Is the Oregonian newsroom tilting to the right?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

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?

Comments

      • (Show?)

        We cancelled our subscription when the O mis- represented the "facts" on 66 & 67. I've been a newspaper reader since I could read and I really do miss the paper.

        Differing opinions are fine but its much too aggravating to read an alleged news report that seriously diverges from the truth.

  • (Show?)

    Once the Big O came out swinging against M. 66 & 67, we canceled our delivery. We don't miss it, except when it comes time to build a fire.

    • (Show?)

      That's when we canceled our subscription. It was simply the last straw. They finally quit calling for us to come back when I explained to the woman on the phone that if they promised me lifetime free delivery I'd still toss the paper into the recycle bin without reading it.

  • (Show?)

    The O has been GOP practically forever, since the time when the Oregon Journal was a real competitor. I remember when we used to get the Oregon Journal delivered daily down in K. Falls,m a real pro-labour newspaper. Too bad it's gone.

    I stopped delivery of the O about ten years ago. It is a miserable newspaper, with an editorial slant that is increasingly right wing. One would think that they would actually care about who is the demographic that actually reads. They don't, at all.

    How about if Blue Oregon started producing a real, progressive, online, pro-labor newspaper, Kari??

    • (Show?)

      What Bill said. As an activist in Eugene, it was always edifying comparing what the O said as opposed to The Register-Guard.

      The O has always been the Republican paper while The Oregon Journal was the Democratic paper. When the OJ went under, no paper stepped up to fill the statewide D paper void. Pity, that.

    • (Show?)

      Bill, I think you're looking for the NW Labor Press

    • (Show?)

      Front page for Kroger, no page for Wingard lining his own pocket.

    • (Show?)

      I agree John. I look daily for the story that makes our government look bad and can usually find it. how many front page article about Rep Wu did we have to live through even when the article had no new info in it.

    • (Show?)

      John couldn't be more right about this jihad some at the Oregonian have against AG Kroger As John said, the story should have been about a disgraceful DA in Pendleton, instead of trying to crucify Kroger for stepping in (an action that has to be approved by the Governor)

  • (Show?)

    I have to agree and laugh with both Mel and JG. I also read the Wall Street Journal and there is a clear gap in language skills between them and the O. I'll never forget when a letter to the Oregonian I sent was reprinted as written, except they changed a metaphor to a simile. I assume they figured a metaphor was beyond their readership's capability.

    For so many years the O has had a clear left-leaning bias when it came to selecting which stories to run, how to portray the people in the stories and what quotes are used. So, to all of you, any attempt to center the paper will seem like a conservative tilt.

    I am not talking about the editorial page, I am talking about section A and the Metro. Although, to be fair, many of the front section's articles are reprinted verbatim from national news sources so some of those biases are from the national stories.

    I know at least five families who have cancelled their O subscription because of persistent left-wing bias. However, I still maintain mine because they still have two pages of comics.

    • (Show?)

      Um, Ken--what planet are you on that the O is perceived as having a left-leaning bias? It never has had any such.

      • (Show?)

        I don't expect you would see the bias, any more than a fish notices the water they swim in. It is part of the environment.

        And thank you for disagreeing with me without resorting to name calling. That is a refreshing change from typical dialogue given to those who don't subscribe to BlueOregon groupthink.

        • (Show?)

          BlueOregon groupthink? You don't seem to have spent much time around here. We have lots of disagreements.

          • (Show?)

            Disagreements about what color to paint the boat. Not where the boat should be or is going. In other words, there are few fundamental policy disagreements.

            I find it is boring to only discuss things with people who agree with me. I usually enjoy the lively debate. I read almost every post, but opine in only a few.

            I never believed we would agree, but appreciate the topic nonetheless.

      • (Show?)

        When you are to the right of the John Birch Society, the O looks left.

    • (Show?)

      I've found that most conservatives are frustrated by the fact that reality is really quite liberal. Perhaps that is why you find the news pages so "liberal."

  • (Show?)

    Right, Ken. And cheddar cheese normally is blue. On what twisted basis can you claim the tilted, one-sided pro-corporate slant of the Oregonian is "left wing?" Why do people like you bother trolling sites like this?

    • (Show?)

      As I alluded to with brief reference above, it's often been said that the O was founded as a Whig paper and it still is.

      • (Show?)

        Kari, I think you may be giving Whigs a bad name. The issues were very different in the Whig era. I think it is a stretch to equate them with today’s conservatives.

        From wikipedia on Whigs (here)

        “The Whigs celebrated Clay's vision of the "American System" that promoted rapid economic and industrial growth in the United States. Whigs demanded government support for a more modern, market-oriented economy, in which skill, expertise and bank credit would count for more than physical strength or land ownership. Whigs sought to promote faster industrialization through high tariffs, a business-oriented money supply based on a national bank and a vigorous program of government funded "internal improvements," especially expansion of the road and canal systems. To modernize the inner America, the Whigs helped create public schools, private colleges, charities, and cultural institutions. Many were pietistic Protestant reformers who called for public schools to teach moral values and proposed prohibition to end the liquor problem.”

        • (Show?)

          Fair enough. I suppose then, it's fair to say that they've been tilting further right ever since 1850.

          • (Show?)

            Thank you, Kari, for helping get Sarah Palin and Michele Backman off the hook and proving there are Democrats who don't know their history, either.

            • (Show?)

              Logical fallacy. Just because one side knows nothing does not excuse the excess and blatant ignorance of the other. Put them back on that hook!

            • (Show?)

              Jack, a couple of points:

              1. There's a huge difference between commenters on a blog not knowing history and the ignorance of two major figures in one of the two major parties being ignorant of history.

              2. The story of Paul Revere is a much bigger part of American lore than is the story of the Whig Party.

      • (Show?)

        You are claiming the Oregonian stood for not ending slavery?

        That of course is why the Republican party split out from the Whigs. The Whigs were OK with slavery continuing in the states it already existed, and the Republicans wanted slavery eliminated.

        But I understand that you were being tongue-in-cheek.

        • (Show?)

          Not tongue-in-cheek. Historically accurate.

          From wikipedia (per my link above):

          The Oregonian was founded as the Weekly Oregonian in 1850. It was founded by businessmen whose goal was to establish a Whig-slanted newspaper to promote Portland.

    • (Show?)

      I have been posting on here for a long time. But I can understand that you don't want any diversity of thought. That is why you are a Liberal.

  • (Show?)

    This is a very interesting question. Though reporting should always be fact-based, any publication will have an editorial bias--we know what it is for the US corporate media. In Europe, though, readers expect the bias to be more open--communist, socialist, social-democrat, capitalist, royalist, nationalist, fascist, for example. A spectrum to choose from. I don't think it's all bad when a publication's cards are on the table, rather than hidden behind a pretense of objectivity. It's at least possible to evaluate an argument that's openly made.

    I agree that the O is showing its corporatist teeth more than, say, 5-6 years ago. And I'm frustrated that they keep carrying the predictable patriarchal syndicated right-wing cabal. Krauthammer et al.

    But the O is not all bad. It sometimes carries letters that demolish the superficial arguments of the ed board. And even the ed board can surprise you with an insight once in a while. The new Community News section is giving good coverage. They just hired investigative reporter Beth Slovic. And yes there's the comics. But then I have always subscribed to a big urban daily, and they're always corporatist.

    • (Show?)

      Yes, but once upon a time the press used to be like that here in the US, too. However, that was back in the era when papers tended to be owned by a local publisher, and there might be two or three to a town.

  • (Show?)

    I think it's generally important to separate the editorial slant - which is expected and normal - from any slant that's found in the news areas.

    Until the last few years, I didn't detect any predictable slant in the news coverage at the O. In 2008, I started noticing dissonant headlines. Now, it's starting to show up - or at least, I've started to notice - coverage decisions that concern me. Or, as they claim, coverage errors -- funny how they're always on one side of the ledger.

  • (Show?)

    I was a reporter for 10-years. I've heard this argument before, and unless someone can provide substantive, specific, and numerous examples of said bias, I have a hard time with the argument.

    • (Show?)

      This post by a former reporter explains why print media continues to dwindle in America. They refuse to listen to what the consumers are telling them. Except for The Wall Street Journal. I don't find it surprising that the only newspaper in America that at least tries to tell both sides of a story (WSJ) is the only one that isn't shrinking in readership.

      As to providing an example, my usual example is the treatment of firearms by print media. Story after story will run of horrible crimes committed by criminals with guns. I have no problem with that. Those stories should be told. But often, parts of the story are left out that would offer nuance to the liberal "guns are bad" mantra.

      For example, in 2003 a sicko started shooting at the Virginia Appalachian Law School, and killed the dean, a professor and a fellow student. This was widely reported. The initial story told how the crime was stopped by two students who got their guns out of their cars and stopped this rampage, holding the assailant at gunpoint until police arrived.

      Subsequent stories mentioned the students subduing the assailant, but omitted the fact that the students used their own firearms to stop the crime. Almost every story written used the edited (Bowdlerized) version. Why was this part edited out? It is obvious that portraying any gun usage as legitimate doesn't fit with the picture the media wants to paint.

      Not to mention that stories that portray crimes with guns are usually front page, above the fold while any balanced or positive article is on page 23 under the tide tables.

      That is the bias I refer to. I see it in politics as well.

      • (Show?)

        The WSJ's profitability has nothing to do with its editorial coverage or political reporting.

        The WSJ does well for the same reason that financial websites make money -- they provide raw data and analysis of financial news.

        • (Show?)

          ...then there is the fact that the WSJ is the mouthpiece of Dow Jones, and has no real rivals in the financial news business (The London Journal being the only big financial newspaper that I can think of...)

          It's not hard to be a successful monopoly.

      • (Show?)

        That happens both ways, Ken. For example, in the recent shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, there was almost no media attention to the 'other hero' of the story. A man, next door, heard the shooting and pulled his gun and charged in. When he got there, he saw a man with a gun, aimed, and almost shot... the aide who tackled the shooter and took away the gun. If there was a huge 'liberal' 'anti-gun' bias, then why was this aspect buried?

    • (Show?)

      You mean, like the examples in my post?

  • (Show?)

    Kari, I really am hoping you will give some thought to expanding your journalistic vision to include a more newsy online resource. I come to Blue Oregon primarily to get political news on the state of Oregon,not just opinion, although many posters often have news that isn't otherwise available.

  • (Show?)

    The Oregonian tilting to the right? lol well they couldn't go any further left without falling over -pro illegal alien -pro gay marriage -pro union -pro obama / war -pro abortion

    Yup they are as right wingers ...spot on Kari ...except Not!

    • (Show?)

      WW's take on the Energy Dept. vs. DOJ is radically different than the O. It makes a good comparison of a non-partisan issue. All the players are Dems, but the ax falls very differently.

  • (Show?)

    Interesting. I've never considered that paper to be anything other than left-oriented. Jonathan Nicholas, Margie Boulee, Steve Duin, and a raft of others saw to that. As for reportage: I can't recall many examples of that. The Bob Packwood story came out in the Washington Post. As the bumper-sticker read: "If it matters to Oregonians, it's in The Washington Post". Goldschmidt? Willy Week. Cylvia? Willy Week. CRC? Willy Week.

    I stopped subscribing years ago because there was no news. Lots of ads; lots of opinion - no news.

  • (Show?)

    Question for this thread, What is the new media in Oregon?

  • (Show?)

    Is the O headed for extinction? More layoffs. today.. http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-27265-the_oregonian_admits_to_more_layoffs.html

    What will take its place?

  • (Show?)

    It's been so long since I read the O on a regular basis I can't even remember when I stopped reading it.

    The only paper I read on a regular basis any more is the Capital Press, the weekly ag newspaper.

  • (Show?)

    The national trend towards corporately controlled media is now making itself felt through the slanted discourse, yellow journalism practiced by the Oregonian. The anti-union story regarding Sen. Devlin's reminding organizations that neutrality was expected because that is the law was portrayed as a heavy-handed form of influencing the outcome of organizing. I have yet to notice any articles about the unlawful termination of employees attempting to organize in other areas which have been upheld by the US Department of Labor!

    In addition to the overwhelming conflict of interest that Representative Wingard has there is also the conflict of interest of Speaker Hannah because serious Coca-Cola bottling effort in southern Oregon uses BPA to line the soft drink cans used in the products he distributes! Again there was no reporting by the Oregonian on this.

    I wonder if the Oregonian will print purchased advertising that points out these conflicts of interest? Somehow the public has a right to be informed.

connect with blueoregon