What’s wrong with the press in America? Well, ask the folks at the
Columbia Journalism Review, considered by some the most prestigious
media monitor in the country, and they would undoubtedly tell you there
are too many right-wing activists in control.
Take the January-February 1999 edition of CJR, for example. It
contains a huge hit piece on what it dubs, “The worst newspaper in
Anyone want to guess what the worst newspaper in America is? The
Daily Oklahoman, which, of course, according to CJR, is a rabid, racist,
right-wing, extremist rag with ugly graphics and ad rates that are too
That last part reminds me of the old Catskills’ joke: “I hate that
restaurant. The food is lousy — and such small portions!”
In other words, why should a journalism critic care about how high ad
rates are in a paper he detests? You would think this would be a
blessing. If a newspaper charges more than the market will bear for ads,
that newspaper will not be in business very long. Thus, the problem of
the worst newspaper in America would be solved the old-fashioned way —
by the free market.
But, you see, this is not the case at all. It turns out the people of
Oklahoma are perfectly willing to pay these rates deemed exorbitant by
the author — one Bruce Selcraig, a former U.S. Senate staffer and a
writer for Sports Illustrated. What does Selcraig know about ad rates?
Well, he knows the Daily Oklahoman is charging higher rates per thousand
than the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News. Yet, the formula
must be working, as Selcraig also decries the fact that the paper is
making profits exceeding 20 percent. Imagine that. The paper must be
forcing people to buy ads at gunpoint.
Economics aside, Selcraig’s biggest beef is the fact that the Daily
Oklahoman is a conservative paper. It really bugs him — and the entire
CJR establishment, which makes a habit of scouring the country in search
of journalists who march to the beat of a different drummer. Though they
preach “diversity” and “tolerance,” they really can’t stand it when
anyone disagrees with them.
I was a target myself a few years ago when I served as
editor-in-chief of the Sacramento Union in California. Here’s how it
works. Disgruntled employees, usually those who were terminated for
cause, are interviewed. Ex-government officials who were run out of
office by exposes in the paper are interviewed. Then there are the
anonymous sources, which are usually quotes made up out of whole cloth
to help make the story read better.
When the dirty work is all done and the story is already sitting in
type in the composing room, CJR calls the editor or owner for comments.
When they called me, I said: “Hey, you want a good story? I’ll give
you a good story. Why don’t you let me have my say about the paper right
next to your attack piece? That’s called balance. Debate is
intellectually stimulating. A journalism review should try to get people
Well, they almost bought it.
“I’ll tell you what,” the CJR editor said, “we’ll give you 300 words
and let you have your say.”
300 words! This column, for those of you who don’t count words for a
living, is 750. But I was being given 300 words to defend my life,
explain the mission of my paper and fend off a vicious attack by the
fascist, national government-media complex.
Needless to say, it was a slam-dunk. CJR must have learned from that
experience, because it didn’t give the Daily Oklahoman editors a chance
to fight back.
As pure propaganda, the critique of the Oklahoman is devastating. But
when you analyze what it actually says, there’s no there there.
For example, the piece directs much of its venom toward Patrick
McGuigan who runs the editorial pages. McGuigan is derided for calling
“Ed Meese the finest attorney general of his lifetime.” Yeah? So what?
No doubt McGuigan would be given a pass had he made such a comment about
Janet Reno. McGuigan is also taken to task for paying heed to sources
such as “the anti-regulation, anti-labor, anti-abortion zealotry” of
groups such as the Family Research Council, Christian Coalition, Eagle
Forum, American Family Association, etc.
And that really explains how CJR rates newspapers. Do they toe the
politically correct lines? Yes — Good newspaper. No — Bad newspaper.
That’s all you need to know about the professional and ethical standards
of the Columbia Journalism Review — easily the worst journalism review