Kirby Delauter vs. The Liberal Media (Updated)

Have you heard of Kirby Delauter?

Until Tuesday, the only place I’d seen his name was on political posters stuck in people’s yards. (I don’t live in Frederick County, Maryland, so I’ve had neither the opportunity to vote for/against the guy, nor the obligation to learn anything about him. I just drive through the county every so often.)

Now, however, I’ve seen the Frederick Councilman’s name (Kirby Delauter) on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the Washington Post, BBC News, NPR, and of course, The Frederick News-Post. It (the name “Kirby Delauter”) is lots of other places too. In its now-famous editorial titled “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter,” the Frederick News-Post sums up the situation:

Knowing Councilman Kirby Delauter as we do, we weren’t surprised that he threatened The Frederick News-Post with a lawsuit because we had, he says — and we’re not making this up — been putting Kirby Delauter’s name in the paper without Kirby Delauter’s authorization. Attorneys would be called, Kirby Delauter said.

In fact, we spent quite some time laughing about it. Kirby Delauter, an elected official; Kirby Delauter, a public figure? Surely, Kirby Delauter can’t be serious? Kirby Delauter’s making a joke, right?

The editorial goes on in the most hilarious fashion for a couple of paragraphs. (The 13 paragraphs in the piece, by the way, are each started with a letter that, together, spell out the forbidden name: “Kirby Delauter.”) They include great stuff like:

Maybe we should just put his initials, “KD,” with an asterisk to a footnote (KD*), or refer to him as GLAT, the acronym for his campaign: “Govern Like A Taxpayer.” We could even make it sound a little hip-hop with a well-placed hyphen: G-Lat. Speaking of, could we get away with “K-Del”?

And:

We found a great automatic online anagrammer that generated all kinds of alternatives and could make it a challenge for our readers to decode each time we have to reference the councilman: “Rebuked artily.” That was a good one. “Bakery diluter” is just silly but does have a ring about it. “Keyed rural bit” was another that caught our eye as somewhat telling, because Kirby Delauter’s pretty keyed up. We’re sure there’s a joke in “Brutelike Yard” somewhere.

The whole situation is just delightfully absurd. I giggled my way through the first half of the editorial. (Note: Kirby Delauter has now apologized.)

The second half, however, is where things get serious. It’s where the Frederick News Post counters the motivation behind Kirby Delauter’s idiotic attempt to prevent the paper from using his name:

Discernibly, though, Kirby Delauter’s ignorance of what journalism is and does is no joke, and illustrates one disturbing aspect too prevalent in conservatives’ beliefs: That the media are all-liberal stooges hell bent on pursuing some fictional leftwing agenda. Generally this “fact” is bleated when the facts on the ground differ from conservative talking points.

This, of course, is where I stopped giggling. Because I’m a conservative. As delightfully absurd as fools like Kirby Delauter can seem at first glance, it’s really not much fun when my side is represented by people like him.

Moreover, I think liberal bias in the media is a very real thing.

I’m no conspiracy theorist; I don’t think there’s some formal leftwing agenda that’s imposed on every news outlet in the country except for Fox News. I think the vast majority of reporters and editors share a similar worldview. And – surprise, surprise – I think that worldview is reflected in how they cover the news.

When I was in high school, I was involved in a competition (I’ll reveal my dorkiness by admitting it was for academic teams) that my school won. I lived in a socially divided county, however, where the poorer, blacker schools (including my own) were looked down upon by the wealthier, whiter schools. So when my team (Aberdeen) won this competition, our county newspaper reported the story not as “Aberdeen wins academic team competition,” but as “Bel Air earns second place in academic team competition.” The paper’s story was factual, but it was biased.

(You can be both, “facts on the ground” Frederick News Post – factual and biased.)

I think of that situation all the time as I listen to my beloved NPR and I read my Washington Post. There are many ways to tell a story, but I find, again and again, that most of the news outlets I follow do so in a way that reflects their liberal worldview.

What, to me, makes up “the liberal worldview?”

It’s the assumption that women are all of one mind when it comes to abortion and contraception, that women have a sacred right to those goods/services, and that those “reproductive rights” are as fundamental as the freedoms of speech or religion. (How long did it take for the media to finally, begrudgingly, begin to report on the Kermit Gosnell situation?)

It’s the disdain for those who uphold the value of traditional marriage, the intolerance of insisting that only conservatives need be tolerant of opposing views on the subject. (Seriously, take a look at the Washington Post’s coverage of gay marriage over the past few years – it’s as if it was indeed operating out of some coordinated playbook.)

It’s the characterization of conservative politicians as obstructionist troublemakers. Most in the media choose to operate from the (liberal) assumption that government is supposed to do more, while many conservatives start from the assumption that it should do less. The two sides just about speak a different language regarding what they want from government, but I tend to only hear the one language represented in the media. (I’ll note here that I actually disagree with many conservatives – certainly the tea party variety – on many such issues, but they have my sympathy for how they’re treated in the media. I can do that: I can disagree with people and still recognize that they’re portrayed unfairly.)

It’s the implication that conservatives are, as a rule, somehow less thoughtful than liberals. (Did you catch the disdain demonstrated by the Frederick News Post in that last paragraph I quoted?)

There are more issues to “the liberal worldview” than these, but I’ve opened quite enough cans of worms in this post already.

To be clear, I don’t yearn for a media that tells me exactly what I want to think. I don’t want a conservative media bias to replace the liberal one.

I want reporters to acknowledge that everyone looks at the world from a unique perspective, and that their own personal worldview can’t help but impact their reporting. I want editors to make themselves look at controversial subjects from opposing points of view, so as to bring more balance to their stories. I want reporters and editors to try to get to know those with whom they disagree. It’s hard to be impartial when you’re surrounded by people who think (and vote) the same way you do.

I would rather a media outlet be forthright about its political leanings than to pretend they don’t exist.

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I pay attention to the news. (For the most part, I stick to staid news outlets like NPR/PBS/BBC/WaPo/NYT, because I’d rather roll my eyes and harrumph once in a while at their liberal bias than to suffer blood pressure spikes from sensational newsmongers like Fox News.) So I witness the liberal media bias all the time. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve shouted a re-phrased version of a biased statement back at the radio/television/computer. And I can’t begin to describe my frustration that the conventional formula of a NPR talk radio program seems to be conservative guest + liberal guest + liberal reporter + liberal radio host, which is somehow supposed to equal the balanced presentation of an issue.

(Part of me wishes that I regularly wrote down such examples, to present to you now in some sort of lengthy indictment. But honestly, my SAHM hands are far too busy changing diapers and washing dishes to be engaged in that sort of thing.)

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When I worked as a lobbyist on the liberal side of things, advocating for policies and funding that helped the poor, I’d routinely strategize with colleagues from other organizations on how we could work together to, say, get X bill passed or preserve Y funding or raise Z awareness. Whenever the discussion turned to media strategies, people would start to suggest ways in which the media could help us. We’d discuss the pitches we could make to reporters, the news outlets that were most likely to run favorable stories, the editorial boards that would be most sympathetic, etc.

It never stopped shocking me.

Having come from a conservative background, it simply never occurred to me that one would go to reporters with policy proposals and ask for their help in advancing them. And I knew that the colleagues back in my own office, the ones working on pro-life or marriage issues, would not have that option. I wondered whether my liberal colleagues and their liberal media contacts ever stopped to think about how uneven the playing field was.

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None of this (except the disdain thing) is meant to be a slight on the Frederick News Post. I’ve seen very little from it, so I have no opinion on the quality or fairness of its political coverage. (And I’m glad to know that it engages in political coverage at all – too few local papers do much of that these days.)

It’s just that I’m so tired of the media bleating on that there’s no such thing as bias in their work. If the media were truly balanced, truly unbiased, and I were to poll a hundred people (50 liberals and 50 conservatives), asking them whether the media is biased, what should I expect to find? I’d expect to find either (1) 100 people who think the media is unbiased or (2) 50 liberals who think the media has a conservative bias and 50 conservatives who think the media has a liberal bias.

But we all know that that’s not how it falls out in real life.

As far as I’m concerned, the very fact that so many conservatives find the media to be biased (and that liberals, largely, don’t) is proof that it is. One side is being represented at the expense of the other.

Again and again, the media tends to answer the bias allegation with a dismissive, “We’re not biased; we’re reporting the facts.” To which I can’t help but respond, “You can do both. You can report the facts and still demonstrate a bias.”

But what’s the use, really? Because by “We’re not biased; we’re reporting the facts,” what they really seem to mean is, “If you don’t see the world the way we do, you’re wrong.”

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Update:

This morning as I moved around the kitchen getting my boys ready for their day, I found myself fighting tears because of what I was hearing on the radio. Again. For three mornings in a row, my empathetic soul has been focused on France and on the people who suffer in relation to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

All of a sudden, I panicked at the thought that some could construe this morning’s post as a snub on the profession of journalism in general. Or at the very least, as insensitive given the fact that liberal journalists were so brutally targeted in France. After all, in the same paragraph of the Frederick News Post’s editorial that contains the “facts on the ground” statement that raised my hackles, the paper responds to the implication that journalists are cowards:

Cowards? Tell that to the families of the 60 journalists killed in 2014, or the 70 in 2013, or the 74 who died in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. All in pursuit of the truth, or the most reliable version of it at hand in the most dangerous regions of the world.

I in no way think journalists are cowards. I think they do a challenging, sometimes dangerous job, and that most of them do so in the best way they know how. I think journalism is essential to democracy – to civilization, even. I would be proud (if somewhat concerned for their ability to make ends meet) for any of my boys to choose journalism as a profession.

But I think journalists (like all of us, really) should always strive to improve their work – to be fairer, more thorough, and more thoughtful. I can mourn those who died at Charlie Hebdo and disagree with the “liberal media” (and even the dead themselves) on certain points. I can do both.

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.

So…

I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.