How Media Bias and ‘Woke Identity’ Have Infiltrated Newsrooms

It is no secret that the media leans left. From the ways in which journalists choose to report on critical issues, to the questions they decide to ask political leaders on different sides of the aisle, media bias is undeniable. 

CNN contributor Mary Katherine Ham and Fox News contributor and radio host Guy Benson are co-authors of “End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).” Last week, they assessed the media at The Heritage Foundation’s annual President’s Club Meeting. Today, we share their perspectives on The Daily Signal Podcast.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Rob Bluey: Can you reflect back on 2020 and share what you think are some of the most egregious examples of media bias?

Mary Katharine Ham: Oh, Rob, there’s so many to choose from. It’s hard to say.

I think one that stood out to me and that is a pattern that has repeated itself throughout my career in journalism is the different way in which protests on the left are covered vs. protests on the right.

And you saw this diametric juxtaposed to each other this summer with protests against lockdowns on the right, mostly, and then protests on the other side, [Black Lives Matter], criminal justice reform.

The argument when the lockdown protests happened at the very beginning of summer was these people are endangering the entire country. I mean, just being out here, even driving your car in a circle around city hall and honking your horn is a problem, right?

And then the other side protested and suddenly the sacrosanct First Amendment, right to gather and profess one’s grievances and peaceably assemble, was a-OK and not a danger to anyone.

All I wished was that maybe we could just recognize this as a First Amendment right that shouldn’t be socially shamed selectively, depending on which side you like. So that was annoying.

Bluey: That’s a good example. Guy, how about you?

Guy Benson: Oh, it’s all so tough. I did see a tweet from an MSNBC anchor this week where she was celebrating the fact that [former Vice President] Joe Biden declined to answer a question.

So I guess he was asked if he had met with [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell yet, and he wouldn’t say so. And she’s like, “How refreshing that he didn’t lie, he just stonewalled us.”

Ham: Thank you, sir.

Benson: May I have another? This is what four years are going to look like. Again, the media is going to go back into sort of vacation/hibernation mode.

I think what I’ve seen this year on media bias that has actually concerned me more than anything—beyond just the media overall supporting Democrats, being Democrats, helping Democrats—is the internal machinations within newsrooms where journalistic fundamentals are now being subsumed by woke identity.

And we saw it, I think the most prominent example that some people at home might remember was [Sen.] Tom Cotton in The New York Times and that whole mess where people ended up being demoted or fired from their positions for allowing a sitting senator to write words in The New York Times supporting a position that a majority of Americans agreed with, mind you. That was a high-profile one.

Another one that I would just bring to your attention was in Philadelphia where the executive editor of the largest newspaper in Philadelphia was thrown out of his position because he approved a headline that was about the destruction of property during all the riots and the headline was, “Buildings Matter, Too.”

This was deemed so egregiously offensive that this man who had been at the paper for 20 years, had led them to a Pulitzer Prize, was hounded out of his position after these Zoom meetings where staffers were crying and rending their garments and saying that they felt physically unsafe at the newspaper.

And we’re seeing now facts—who, what, where, when, and why—if they conflict with certain high pieties of the woke left, that is what now controls, especially the younger elements of newsrooms.

These civil wars are trying to break out inside newsrooms, and in some cases the no journalism side is winning. So that goes far beyond just right, left, conservative, liberal, it’s within like this intra-left fight and the pro-factual side in some key cases is losing.

Bluey: This is one of the reasons I think that many conservatives have gravitated to create their own outlets like we have at The Heritage Foundation with The Daily Signal.

Both of you have been involved in conservative media for many years. What is your view on the state of media today and what conservatives can do to either fight back against what we’re seeing in newsrooms, or maybe take an alternative approach altogether?

Ham: From my point of view, when you’re in a mainstream media outlet, as I am, conformity just is a problem.

And if you have a bunch of people in your circle who all believe the same thing, then you are going to be more inclined to cover things from that point of view and, as Guy was saying, more inclined to sort of bend to pressure, should all the people who are in your peer group and agree with you say, “Well, you’re a bad person if you think this particular thing.”

I’m happy to be that person on every panel, that’s my specialty. But I do think the diversity of thought in any group on a college campus, in your family, in your community, being able to have those discussions is really important. And we have advanced, as Guy was noting, it’s beyond just sort of a left-leaning disposition.

There is a progression here into sort of a demand that everyone emote on the same level about an issue.

I have been in situations where I’m just trying to analyze an issue and that is taken as opposition to a point of view. When in fact I’m just analyzing the politics of the situation, because I’m not emoting in the way that is demanded.

And I think that demand is poison within media coverage because we can’t all, not only believe the same thing, but believe it at the same pitch, or else we are just all the same person. And that is not a fair treatment of any news story, or I don’t think a mature and professional way to approach it, but that is increasingly what I see.

Bluey: Guy?

Benson: I mean, I think that for those of us who are on the center right in journalism or the commentary business, we’re going to have to pick up some of the slack, as we did for eight years under [President] Barack Obama.

Under a Biden administration, much of the press, I mean, it’s sort of remarkable to see, Mary Katharine, like the tone of some of this coverage where it’s just relief, right? There’s this cathartic coverage of like, “Oh, finally, the good people are back in charge.”

Ham: “Isn’t it nice to cover someone we like, guys? This is fantastic.”

Benson: It’s just like, “Our people are back in, we can finally take a nap.” And I think that they intend to do that.

They’ll go through the motions and do some coverage. I know The New York Times has a few stories about potential conflicts of interest in the incoming potential Cabinet and lefties are going bonkers that they’re even writing those stories because you’re not supposed to say or write anything that hurts the tribe, at all, ever.

But in terms of accountability, I think it’s back to a different posture for the right-leaning media. And I think our North Star has to be telling the truth, telling the truth when it is a pleasant truth for people on our side, telling the truth when it’s a less pleasant truth for people on our own side, because to the extent that many, many, many Americans, millions of them, live in their own cocoons and only hear their truth, that’s sort of a lefty thing, to be like, “My truth is this.”

Ham: “We’re all adapting.”

Benson: No, there’s the truth.

Ham: Yes.

Benson: And I think our job is to help shine a light on and expound upon and expose the truth.

Bluey: It’s so true. I mean, it’s one of those things that when we started The Daily Signal way back when, six years ago, we made sure—

Benson: Has it been six years?

Bluey: Six years. We made sure that that was one of the guiding principles for us.

Now, Mary Katharine, since you brought up CNN and your position there, I want to ask you, at a time when so many conservatives have tuned out CNN, why do you think it’s important to have a conservative voice still there? And what’s it like behind the scenes? What can you share with our audience today?

Ham: I mean, having a voice [at CNN] is why I do the job and it’s why I’ve always done the job. And I hope that my career has shown—it was when I started it in my mid-20s, arguing with Bill O’Reilly of all people—that I have never shied away from an argument.

I like debate. I enjoy it. I don’t want to be somewhere where everyone agrees with me. As I was just saying, I love to go to college campuses. You could say, I like a hostile room. I like to win over a hostile room. And so I—

Benson: Should I be mean to you right now? You’re wrong.

Ham: That would be perfect. It’d be fantastic if you’re meaner than me right now.

So, I like going into the situations. I have to do it every night when I put my kids to bed, they’re very hostile. Don’t want to give in at all.

Benson: Especially one of them.

Ham: But I do think it’s worthwhile to communicate with different audiences. And I was at Fox for a long time and I loved working there. And then it’s funny, there are some people who think that I just haven’t worked for the last five years because they never changed the channel.

Bluey: Sure.

Ham: Oh no, no, I didn’t just take a hiatus, I’ve just been somewhere else. But I do think it’s worth reaching a different audience. And as I joke, like, I went from Fox to CNN and then I was a Trump critical conservative on CNN. My hate mail is so diverse, it comes from so many directions, but I do think it is worthwhile.

And I like to sort of, if I can, mess with people’s bubbles a little bit, and to the extent that I’m able to do that in that place, even when it’s tough and when I can speak some truth sometimes when I feel like it’s flying by some people, I enjoy the opportunity to do that.

Bluey: Well, Guy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Fox News, because there were also some conservatives who were tuning out Fox, going to places like Newsmax.

What’s your message to them who, they may not necessarily agree with all of the actions on Election Night, calling Arizona early, but you have a successful program there, you’ve had a lot of success over the years. What’s your message that you want to share with them tonight?

Benson: First of all, I think we’re conservatives, we believe in competition, right? And so we’re not afraid of competition at Fox. We welcome competition.

I remember when Fox was growing and becoming huge early on, CNN, like Larry King, it’s like in a football game where you put bulletin board material up of like how you were dismissed or dissed by the other team or someone in the media. Larry King said some very dismissive things about like, “Oh, these upstarts, whose [Sean] Hannity?” Like, “We’re going to eat their lunch.” And then obviously that—

Bluey: Look what happened.

Benson: Didn’t work out so well for them over the longer term. So I think it would be a mistake for anyone at Fox to assume that we are entitled to any audience and that they shouldn’t ever go anywhere else. I would say that I’m extremely proud to work at Fox. I think that we do a really extraordinary job.

I see some people are—look, people are heated, people are frustrated. You see some stuff out there like, “Oh, it’s indistinguishable from CNN now.” I’m like, fact check, like in the 8 p.m. hour, if you can’t tell the difference between Tucker Carlson and Chris Cuomo, then I don’t know what to tell you, right?

But we have some very strong opinion voices who do not shy away from telling you exactly how they feel.

We also have a really robust news-gathering operation and organization. And sometimes what the news people are reporting is not simpatico with what many of our viewers and opinion people believe. And trying to thread that needle is an interesting balance.

I sort of straddle those two worlds at Fox, but I think we’re working through it and we’ll see what shakes out over the next couple of weeks, but we’re extremely grateful for everyone who’s watched us for years and we hope they will continue to watch us for years to come because we work really hard and we care about the country.

Rob Bluey: Competition is a good thing—it makes us all better. I want to thank both of you. Mary Katharine is a Heritage Foundation alum, Guy is a longtime friend of the organization. We appreciate the work that you do to bring credibility and integrity to the media. Thank you both.

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