Issues of Scholarly and Media Bias in the Public Consumption of Elite
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 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.
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
--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
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
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
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
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
--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?
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
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
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
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
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.