GOP lawmaker on a mission to purge 'progressive' from news stories

Reporters are used to getting emails and tweets from readers who take issue with their work.

But it's a bit more unusual when the reader sending the critique is a member of Congress.

Enter Lamar Smith -- the longtime Texas Republican congressman who, it turns out, has been on a quiet mission for years to personally flag what he sees as examples of "bias" to reporters. Lately, he's been snail-mailing letters scolding journalists for using the term "progressive" instead of "liberal" in their news stories. 

The letter-writing campaign went public earlier this month -- when a congressional reporter for the conservative Weekly Standard, a frequent recipient of these notes, posted Smith's correspondence on Twitter.

Haley Byrd tweeted the Feb. 6 letter from Smith, saying he mailed her the missive along with a copy of an article she wrote on a Senate vote over an abortion ban.

“As the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Media Fairness Caucus, I regularly look for examples of the liberal media’s bias and ways to counter it,” Smith wrote. “A different kind of bias in inadvertently engaged in by conservative journalists.”

Smith’s beef was with Byrd’s use of the term “progressive” to describe “liberal” Democrats. He highlighted the term in a yellow highlighter pen in the accompanying article.

“The term ‘progressive’ comes from the word ‘progress,’ which has a positive connotation,” Smith's letter, printed on congressional stationery, said. “Conservatives should not play into liberals’ hands by allowing them to reinvent themselves as ‘progressives’ since they know ‘liberal’ is a perjorative term.”

Byrd tweeted that she was particularly amused by the fact he apparently crossed out “Ms. Byrd” at the top of the letter and wrote “Haley.”

Smith also chairs the House science committee, but apparently sends the letters in his capacity as a leader of the media fairness caucus. He also briefly worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor in the 1970s.

Byrd was not the only one given a slap on the wrist.

Senior writer John McCormack also was sent a congressional scolding for his single use of “progressive” in an article he wrote on the purging of pro-lifers from the Democratic Party. In the accompanying printed article, “progressive” was again highlighted in yellow pen, and McCormack’s last name was crossed out in the letter and replaced with the more familiar, “John.”

Colleague Jim Swift told Fox News the magazine has received a number of such letters over the past few years -- and extended sympathy to any staffer who may have had to type the letter on Smith’s behalf.

“As a former staffer myself, this must be a really depressing job. Ideally, young people go to work in Congress because they want to make a difference,” Swift said. “I'm not sure cranking out this form letter and mailing it to journalists is probably what this person had hoped their career [would] bring.”

A Fox News reporter received a similar letter last month, relating to the same use of the word “progressive” in a story.

In a written statement, Smith told Fox News that he stands by his letters. He said the point was to remind conservative journalists that they are “playing into the hands of the liberal opposition when they use the words of the oppositions’ choice.”

“I write conservative writers whenever their use of liberals’ language comes to my attention. As we know, whoever defines the terms wins the debate,” Smith said.

“When conservatives use words and phrases like ‘progressive’ instead of ‘liberal’ and ‘mainstream media’ instead of ‘liberal media’ it gives the opposition a patina of reasonableness that they don’t deserve. And that makes it much harder to win the war of ideas and convince the American people of the rightness of our cause.”