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ARE MEDIA BIASED OR BALANCED? 65% OF VOTERS BELIEVE THE LATTER

SHARE ARE MEDIA BIASED OR BALANCED? 65% OF VOTERS BELIEVE THE LATTER

Today I'm writing as a member of the biased liberal media and cultural elite.

Everywhere I've turned the past couple of weeks, I've seen stories about how unfair political reporters are to conservatives. Several watchdog groups are keeping tabs on how often television reporters make remarks favoring Bill Clinton instead of President Bush. Newspaper reporters aren't even being watched, apparently; they are just assumed to be part of a liberal conspiracy pushing its agenda on unsuspecting Americans.If the American media have a liberal bias, American voters are clearly ignoring it. Conservatives have held the White House for 20 of the past 24 years.

But the complaints raise perfectly legitimate issues of fairness. Believe it or not, journalists worry all the time about whether they're being fair. It's one of the basic tenets of the profession.

I'm not going to defend all reporters - or even myself - as always fair. We're not. We're human. And worst of all, many of us make a living by shooting from the hip, writing on deadline or speaking live on the air.

Personally, I have been shocked by some of the editorial comments that network reporters toss into their political news stories. I've seen big-name newspapers publish stories during this election season that I thought were unfair and not newsworthy. My own stories have been criticized, too, although interestingly, the complaints have come from both sides.

Media watchdog groups use the word "balance" as the opposite of "bias." Robert Lichter, a founder of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, wrote recently that his analysis of on-air comments - from reporters, anchors and the people quoted in sound bites - showed that Clinton was praised by 45 percent of all sources, compared to 31 percent for Bush. Al Gore got 75 percent favorable comments to 37 percent for Dan Quayle.

"The president may well deserve more negative evaluation than his opponent," Lichter concluded. "If our results do not necessarily demonstrate media bias, however, they certainly show a lack of balance."

Sorry, but people and their opinions do not fall neatly into a 50-50 balance. The job of reporters is to tell what's really happening, not to find a favorable comment to offset every negative.

Thirty-seven percent favorable comments for Quayle sounds to me like an accurate reflection of reality. Do more than 37 percent of the people you know like Quayle?

I will never forget a town meeting in Exeter, N.H., last winter with about 300 Republicans who had been specially invited to see the president. As I worked the crowd, asking opinions, I had to hunt for someone who would say something nice about George Bush, and Bush was standing in the room.

Just when I was really getting defensive about the maligning of the media, I stumbled across a new ABC/Washington Post poll. Despite the watchdogs who say the media are biased, 65 percent of the voters surveyed said the media's presidential coverage has been good or excellent, and 65 percent said it has been balanced.

Bush and Clinton should have such favorable ratings.