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DO THE NEWS MEDIA REFLECT BIAS TOWARD THE POLITICAL LEFT?

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Question: Are the media biased in favor of liberals?

BETSY HART: Is the pope Catholic? C'mon, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the media are overwhelmingly tilted to the left.

Conservatives may have quite a presence on opinion pages, but so what? They are titled "opinion" so nobody gets confused. Where the rubber meets the road is what's in - or not in - the news sections.

There, bias is clear. Routinely the media give credence to "reports" and "studies" that favor the liberal position on everything from secondhand smoke to the environment to abortion to the federal budget to sexual harassment, etc. But when folks not espousing the liberal view of the world meet much higher standards of scientific inquiry or sound data or investigative reporting or credible witnesses, they are routinely ignored or scoffed at.

Some polls routinely show that 80 percent to 90 percent of folks in the media are Democrats. It's not hard to see how that could influence reporting.

No, the question is not "Are the media biased" but "Does it matter?" By and large, it doesn't anymore. (After all, the Republican Congress and Newt Gingrich were vilified by the media this election season, but the GOP still controls Congress and Bob Dole came a lot closer to winning than some people expected.)

The fact is, there are so many news outlets now and more springing up every day - cable television, talk radio, the Internet - the networks and major newspapers no longer have monopoly or a captive audience. It's about time.

BONNIE ERBE: If any but the most ardent ultra-conservative agrees with my colleague's assertions, that person needs to crawl out of the cave she has been inhabiting these past 10 years or more. Rush Limbaugh, George Will, William Buckley, Diane Sawyer, Brit Hume, Phyllis Schlafly and other conservatives dominate the airwaves and op-ed pages.

And the people the media love to point to as liberal, such as Larry King, Michael Kinsley, Sam Donaldson, Ellen Goodman and Bob Beckel, are mush-mouthed, mainstreamers compared with their flaming ultra-conservative counterparts.

One Republican once told me her party is at its best when Republicans are "out." That's because Republicans are better at complaining than governing. Their favorite target is the media. They will go on howling about how unfair press coverage was until all reporters hit the campaign trail themselves and start stumping for the Christian Coalition. Until then, disaffected conservatives will keep on grouching about the mean old media.

They ignore the fact the "liberal" media brought out the many scandals that hurt the Clinton administration in this past round of voting. It wasn't Republicans but that bastion of liberalism, The Los Angeles Times, that broke the first story about illegal fund-raising techniques by the Democratic National Committee. It was that other left-wing rag, The New York Times, that brought Whitewater to the national scene.

There are, however, rightful concerns about media coverage. Former Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell has several legitimate gripes. And the broadcast networks should be roundly berated for forecasting results before polls closed in the West.

But partisan reporting in favor of Democrats? That claim is just vintage complaining by sore losers.