A Shocking Moment of Candor

Well, it probably shouldn’t be shocking, since I’ve always heard the Columbia Journalism Review described as “liberal.” Still, this exchange is striking, to say the least. A reader sent an email to Steve Lovelady, managing editor of CJR, forwarding my post on layoffs at newspapers, which speculated that moderating their left-wing politics might help some of these papers stop the bleeding. Here is Lovelady’s response:

Yeah, I’m writing about it myself.
Sooner or later, they’ll all become dot.coms. Print is a dead man walking.
But Hinderaker is wrong about the reasons. In the 2004 election campaign, 48% of all daily newspapers in the country endorsed Bush. Those 48% have not escaped any of the economic travails that beset the 50% who endorsed Kerry. (2% endorsed no one.)
As for the truly far-right newspapers, NY Post, Washington Times — the Post lost $75 million last year, the Times $50 million. The reason they don’t lay off people is because they are owned by men (Rupert Murdoch and the Rev. Moon) who don’t care if they lose money or not. They are in it for idealogical reasons, not for profit. These are not businesses, in the sense that you and I understand the word. They are rich men’s toys.

I’m not particularly interested in pursuing the debate about whether newspapers would do better if they moderated their left-wing views, although I note that the Washington Times’ circulation is increasing, while the New York Post has logged “huge circulation gains”.
What I want to focus on is Lovelady’s political perspective: the Times and the Post are “truly far-right newspapers”? Only if your perspective is somewhere on the most leftward 5% of the political spectrum. Do you suppose that Lovelady would describe such liberal papers as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times as “truly far-left”? No, neither do I.
And where does Lovelady get off calling those papers “rich men’s toys”? Who does he think controls the New York Times? Has the Sulzburger family become poor? Has “Pinch” not treated his paper like a toy, encouraging its forays into left-wing arcana even as profits declined and veteran employees were laid off? And has the Graham family stopped running the Washington Post Company? These papers would be “toys,” too, but for one fact: they’re liberal.
It’s an interesting window into the mind of an influential liberal journalist.
SCOTT adds: Reader Steve Siegel writes:

This is my first email, and I wanted to thank you for your good work. I’ve been reading Power Line for about a year and a half, and usually agree with you and find your stuff valuable. But as a recovering Washington journalist (1994-1998), I wanted to comment on John’s piece today about Columbia Journalism Review.
It is liberal, and in so many ways it is difficult to count. I stopped reading it in the mid 1990s because it reflected establishment (MSM) thinking and was not likely to recommend any useful changes to journalism, although that is supposed to be its mission.
However, I think you were a little unfair in your interpretation of Mr. Lovelady’s comment about “rich men’s toys.” He is right in that the NY Post and Washington Times are not run like businesses — they apparently are willing to lose gobs of money indefinitely.
Papers like the NY Times could also be viewed, as you point out, as a rich liberal’s toy, but they do make money hand over fist, so it is reasonable to regard them as more than mere toys; they are immensely profitable businesses. It’s a little ironic considering their politics.
That said, his argument that 48 percent of newspapers endorsed Bush is disingenuous. Most of those are small papers in rural markets, many of which are doing just fine as a monopoly provider of news. Additionally, the candidate a paper endorses doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the paper’s coverage. Some papers that endorse Republicans still have liberal reporting staffs, such as the Chicago Tribune.
In any event, the papers that determine national news coverage (WaPo, NYT, LAT) heavily endorse the Democrat every time, and they are the ones suffering some of the largest circulation declines, even in percentage terms. Is that the result of their politics or something else? I’d say their liberal politics is a factor of some significance, but I think other issues are at play as well.

I think that Siegel correctly reads Lovelady, though I don’t think that “rich man’s toys” fairly captures the disparate phenomena represented by the New York Post or the Washington Times.


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