Ideological Warning Labels

A story this morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition” reminded me of my continuing complaint that the mainstream (liberal) media regularly put an ideological label on conservative and libertarian organizations and interviewees, but not on liberal and leftist groups.  In a report about states accepting stimulus funds, reporter Kathy Lohr quoted “Jon Shure of the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,” “Maurice Emsellem with the National Employment Law Project,” and “Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the fiscally conservative Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.” (Thanks! And I’d say the label is correct, even if I might prefer libertarian.)

Those are all legitimate sources for the story. But only one of them gets an ideological label – even though the other two groups are clearly on the left. They’re to the left of the Obama administration; indeed, they’re probably part of what the White House press secretary calls the “professional left.” So why not alert listeners that you might be getting a “liberal” or “leftist” perspective from those two sources, just as you warned them that the Cato Institute was speaking from a fiscally conservative perspective?

Back on March 23, I noted but did not blog about references on “Morning Edition” to “the libertarian Cato Institute,” the “conservative American Enterprise Institute,” and “the Brookings Institution.” No label needed for Brookings, of course. Just folks there. (A bit of Googling reveals that the Brookings reference came from Marketplace Radio, heard on WAMU as an insert into “Morning Edition.” But NPR never labels it either.)

NPR’s ombudsman noted in July that NPR uses the term “ultra-conservative” a lot more than “ultra-liberal.”

It’s all too typical of the mainstream-liberal media: They put ideological warning labels on libertarians and conservatives, lest readers and listeners be unaware of the potential for bias, but very rarely label liberals and leftists. Note the absence of labels on NPR in frequent references to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Journalists should be more even-handed: label all your sources ideologically, or none of them. It’s stacking the deck to label those on the right but not those on the left.