Target of the 6 Imams’ ‘Discrimination’ Suit,” was the headline of her article, which she soon published after reading the court document. Kersten wrote:

Who are these unnamed culprits? The complaint describes them as “an older couple who was sitting [near the imams] and purposely turn[ed] around to watch” as they prayed. “The gentleman (‘John Doe’) in the couple … picked up his cellular phone and made a phone call while watching the Plaintiffs pray,” then “moved to a corner” and “kept talking into his cellular phone.

In retribution for this action, the unnamed couple probably will be dragged into court soon and face the prospect of hiring a lawyer, enduring hostile questioning and paying huge legal bills. The same fate could await other as-yet-unnamed passengers on the US Airways flight who came forward as witnesses.

Within hours after the Star Tribune published her article, Power Line, the web log that helped expose Dan Rather’s “Memogate,” reported a summary of the article. That evening, John Gibson of Fox News reported the story. The next morning, the Washington Times and the New York Sun reported it. The Sun gave credit to Kersten and noted that it learned of the story through Power Line. Several days later, Bill O’Reilly mentioned the story on his show, and soon after that, several newspapers—including the Boston Globe, USA Today, and New York Times—ran opinion pieces about it.

As Kersten hypothesized, all evidence suggests that she was the only reporter to read the entire court document. First, the timing agrees with her hypothesis. Before her article, several news stories mentioned the lawsuit against the airline, but none mentioned that the lawsuit targeted the passengers. But then after Kersten wrote the article, many reporters mentioned the passengers-being-sued fact. Second, some of the latter reporters gave credit to Kersten. Third, my research found no reporters claiming to have discovered the passengers-being-sued fact on their own.

From Left Turn by Tim Groseclose, PhD. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by the kind permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. All rights reserved.

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