How out of touch is academia?

By Michael Medved

Did the American press display shameful bias in its coverage of the 9-11 attacks? Did our leading journalists demonstrate a lack of balance by painting a one-dimensionally negative view of the terrorists? Did they fail in their responsibilities by refusing to emphasize America’s blame for the savage assaults on its soil?

These inane questions provide the chief focus for a laughably ludicrous research project by a distinguished professor at the University of Washington. David Domke of the Communications Department, winner of some of the university’s highest teaching awards, enlisted the assistance of three graduate students to analyze the contents of five issues of Time and Newsweek in the weeks following the Sept. 11 mass murders.

He then presented the results of this research at a Miami conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The official summary of this paper indicted the press because it “minimized the voices of opposition and instead focused on American unity,” “shifted the blame away from the U.S.” and, worst of all, “demonized the enemy.”

Professor Domke never explains how you “demonize” an enemy who is, after all, utterly demonic: How do you make the brutal slaughter of 3,000 innocents by 19 suicidal fanatics sound worse than it truly was? As to shifting “the blame away from the U.S.,” he obviously believes that any objective observer, not compromised by participation in some conspiratorial cover-up, naturally would have fingered the nation under assault by bloodthirsty terrorists as the true guilty party.

What seems to bother the professor most intently is the patriotic response to that assault, even by elite journalists. He specifically decries “industry economic pressures and the need to engage the public” which “likely encouraged the news media to echo nationalist sentiment. Consider, for example, the number of news outlets that incorporated the colors of red, white and blue into their promotions during the period.”

In other words, the editors and writers of Time and Newsweek deserve censure because they, unlike enlightened academics like Professor Domke, consider themselves part of the nation in which they work and live. “Most journalists at U.S. news outlets are American citizens and likely to possess many of the same cultural values and beliefs that others in the nation possess,” he sniffs. “Any reporting they do is filtered by this cultural perspective.”

The real question for researchers and teachers like Professor Domke is: Why do prominent faculty members at publicly funded universities lack the same perspective? In a recent radio interview with this popular teacher, I posed precisely that challenge in the name of the hardworking taxpayers who pay his salary and sustain the gigantically expensive institution at which he works. In response, Domke insisted that tax funds paid for only a small portion of the university’s operating budget – pointing out that this percentage of public funding amounted to less than 15 percent.

Of course, the huge overall cost of operating a public university still means that the taxpayers – including those who will never send a student to the institution – pay handsomely for the privilege of employing faculty like Professor Domke. The state’s general fund contributes nearly $300 million a year to keep the University of Washington afloat, amounting to more than $100 for every state household, year after year.

If academics remain blissfully unaware of the ultimate source of their salaries and perks, it’s hardly surprising that they feel so little obligation to reflect the “cultural perspective” of those who cover the costs.

Domke specifically demands greater diversity in journalism – though it’s hard to imagine where reporters could have turned in the United States to get a more favorable, less demonized view of the terrorists after 9-11. “I would encourage journalists to seek out and pay attention to non-government opinion leaders,” Domke declares. “These individuals are still within the culture, which I think makes them realistic sources, but they have a range of viewpoints that won’t be found in government.”

We should all feel more concerned about those “range of viewpoints” that won’t be found in elite universities – viewpoints that reflect the common sense, decency and traditional values of the ordinary Americans who sweat and sacrifice to pay the bills.