Eighteen months ago, here at BlueOregon, Carla Axtman called out the new publisher of the Oregonian. N. Christian Anderson, she noted at the time, was also the CEO of another company "based on the principles of voluntaryism and the libertarian philosophy". And his bias was showing, she said, in the way he chose to change the Oregonian's policy on front-page ("spadea") political advertising right in the midst of the 66/67 campaign.
That criticism, along with loud protests from progressives across Oregon, caused Anderson to famously declare, "I am not a right-wing nut."
Now, it's true that left-leaning folks often accuse the mainstream press of being too conservative, and the right-wing folks blather on about the "liberal media". And the O's certainly had its share of both -- but it's becoming increasingly clear that there's a conservative bent seeping into the news coverage. (There's always been a Whig, er, conservative bent to the editorial pages, but they're supposed to have opinions there.)
For example, over at Progressive Oregon, Noah Heller's been blowing the whistle on the failure of the Oregonian to cover the 4000+ person "Hands Across Hawthorne" rally against anti-gay violence, while providing ample coverage of a 15-person Tea Party rally. Well over 1400 people signed a petition expressing outrage about the Oregonian's lack of coverage.
In response, Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia claimed it was an assignment-desk error:
It was a mistake on the part of staffers in charge of weekend coverage that there was not coverage of the rally in The Oregonian. It was human error, pure and simple. We should have covered the event. Please be clear: There is no ideology involved in our coverage decisions, from the left or the right. Suggestions that The Oregonian has moved rightward in its coverage is nonsense, just as are the more common assertions from the right that we have a left bias. News coverage decisions are made by the newsroom. In this case, we made a bad one.
Over at the Sockeye, Our Oregon's Scott Moore notes that the Oregonian has failed to note Rep. Matt Wingard's substantial conflict of interest with regard to charter school legislation. Wingard's day job is with the for-profit parent company of Oregon's biggest online charter school. And Wingard's no back-bencher, he's the co-chair of the House Education Committee:
After taking the gavel of the committee, Wingard quickly put together a legislative agenda that would greatly expand online charter schools and allow Oregon Connections Academy to take in more taxpayer dollars. When his agenda was blocked by House Democrats, he staged a press conference in which he lambasted his opponents, but never once mentioned that the bills would have put more money into the pockets of his employer.
One thing is clear: Wingard has used his position as a legislator to advance bills that would increase profits for his employer—using taxpayer dollars—but the press has never reported on it.
And of course, as I noted last month, the Oregonian's Oregon News Network includes the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute's Oregon Capitol News - despite its own prohibition against house organs of nonprofit organizations.
I've long believed that the Oregonian's news headlines have had a right-leaning tilt. Throughout the 2008 election cycle, for example, there would regularly be balanced news stories about the Jeff Merkley / Gordon Smith race with headlines that were charitable to Smith or critical of Merkley in ways that went beyond the text of the story. Headlines, of course, are written by the copy desk, not the reporters who write the stories.
Unfortunately, I've never had the time (or money) to conduct a full-scale, exhaustive study of the headlines. And of course, it's next-to-impossible to do a comprehensive study of what's not even being written about - even when you've got specific cases, like the rally and the Wingard conflict.
What do you think? Have you noticed a shift in the Oregonian's news coverage over the last year? What else have they failed to cover, or covered in obviously biased ways?