Factor Investigation: A No Spin Look at the Print Media

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Feb. 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight, a no-spin look at the print media.

The prevailing wisdom is that the nation's largest city newspapers are liberal in their editorial viewpoint, and, overwhelmingly, that is true. And here's the proof:

We analyzed the 10 highest circulation local papers, concentrating on their op-ed columnists, and it breaks down this way.

The New York Times has four liberal columnists, one conservative. The L.A. Times has three liberals, one conservative. The New York Daily News has five liberals, one conservative. The Washington Post has an astounding 11 liberal columnists and four conservatives. The New York Post is the opposite, zero liberals and 10 conservatives. The Chicago Tribune has six liberals, just one conservative. The Houston Chronicle has two liberals, no conservatives. The Boston Globe pays four liberals to write on the op- ed page, one conservative. And The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has three liberals, no conservatives.

An interesting footnote: The Atlanta paper recently dropped my syndicated column after I criticized the editorial director for using personal attacks. In this analysis, however, we didn't count syndicated columnists, just local people.

Joining us now from Mountainview, California, Bob Kohn, the author of the book "Journalistic Fraud," and from San Francisco, Debra Saunders, a conservative columnist for the Chronicle. That paper also has one liberal op-ed columnist and Debra, who's a conservative.

So your paper in San Francisco pretty much the most fair of all of them. That just stuns me.

DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST: The most balanced paper.

O'REILLY: Yes, it is. But I have the percentages here.

SAUNDERS: According to your stats.

O'REILLY: Well, my stats -- these stats are solid. You can take these to the bank. We analyze it. We know these stats are absolutely rock solid. So it's about 4-1 liberal against conservatives. What do you think about that, Debra?

SAUNDERS: Well, actually, I mean, in a way, you're generous by just looking at opinion page columnists, because, if you look at the date book section of papers and you look at the editorials themselves and if you read, you know, certainly some of the bent of the stories, you're going to see that people in this business are overwhelmingly liberal, and while they might...

O'REILLY: Now why does -- why does the left deny that? Because they do. They continue to say, oh, the conservative media now at Fox and -- where it's so overwhelming to the left in the print media. Why -- you know, shouldn't they be happy?

SAUNDERS: You know, look it, among -- among colleagues, they'll say, of course, most journalists are liberals, smart people are liberal, and then they'll...

And, by the way, I don't want to sound whiny about it because there are a lot of conservatives in talk radio and I really do believe that people can learn what they need from a newspaper because there is enough variety that it comes out. Is it balanced? No, it isn't.

And it's funny because this is an industry that's always looking for diversity, but not diversity of opinion to the extent that it should.

O'REILLY: You bet. You bet.

How do you see it, Mr. Kohn?

BOB KOHN, AUTHOR, "JOURNALISTIC FRAUD": Well, you can look at it two ways. You know, clearly, a lot of these editorial pages have a low tolerance for disagreement with opinion with their own editorials, so they tend to have the op-ed pages agree with their opinions.

But, you know, Bill, at the end of your show, you read e-mails from your listeners, and if you only read the e-mails that agreed with you, I think you'd be providing a pretty skewed view of public opinion of your show.

So perhaps one criticism here is that these newspapers are providing a skewed view of public opinion about their own views on the editorial page.

O'REILLY: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it. But here's the danger: The newspapers set the agenda for the television people, so all the television locals -- San Francisco or Atlanta or Houston or whatever -- they read the newspaper, and then they take their cue from it.

KOHN: That's right.

O'REILLY: So, therefore, it bleeds on over. You're right about talk radio, Debra, but it bleeds on over to the local television into the sense, well, if everybody says it, it must be right, and...

KOHN: Yes, but I...

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

KOHN: Bill, I don't think that's as big of a problem. I do totally agree with you that it does help set the agenda for the rest of the mainstream media, but I don't think that's as big a problem as when they slant their news on the news pages.

Remember, this is still opinion here, and, as has been said, you know, you have talk radio, you have the Internet, the front page of Drudge, you have your "Talking Points," you have cable news providing an alternative means of changing the agenda, and that's the good news. That alternative media is...

O'REILLY: Yes, but it -- there's a...

KOHN: ... changing that agenda.

O'REILLY: In this country...

SAUNDERS: Did I interject?

O'REILLY: Debra, in this country, there's a group think, all right. If the alert viewer who's watching "“The Factor”" right now, who reads the newspaper are in a minority, all right?

Most people don't read the newspaper and they don't watch "“The Factor”" and they go through life watching "Entertainment Tonight," and they pick up little things here and there, and the group think, I think, hurts the country.


SAUNDERS: Let's talk about the other problem because there -- you marginalize conservatives when you -- when the people that you end up hiring to write for your op-ed page aren't on the payroll, but they work for a think tank.

So you have a bunch of people hired by newspapers to write for the opinion pages, and they're journalists. They know what journalists are supposed to do. They vet their stuff, and they're good.

And then who represents the right? Somebody who works for a think tank that a corporation gives money to. I'm not trying to put down anybody individually. But then newspaper people will look at the other stuff and the quality isn't as good because it's not done by a journalist...

O'REILLY: Yes, but I think...

SAUNDERS: ... and so...

O'REILLY: That's inside baseball, though. I mean, the folks are getting a group think approach, and that's what worries me in this country, is that they hear things and they believe those things because they hear them over and over.

Look, when The Washington Post has 11 liberal columnists -- 11 -- and The New York Times has four and only one conservative, Brooks, who's not even that much of a conservative, OK, then you get a pounding Social Security -- and just on that issue alone, pound, pound, pound, and the propaganda value of having so many columnists from the left is overwhelming.

I'll give you guys 30 seconds to sum up. Bob, you go first.

KOHN: Sure. Well, I think I agree with you that there is a problem here when a newspaper uses not only its editorial page, its op-ed pages, and I think also their news pages to influence public opinion. They shouldn't be doing that. They should reserve that for the editorial page, and I think that you have to use your op-ed page to show a diversity of views...

O'REILLY: Yes, they should be.

KOHN: ... so that you don't get into that group think...

SAUNDERS: That's right.

KOHN: ... I totally agree.

O'REILLY: OK, Debra, 30 seconds.

SAUNDERS: And when things are skewed, what happens is liberal looks like it's mainstream because so many of the columnists are liberal. So that must be mainstream.

O'REILLY: That's right. That's absolutely right.

SAUNDERS: And that's the problem with it. That's a problem.

O'REILLY: Right. OK. And that's why the FOX News Channel has been so successful, because we are different. We're more traditional and take a more measured look and not this politically correct stuff.

Now I want all the viewers -- you take that to the bank. It is absolutely rock solid. We did our research on this. What we told you is true, and there's no question about it.

Debra, Bob, thanks very much.

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