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Political Leanings of Local Media May Surprise You

 

There’s no debating that TV viewers either loved or hated former Channel 2 reporter Stefan Mychajliw.

To his supporters, he was a reporter who was an aggressive seeker of the truth. To his detractors, he is even more obnoxious and irritating than some of his public relations clients.

The former Channel 2 reporter was back on the station earlier this year after leaving the news business to do public relations for such unpopular clients as former Buffalo Schools Superintendent James Williams, former County Executive Chris Collins and the Niagara County SPCA.

Some people reading my blog back then about Mychajliw’s participation in the debate show “2 Sides with (Kristy) Mazurek and Mychajliw” questioned whether he would have a conflict of interest by being involved in such a show. After all, he was an advocate, not an objective reporter.

You had to wonder if those people ever watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC or any of the networks that debate political issues. Columnists on the left and the right are on those shows all the time. In some ways, it is better to know their politics than to pretend journalists don’t favor one party or the other.

That is especially true in a presidential election year, when the issue of reporters and opinion makers and their politics is more noteworthy.

Take a Buffalo News opinion page in January, which dealt with President Obama’s State of the Union address. On the top of the page, a column written by Charles Krauthammer ran with the headline “State of the Union was a flop.” Below it, Susan Estrich’s column was headlined… “or it was Clintonesque.”

Don Postles: Once Approached by GOP

Wouldn’t it be better if Krauthammer was identified as the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist who is considered a conservative and is a frequent critic of President Obama, and if Estrich was identified as a Democrat?

When Mychajliw returned to Channel 2, at least viewers knew what they get. “Two Sides” openly featured one former newsperson (Mazurek) who works for the Democratic party and another (Mychajliw) who has worked for Republicans and eventually left the program to run for Erie County Comptroller as a Republican. As long as viewers know that going in, there is nothing wrong with that in that format.

However, Mychajliw’s work in public relations required him to avoid talking about certain things involving his clients or he wouldn’t have gotten any more clients. His resignation from the Niagara County SPCA for ethical reasons after a harsh report came out about conditions there might have scared away potential clients who expect the people they hire to at the very least keep quiet after a breakup. He declined to give any opinions about the SPCA story when it was discussed on the program.   

It probably would be hard for either Mazurek or Mychajliw to ever return to doing objective news reporters again, though not impossible.

Nationally, ABC’s Diane Sawyer once worked for President Nixon, a Republican. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos worked for President Clinton, a Democrat. The late Tim Russert of NBC News worked for Gov. Mario Cuomo and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, both Democrats.  Their objectivity is (or in Russert’s case was) rarely questioned. Locally, Channel 2’s Scott Brown left the station years ago to work for Democrats Dennis Gorski and Eliot Spitzer and eventually returned to the station.

Interestingly, the majority of Buffalo reporters and anchors that have left the business to work in politics belie the widespread perception that the media consists of wide-eyed liberals.

As mentioned before Mychajliw was once the mouthpiece for former County Executive Chris Collins, a Republican. Lynne Dixon, another former Channel 2 reporter, is now a Republican member of the Erie County Legislature. When Lorey Schultz left Channel 4 to work for Mayor Brown she confirmed that the Democratic Brown administration liked the fact that she is a Republican. Channel 4 anchor Don Postles, an independent, was once approached to run for office as a Republican. Channel 2 anchor Scott Levin was once approached to run by Republicans as well.

The talk show hosts on WBEN-AM, Sandy Beach and Tom Bauerle, constantly spew the Republican party line along with the national talkers on that right wing station. Kevin Hardwick, a former WBEN weekend talk show host, is a member of the Erie County Legislature. He is a Republican.

The story in the Buffalo News about the pending departure of News editor Margaret Sullivan, who is becoming the public editor of the New York Times, led to several online readers unfairly endorsing the view that the newspaper is full of liberal reporters and columnists. Those comments fail to take into account that the paper’s editorial stance doesn’t reflect the views of many reporters who are far more conservative than readers might realize.  

So the next time you hear Newt Gingrich or some other Republican trot out the defense that the liberal media is out to get them, remember what the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said about all politics being local.

Locally, it doesn’t appear that TV viewers have to worry about the liberal media as much as they do a conservative Republican agenda. And I wouldn’t even worry about that.

pergament@msn.com

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5 responses to "Political Leanings of Local Media May Surprise You"

  1. Tina says:

    Although it may not be blatant, the viewer can find hidden messages in our local newscasts as to which way they lean, left or right. For example, Channel 7 leans more to the right while 2 and 4 seems to lean to the left and honestly seem to be a bit more fair when it comes to covering all political viewpoints. While not as obvious as Fox news or MSNBC, it is still somewhat noticeable.

  2. Mark Scott says:

    Examples, please, Tina. I gotta say that I watch a lot of local television news. Hidden messages? Come on, now! But if you have specific examples, it would be helpful to know what they are.

    I will argue that charges of media bias say more about the person making the charge. Everyone has their world view (and local view, I suppose). And if a media report doesn’t fit with that world view, the media is guilty of biased reporting.

    Here’s the thing. It’s the media’s job to challenge our government leaders, to keep them honest and make sure they’re being truthful. If there was a liberal bias in local media, Democrat Brian Davis would still be sitting on the Buffalo Common Council. But thanks, in part, to investigative reporters, Davis’ corruption was uncovered, and he’s now facing the consequences. For a reporter worth his or her salt, it doesn’t matter what party the politician belongs to. If someone in government is engaging in nefarious activities, the media are there to uncover it. Of course, that politician and his or her supporters will believe the coverage is unfair and biased. But the truth is apparent to any objective examination.

    Now, I will acknowledge that all reporters — since we are living, breathing humans — have our personal beliefs and principles. Since we are so informed as a result of doing our jobs, we probably hold strong political beliefs. The challenge is to make sure our reporting does not reflect our personal beliefs and biases. Proper editing helps in this regard. And I think reporters hit the mark more than they fail.

    What troubles me is there are a few local journalists in the electronic media who use their personal Facebook pages to advance their personal political views. That’s wrong! As a result, I do question the trustworthiness of any reports they’re involved in. If you work as a reporter, you need to hold your tongue on Facebook. It’s okay to talk about your grandkids or tell us how much you enjoyed the concert you attended. But sharing your thoughts on the presidential race is out of bounds.

  3. Rob says:

    Alan wrote: “Those comments fail to take into account that the paper’s editorial stance doesn’t reflect the views of many reporters who are far more conservative than readers might realize”

    Really? Can you back that statement up? I asked the News on an online chat when they ever endorsed a republican President and they said they didn’t know! What columnists are conservative? Reporters?? Even the beloved Jerry Sullivan is a far left guy. I’m not saying this is a bad thing but a little transparency would be nice.

    I always said that any person on broadcast TV or columnist for the print media should have “R” “D” or “I” next to their name so we know truly what perspective they are coming from. We do it with elected officials who broadcast their thoughts so why not those in “journalism.” Right Alan-”D”???

    • alanp says:

      I am not going to name names, but there are several conservatives on the News staff who don’t put their views in their stories. Jerry is a columnist and can express his opinions. He probably would be best served to stick to opinions on sports, but he is allowed to wander into politics if he wants.

  4. Rob says:

    Well if you’re not going to name names than your comment has no validity. As far as Jerry Sullivan goes, I like the fact that on blogs/chats he offers his ideology. It makes for good, respectful debate which is never a bad thing.

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