In the never-ending contest for the minds (and votes) of those who still bother to think and vote, the disagreement over which side has the greatest influence in the media goes on, seemingly without end.
The latest salvo comes from the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, whose president, David Brock, once claimed to have been “Blinded by the Right,” but now says he has perfect liberal vision.
Media Matters says it has surveyed 96 percent of American newspapers and found 60 percent “print more conservative syndicated columnists. … Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.” It also claims that, “nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined circulation of 125 million” while “conservative columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.” The organization’s count is based on newspapers that carry columnists once a week, or at least once a month, which not all newspapers do.
Using that standard, George Will and I were named the top two columnists by number of newspapers. Both of us were undercounted. More than 500 newspapers subscribe to this column. Most are dailies and a few are weeklies. Media Matters claims just 306 carry mine (it says 328 carry Mr. Will’s), ignoring the real numbers by imposing the weekly or monthly frequency standard. Media Matters also apparently didn’t count overseas newspapers or USA Today, America’s largest circulation newspaper, in which I co-author a column twice monthly with my liberal friend, Bob Beckel.
Media Matters asked for my client list to prove my claim. Nice try. Liberals would love to have such a list so they can conduct letter-writing campaigns to remove conservatives, in the name of tolerance, of course. While some columnists have been “rumored” to inflate their numbers (imagine that), mine are accurate and have been since I started writing this column.
Numbers aside, the survey suggests too many conservative ideas unduly influence readers. This apparently keeps the brainless robots from their natural state: liberalism. The number of liberal readers who have written and told me of their conversion to conservatism after reading my arguments is small. Most liberals who write to me question the legitimacy of my birth, disparage my looks, pledge a campaign to censor me and promise never to read the column again. They do. They can’t help themselves.
A little history will explain the column’s success. Tom Johnson, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, opened the syndication door for me in 1984. It was a time when liberals dominated the op-ed page. Tom is both a liberal Democrat and a good friend. I have known him since his days in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Tom practices pluralism. He bought my argument that there were too few conservative columnists, especially ones writing about values, faith and culture. He took a chance on a guy from a broadcast news background. He hasn’t come over to “my side,” but he practices the principles of the First Amendment as well as anyone in the news business.
In building the column, I told editors they were missing a significant demographic: politically and religiously conservative people who had stopped reading their newspapers because they didn’t see their views represented. Most did not want to censor liberals (though a few did). They wanted to be included in the pluralism about which they hear so much. I told editors if they bought this column, they would be rewarded with hundreds of new subscriptions. They did and they were.
As I traveled across America, I found a majority of my conservative audiences no longer read their local paper, but most said they would if the paper carried me. That’s just old-fashioned door-to-door salesmanship.
One more point. Liberals have many outlets for their ideas. They have the three broadcast networks, PBS, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and most of the big newspapers. (Only one conservative columnist is employed and regularly carried by the New York Times and he rarely challenges that newspaper’s liberal social agenda.) In light of such ideological media imbalance, the liberal claim that Fox News Channel exists does not cancel their overwhelming media advantage.
The Media Matters survey is not only wrong about the number of newspapers that subscribe to George Will’s and my columns; it’s also wrong in its presumption that we are overly “influential” (whatever that means).
So, what conclusion should be reached? Only that Media Matters … doesn’t.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.