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Left Turn: A modest experiment, part 4

Today we conclude our exclusive series of excerpts from Tim Groseclose’s new book, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Professor Groseclose is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA and this is an important book. Thanks to Professor Groseclose for entrusting us with this series.

We have previously posted the preface, the introduction, chapter 8 part 1, and chapter 8 part 2, and chapter 8 part 3. This is the fourth 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.

In this installment Professor Groseclose assesses the impact of Kathy’s column on one of the issues raised by the flying imams’ lawsuit and he describes Kathy as a novice journalist in her stint as a metro columnist at the Star Tribune. He builds on the thought that Kathy’s work as a metro columnist constituted a conscious “experiment” in news coverage by the Star Tribune. Unfortunately, the Star Tribune ended the experiment in January 2009, although Kathy has returned to the Star Tribune editorial page as a biweekly opinion columnist. The Star Tribune has collected her metro and opinion columns here.

Kathy had made her presence felt in other ways well before the Star Tribune undertook its experiment in Kerstenism. When Minnesota’s state board of education proposed a metropolitan desegregation plan featuring racial quotas, for example, Kathy wrote a 100-page study demonstrating that the plan was a recipe for disaster. She stopped it dead in its tracks. When the state board of education then proposed a “diversity rule” with a Marxist curriculum and more quotas, she raised a ruckus in one of her biweekly opinion columns in the Star Tribune. This time she not only killed the rule; she also put the board of education out of its misery. In a stunning sequel to the controversy she had instigated over the “diversity rule,” the Minnesota legislature abolished the board.

Chapter 8 ends on a happy note. I should add, however, that the story of the flying imams’ lawsuit does not have a happy ending. On the contrary. For the rest of the story, please see my own Weekly Standard article “The flying imams win.”

Here is the fourth and final installment of chapter 8, and of our series of excerpts from the book:

Missing Conservative Stories

One of the most moving tributes that a person can witness is a “missing man” formation of fighter jets, sometimes performed at funerals for fallen military pilots. The jets form an upside-down V, except that in one leg of the V a jet is missing. To observers, it’s easy to imagine where the missing jet would fit. It’s also easy to tell how many jets are missing (namely, one) and what the missing jet would look like if it appeared in the formation (namely, just like the others).

The opposite is true with missing conservative news stories. The stories that I listed in the previous chapter are ones I could find. There surely are many more; however, they don’t get reported because there are so few conservative journalists to report them. It is almost impossible to know how many such missing conservative stories there are, or what those stories would look like if we could see them.

However, with a little deeper analysis of the Katherine Kersten case, we can obtain a better idea.

At first glance it seems a huge coincidence that the flying imams happened to perform their antics in the same city, Minneapolis, where the Katherine Kersten “experiment” occurred. However, let me suggest an alternative explanation: Maybe radical Islamists are doing similar antics in many other cities. The problem is that those cities have no Katherine Kersten to expose them.

Few reporters share the views of Kersten, yet about half of the country does. If journalists were to be truly representative of U.S., the Star Tribune “experiment” would have to be repeated thousands of times at newsrooms across the country.

Now consider that during her first two years at the Star Tribune, Kersten, virtually a novice at journalism, wrote a “scoop,” which inspired Congress to pass a new law.

Further, during the same period, she wrote a half dozen or so other scoops that changed policy at the local level. If U.S. journalists were truly to become representative of the American people — that is, if the Katherine Kersten experiment really were repeated thousands of times — then each year, I believe, Americans would see hundreds of additional conservative news stories, stories that would be at least as interesting and important as the flying-imams story. However, those stories are simply missing.

What If Katherine Kersten Had Been Missing from the Newsroom?

“This is remarkable,” I said near the end of my interview with Kersten. “You were the reason for the fortunate outcome—all because of that one article.”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “I think Congress had a little something to do with it.”

She has a point. Lots of people contributed to the outcome — in addition to Congress, the editors at the Star Tribune deserve much credit, perhaps especially Anders Gyllenhaal, not just for agreeing to publish the article, but also for deciding to conduct the conservative-in-the-newsroom experiment in the first place.

But it is also clear that — although Kersten’s efforts maybe weren’t sufficient to save the innocent passengers — they were necessary. If she hadn’t written the article, then Congress wouldn’t have passed the new law, the imams wouldn’t have dropped their lawsuit, and, perhaps most troubling, future passengers would have been intimidated and dissuaded from reporting potential terrorist activity.

The experiment at the Star Tribune gives us a glance into an alternative world, one in which newsrooms move in the direction of hiring a balance of liberals and conservatives. It gives a tiny sample of the topics, currently hidden, that might be brought to light. It also gives an indication of how, in such an alternative world, the views of news consumers might be altered and how public policies might change. Such views and policies, I suggest, would look very different from those of our current world.

“I’m not so sure,” I responded to Kersten after she tried to downplay her influence. “Have you ever seen the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart gets to see what the world would look like if he had never existed…”

“Oh stop it,” she interrupted.

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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