21 Million Copies of George Will

Is anyone surprised that most columnists - a trade that often deals in annoyance and ire - are conservatives? According to a survey by Media Matters, entitled Black and White and Re(a)d All Over: The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns, 60% of newspapers carry more syndicated conservative columnists than liberals, while only 20% favor progressives.

The top three most-widely-syndicated national columnists are conservatives. Only three of the top ten are described by Media Matters as liberal. Cumulatively, the top 10 nationally syndicated conservative columnists are published in 1,601 papers and read by 97 million pairs of eyes. By comparison, the top 10 progressives only get into 960 papers, although the sheer size of some of their media markets means that they still pull in 76 million potential readers.

It may even be worse than it looks for the liberals: included in their list of political pundits was Garrison Keillor, whose latest column quoted St. Paul and Emily Dickinson during a lengthy ramble about how nice it is getting home after being stuck in an airport. Hardly lobbing policy hardballs.

The top-syndicated liberal was Ellen Goodman, whose recent columns have included a spirited attack on the Kid Nation, and defending US Sen. Larry Craig and cult leader Warren Jeffs over their sex-related legal cases. On the conservative side are some hardcore reactionaries, like Bill O'Reilly, and the White House's favorite leaker, Robert Novak. Meanwhile, there must be some doubt about any report that calls globalization flag-waver and dogmatic free marketeer Thomas Friedman a centrist.

And try finding a single media academic who is surprised by their findings. The simple reality is that the American press, through whatever impetus, is predominantly right-wing. There are no major peer-reviewed studies that point to the 'vast liberal media' (read Eric Alterman's excellent synthesis of the extant research, What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News for a more detailed exploration.) The question has been fogged by analyses of the political views of journalists, who tend towards centrist and liberal (a sentence that tells the reader much, since, in most political cultures, liberal is a synonym for centrist.) However, generally publications mimick the policy stance of their owners and publishers, not their editors, and definitely not their writers and reporters.

And don't forget: this report only deals with the syndicated names. Anyone expecting the local names to be balancing up the equation?

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