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    Issues of Scholarly and Media Bias in the Public Consumption of Elite Knowledge

    Dr. Jim A. Kuypers

    Rogue scholarship is about how academic researchers may better transmit research findings to the general public. However, to better address this issue, we must first consider two forms of scholarship--traditional and activist. Depending upon which form of scholarship one pursues, the means and forms of transmission changes. Thus, this paper will briefly explore the differences between traditional and activist notions of scholarship, an then describe how the knowledge produced by either method is disseminated to the general public. It is my contention that research findings are filtered through the media, therefore the role of the media in shaping the final interpretation of research results must be explored.

    Traditional Research

    Traditional research has at its base some active sense of objectivity carried within the researcher as he engages in research. There are four generally agreed upon research norms: universalism, organized skepticism, communality, and disinterestedness.1 Although there are questions concerning the form that dissemination of research takes, I do not believe there exists much controversy concerning the above four goals--accept by some in higher education. We cannot safely assume that all will strive for objectivity in their research. Indeed, many in our field actively promote a scholarship that is subservient to a chosen ideological truth. Although many Rouge scholars engage in traditional forms of scholarship, we ought to be well aware that the term "activist" means much more than making social scientific research reports readable for the general public.

    Activist Research

    Examples abound across the academy and within our own discipline of activist research. For example, Robert L. Ivie, while editor of the Quarterly Journal of Speech, wrote a series of editorials in which he advocated activist scholarship to be accepted as the industry standard.2 Ivie asked us to believe that critics actively engage in criticism to promote political/ideological ends. Of course, this clearly is oppositional to any notion of objectivity in research. Indeed, Ivie believes that productive criticism is simply "a detailed and partisan critique. . . ."3

    For Ivie, those who engage in rhetorical criticism are, or should be, advocates: "criticism, as a specific performance of general rhetorical knowledge, yields a form of scholarship that obtains social relevance by strategically reconstructing the interpretive design of civic discourse in order to diminish, bolster, or redirect its significance. [Criticism] is a form of advocacy grounded in the language of a particular rhetorical situation. . . ."4

    So, Ivie has left the old form--an ostensibly objective reconstruction of the situation -for a new form: active and partisan reconstructions of a rhetorical moment in order to promote the political ends of the critic, thereby making for "relevant rhetorical scholarship." In short, the critic is now an active engineer of social change.

    Omar Swartz, in Conducting Socially Responsible Research: Critical Theory, Neo Pragmatism, and Rhetorical Inquiry, provides us with another example. Mark Wright, in his Southern Communication Journal review of Swartz's book, stated: "Swartz's patriotic call is clear: "American communication scholars, aided by continental critical theory, can organize to combat the inequities perpetuated by our current society. Swartz himself at one point condemns Robert Newman for pulling punches in his analysis of Nixon's 3 November 1969 Vietnam speech. He says that the author ought to have indicted Nixon directly." Odd, students in my class have read the essay in question and find it biased against Nixon and bordering upon non scholarship. We have a problem here.

    Stephanie Coopman provides yet another example in her essay, "On the Stoop: An Invitation to The American Communication Journal's Virtual Front Porch." She highlighted "The Separation Of Church And State Homepage" as an example of legitimate activist scholarship. Her label of activist was directed primarily at the form of transmission the "scholarly knowledge" assumed. However, I call attention to the scholarship itself: decidedly left-wing. Tom Peters, who runs the page, is a Professor of Communication at the University of Louisville. He and his colleagues take the recent and left-wing view of church/state separation, and clearly intend their scholarship to be used for political ends when they boldly declare the web pages as, "Your source for defending Church/State separation in the 1990s!"

    Voting Records Of Faculty/Administrators

    The above given examples are indicative of the left-wing hegemony in our discipline and higher education in general. One can also see this when reviewing voter registration of faculty. For example, the Cornell Review analyzed public voter registration records of professors at Cornell and several other universities, and the results clearly prove the left-wing supremacy of the faculty.

    In total, registered Democrats outpolled registered Republicans 171 to 7 in seven of the larger and more popular liberal arts departments at Cornell: History, Government, English, African Studies, Women's Studies, Economics, Psychology, Anthropology, and Sociology.5

    Its no better at Dartmouth. In 1996, student reporters investigated only the departments of English, Government, History, Philosophy and Religion, on the grounds that the politics of physicists and chemists don't really affect their teaching. Transforming the figures into percentages, we learn that:
    --62 percent of those who teach economics are registered as Democrats and 6 percent as Republicans (others listed themselves as independents).

    --In English, 78 percent are Democrats, 6 percent Republicans.

    --In Government, 90 percent Democrats, zero percent Republicans.

    --History? Eighty-three percent Democrats, zero percent Republicans.

    --Religion: 83 percent Democrats, zero Republicans.

    --And, in the mother of learning, philosophy, we have 100 percent Democrats.6

    Some of you may be thinking that party affiliation does not reflect voting. Well, I contest that assumption for academics. Let us look at recent elections in Hanover, NH where most of the Dartmouth faculty and administrators live: Republicans won every race district wide, except that for Governor. However, if the township of Hanover were to have decided all of the races, then Democrats would have won every single race by a wide margin. These results are not uncommon.

    "Activist" Transmission

    Of course, after the problem of "scholarly bias" is addressed, we must think of how our findings will be disseminated to the general public. Here is where the notion of Rouge scholarship really comes into play, but it is also here that one must consider the medium through which most of the research may find itself being filtered to the public: the media. Unfortunately, there are problems here as well.

    In "The Joys of Covering Press Releases," John Leo tells of how some reporters manipulate studies in order to put a correct political spin on the results. He specifically cited how a reporter for the New York Times put the spin on a Federal Reserve Bank study that focused upon charges of racial discrimination in mortgage lending. According to Leo, the "bank released numbers showing that among applicants with good credit histories, blacks and Hispanics were approved for mortgages about as often as whites. But blacks and Hispanics with bad credit histories got mortgages 81.19 percent of the time, compared with 89.62 percent of poor-credit whites."7

    However, the "New York Times's story on the report led this way: 'White mortgage applicants with bad credit histories were only half as likely to be rejected for loans as black or Hispanic applicants with similar credit records."8 Since the reporter did not include the original finding in his story, readers could not see the faulty logic for themselves. Neither did the reporter attempt to relay the Federal Reserve's explanation for the 8.43 difference between poor-credit blacks and whites.

    I think John Leo raises a concern that Rouge Scholars cannot ignore. The media will distort your results for their own ends. How might the results be distorted? One may easily assume to the political Left. David Gergen, an editor for U.S. News & World Report , writing about media coverage of the 996 campaigns, stated:

    Despite promises of more-balanced coverage, press attention to
    this year's campaign already is off track. The nonpartisan Center
    for Media and Public Affairs, studying the evening network news in
    the first two months of the campaign this year, found that
    evaluations of the Republican candidates were 61 percent negative.
    The press nailed the candidates for negative ads; but in fact, the
    press ran more negative comments about them than the candidates
    made about each other.9

    Of course, there are many such examples. Another report in U.S. News & World Report stated:

    There is reason to worry that the cultural chasm between the
    majority of Americans and the Washington media is widening. A
    survey taken for U.S. News in the spring of 1995 found that 50
    percent of voters thought the news media are strongly or somewhat
    in conflict with their goals, while only 40 percent thought the
    media are strongly or somewhat friendly to their goals. This was
    the worst approval rating of any group measured--even lower than
    the ratings for elected officials and lawyers.

    A 1995 survey by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press confirmed the widening divide. More than half of the public said homosexuality should be discouraged; 8 out of 10 national journalists said homosexuality should be accepted. Two out of five Americans said they attend church or synagogue regularly, compared with only 1 out of 5 national journalists. Thirty-nine percent of Americans said they were politically conservative, compared with 5 percent of national journalists.10

    Michael Barone, writing in The American Enterprise stated:

    Mainline journalism is by no means reliably pro-Democratic, as
    Clinton White House staffers will attest, but it is reliably
    anti-Republican. The Center for Media and Public Affairs
    documented that in the fall 1994 campaigns the three major
    networks gave Newt Gingrich 100 percent negative coverage. If
    journalism's reputation for liberalism, combined with the
    industry's drive for "multicultural" hiring, keeps driving away
    conservatives and attracting liberals, there will soon be
    problems. Problems with the quality and accuracy of news coverage,
    and problems with audience rebellion. I will not be surprised if in
    perhaps a dozen years the owners of our mass media may finally
    have to take on the newsroom cultures to prevent the destruction of
    otherwise exceedingly valuable financial assets. That would mean
    installing tough, objective-minded editors. . . . And it would mean
    taking affirmative actions to hire Republicans, conservative Christians,
    | and others now vastly under-represented in newsrooms.11

    Lynne Cheney, also writing for The American Enterprise, put the problem of press bias into extremely concrete terms:

    When the Washington Post's ombudsman examined the pictures,
    headlines, and news stories that ran in her newspaper during the
    concluding 73 days of the 1992 campaign, she calculated that
    nearly five times as many were negative for Bush as for Clinton.
    Throughout 1992, Bush received the worst press of any candidate,
    with more than 70 percent of his sound bites on network television
    news being negative. Over the same period, a majority of the
    comments about Bill Clinton were favorable. (This disparity was
    even greater in the major newspapers we studied.)12

    Lest you think that these reports somehow err, we ought to take a look at print journalist's self-descriptions, provided courtesy of the Media Research Center on the Web:

    Lichter and Rothman survey, 1980:

    Los Angeles Times survey, 1985:
    56%--very to somewhat liberal/18%--very to somewhat conservative

    Times Mirror survey, 1995 (after increasing public charges of liberal bias)

    General public (c.1996):

    This liberalism shows itself in the voting records of the media. A Roper Center survey found that a mere 2 percent of all major-media bureau chiefs and political reporters based in Washington described themselves as conservative; moreover, 89 percent voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, compared to just 7 percent for George Bush. Compare that to the 43/38 percent split among the overall American public.

    Scholarship We Do Not See From The Academy

    I hope I have raised several issues by now. First, Rouge scholars must consider the other side of what constitutes "activist scholarship." Second, Rouge scholars must ask themselves what happens to their research results if transmitted through the press? Third, Rouge scholars must ask themselves what type of scholarship the academy is willing to accept.

    Let us linger on this last question. For example, I pointed out above a web page highlighting separation of church and state. The efforts of Tom Peters is supposed to be "valid" scholarship. However, what about scholarship on the opposite side of the coin: David Barton, for example; does he count? He leads Wall Builders, a not for-profit organization that advances the traditional understanding of church/state separation: that Congress shall not establish a National Church. You might consider Barton the antithesis to Tom Peters.

    Another example is a subject you will rarely find studied in the hollowed halls of the academy: reparative therapy for homosexuals. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) is a "non-profit psychoanalytic, educational organization dedicated to research, therapy and prevention of homosexuality. Its composed of psychoanalysts, psychoanalytically informed psychologists, certified social workers, and other behavioral scientists, as well as laymen in fields such as law, religion, and education. NARTH maintains that it is ethically acceptable for a psychologist to--hold the scientifically informed, professional opinion that homosexuality is:

    --a developmental disorder

    --a treatable condition associated with a higher-than-average level of both medical risks and psychopathology

    --reveal to the client his scientifically informed, professional opinion.

    --enter a client-therapist relationship focused on the diminishing of unwanted homosexual symptoms and the enhancement of heterosexual responsiveness, when the client so chooses."

    I ask you: Does NARTH count? What of academic studies such as published by The Heritage Foundation?

    Final Thoughts

    We should engage in scholarship, not political partisanship. We should be about introducing knowledge for disputants to draw upon; we should not be fostering social change in a direction of a particular scholar's choosing. Too often political partisanship in the academy turns into urban-liberal agitation-propaganda. If scholars in our discipline wish to engage in such they should leave the academy. For as they seek political change they borrow from the credibility of the academy. As they do this, they rent the fabric that binds the university and the community it serves, for the community sees the university's mission as education, not politics. We should be professors, not pundits. Along the same lines, Rouge scholars have a rather large concern as well. As many of us move away from more traditional norms of disseminating our research, both in form and channel, the public may also react by questioning the legitimacy of what we do and the universities at which we work. In the end, would not that defeat the entire enterprise?


    1. Raymond K. Tucker, Richard L. Weaver, II, and Cynthia Berryman-Fink,
    Research in Speech Communication (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
    Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981) 7. Certainly all four apply to those within the
    social sciences; I believe most critics would eschew the notion of
    universality, however.

    2. There are nine editorials, beginning with 79.4 (November 1993) and
    concluding with 81.4 (November 1995). Incredibly, to date, they have
    received little critical attention.

    3. Robert L. Ivie, "A Question of Significance," Quarterly Journal of Speech
    80.4 (1994).

    4. Robert L. Ivie, "The Social Relevance of Rhetorical Scholarship,"
    Quarterly Journal of Speech 81.2 (1994). Emphasis mine.

    5. John Lee, Campus, (Spring 1996): 10-11.

    6. William F. Buckley,Valley News 1996.

    7. John Leo, "The Joys of Covering Press Releases," U.S. News and World

    Report (19 August 1996) 16.

    8. Leo 16.

    9. David Gergen,U.S. News & World Report, April 22, 1996, p. 80

    10. U.S. News & World Report, (13 May 1996): 40. The Times Mirror Center for

    the People and the Press recently changed its name to the Pew Center.

    11. Michael Barone, The American Enterprise (March/April 1996): 30.

    12. Lynne Cheney,The American Enterprise, (April/ May 1996): 37.