The Times shouldn't have much influence, because its readership is so small, about a million people a day (compared to the networks' 30 million viewers), and I assume readers who reach, say, page A16 total only a few thousand. Yet The Times matters more because other media copy it, sycophantically. When I worked at WCBS-TV, the editor clipped articles from that morning's Times, assigned us a camera crew, and said, "Do that." The newscast was a video version of the Times. That's how bias in the Times becomes bias in other media.
On Aug. 19, 2000, the front page of the Times featured a picture of the North Pole; the accompanying story said: "The North Pole is melting. The thick ice that has for ages covered the Arctic Ocean at the pole has turned to water … something that has presumably never before been seen by humans and is more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate."
Ten days later the Times apologized, saying it "misstated the normal conditions of the sea ice there. A clear spot has probably opened at the pole before, scientists say, because about 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean is clear of ice in a typical summer."
But by then the Washington Post, USA Today, The Associated Press, NPR, American TV networks, Canadian TV, and papers in London had repeated the story. NBC Nightly News talked about "a mile-wide stretch of water where ice should be." CNN said the ice cap "is losing its ice." CNN, CBS, and Canadian TV interviewed the same "global warming expert" who was quoted by the Times.
The Times helps create the climate where I work (in network TV) and live (on the Upper West Side of Manhattan). People say "conservative" the way they say "child molester." It's the worst thing to be called. Everyone here agrees: Conservatives are repressive, uptight, fearful of new things, and above all, indifferent to the suffering of the poor. People here talk about the "far right, extreme right, hard right, religious right, unapologetic right," but never about a "left." What you might call "the left" doesn't exist in my neighborhood. It's just enlightened thinking to favor more safety and environmental rules, tougher gun control, abortion on demand, and higher taxes to fund good-government projects.
Anyone who disagrees is seen as not just wrong, but selfish and cruel. Leftist thinking is simply the culture I swim in. More safety regulation? Who could not want that? Everyone I know wants that. When I question other reporters about bias, I get blank stares. It's like asking fish about water. "What water?" say the fish.
This media climate helps explain why some people call me "that conservative on ABC." I'm hardly what I would call conservative. I happen to think consenting adults should be able to do just about anything they want. I think prostitution should be permitted. (If quarterbacks and boxers make money with their bodies, why can't a woman make money with hers?) I believe homosexuality is perfectly natural, that the drug war should be ended, that flag-burning and foul language should be tolerated, and most abortion should be legal. This is conservative? Real conservatives should be insulted.
But the mainstream media are tilted so far to the left that they call me conservative.
I guess they call me that because I believe the free market is a good thing, but what's conservative about the market? It's unplanned, unpredictable, scary, noisy. "Libertarian" is a better term for my beliefs. But it's a lousy word. People think it means "libertine," and the Libertarian Party has had flaky people like Howard Stern run for office. Maybe "classical liberal" is a better term for what I am. Liberals were originally the ones who advocated freedom and tolerance.