This column is biased

Mac McCann

This year the Young Conservatives of Texas announced that they’re bringing back their ‘professor watch-list’, which attempts to bring attention to professors that teach with either a conservative or liberal bias, and either discourage or openly reject dissenting opinions.  It’s a noble cause, of course, but as my colleague Larisa Manescu pointed out in a recent column, “The fact that an inherently biased political organization considers itself the architect of a watch list to identify and eliminate bias is suspicious. This concern would be just the same if the University Democrats proposed the same project.”

It’s important to address biases, especially in the classroom and in the media.  From my experience, my professors do an excellent job of welcoming diverse opinions.  But Danny Zeng, communications director of College Republicans of Texas, thinks the media is liberally biased, asking me, “For instance, how many conservatives write for The Daily Texan?”  My own observations of this semester’s group of weekly columnists tells me there are few.

The reason is actually rather simple.  At the beginning of the year, Kayla Oliver, a Texan associate editor, did actually invite members of both the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives to apply for a spot on the paper, though only two expressed an interest in applying.

As a libertarian, I often feel like my voice is left out.  Realizing this, I applied to be an opinion columnist.  I reached out to the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives for this column, like I did for my last three columns, to no avail.  Danny Zeng of the College Republicans did contact me for this column.  The Young Conservatives, however, have not yet replied to a single interview request — for this column or any other.  Perhaps the issue isn’t some ‘liberal’ media bias, but rather a lack of cooperation.

“Bias in media is not simply how one phrases certain things, but more importantly, what topics are chosen to be covered,” Zeng said.   However, the College Republicans refused to participate in the recent Hook the Vote election debate, claiming, “CR officers re-evaluated the whole situation and saw absolutely no benefits for us to stage a dog-and-pony show, putting our members through debate prep for a group of maybe 20 highly partisan college students.”  I asked Zeng if the group regretted their decision after the debate attracted more than 100 attendees, as well as media coverage.  “Short answer, no,” Zeng said, “I have to ask if any significant number of that “[more than] 100 attendees” did not have their minds made already prior to attending the debate.”  Maybe there is a bias that affects which topics are chosen, but removing yourself from a publicized debate is not a great way to help your case.

But how do others see bias?  Journalism professor Robert Jensen noted that, statistically, people with higher education levels, including journalists, are typically more liberal on social issues than the general public.  So, he says that “there is a kernel of truth” to the alleged bias, but it’s a very small kernel that’s been exploited by the well-funded right wing.

Plan II student Colleen O’Neill is a little uncomfortable with what she considers the media’s liberal bias, as are many other students I talked to.  Agreeing with Dr. Jensen that the entertainment industry has a very clear liberal bias, O’Neill told me, “Teens and young adults see these young, relatable and successful celebrities supporting the liberal party, and they see that being a part of the liberal party is the popular thing to do. At our impressionable, young ages, it is only natural for us to latch onto something that the crowd is doing.”  To see O’Neill’s point, one only has to compare the many celebrity endorsements of Obama to the fewer celebrity endorsements of Romney.

It is important to note, as Dr. Jensen did, that sometimes the supposed ‘liberal bias’ of the media is simply a ‘bias’ toward fact.  While supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion is subjective, pointing out facts is not. When Missouri Congressman Todd Akin infamously said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” the media called him out for his blatantly false statement — and rightly so.  Akin, however, claimed that the media attention was an unfair attack from the ‘liberal elite’ and the ‘liberal media.’  If a bias against stupidity is considered unfair, we have a significant problem.

Luckily, from the students I’ve talked to, our professors on campus do a good job of teaching without any significant biases.  Even Zeng told me, “I have personally not experienced much bias from the professors. My liberal professors are very balanced with their teachings, so are my conservative professors.” Exercise science junior Caroline Betik said, “All of my professors like to keep quiet about their views and allow students to decide for themselves.  I think the bias comes from who your friends are, roommates and what groups you associate yourself with, like certain sororities or other organized groups on campus.”  Seconding that point, Pierre Rochard of the Libertarian Longhorns noted, “Neither the city of Austin nor the University are monolithic, homogenous entities,” so we can’t make blanket statements about local biases.

So, really, the only thing I’ve concluded is that, with my libertarian bias, I can’t properly address whether or not there is a dominant bias in the media or on campus.  But there was one thing that everyone I interviewed agreed upon: it’s important to learn, discuss, and engage the ideas and views of all sides of the political spectrum.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas