Pale Wire (Popscene)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Povich: Media still draws mostly liberal English majors
For the record, I have a degree in—don't laugh—communication.

My cohort of Missouri journalism school students and I received a lecture this morning from Elaine Povich, a longtime Capitol Hill reporter who’s worked for both Newsday and the Chicago Tribune.

If you run her name through google, as I did this morning, one of the most common things you’ll find is this quote, which was taken down by a Washington Times reporter and printed on April 18, 1996:
More people who are of a liberal persuasion go into reporting because they believe in the ethics and the ideals. . . . A lot of conservatives go into the private sector, go into Wall Street, go into banking. You find people who are idealistic tending toward the reporting end.

Povich told our group that the comment came out of a conversation sparked when she was approached after she made a lengthy presentation on her book Partners and Adversaries: The Contentious Connection Between Congress and the Media. (I can’t tell you the reporter's name because I’m refusing to pay the Times' Web archive $2.95)

The reporter asked her about the survey included in the appendix to her book that found that 89 percent of Washington journalists voted for Bill Clinton instead of George Bush in the 1992 election (my copy lists a 2.8 percent margin of error). The results ran as the lead, along with the quote, which was subsequently picked up by the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and then widely cited as evidence of a leftward tilt in mainstream news coverage.

“Rush made me famous,” Povich said today. “But he wouldn’t let me call in and talk about it…I spent a year of my life working on that book and the only thing that anybody remembers is the so-called liberal media.”

She went on to say that conditions have changed since her infamous quote, pointing to an increase in conservatives brought in to staff places like Fox News, but not a whole lot.

“Who become journalists? Not engineers,” Povich said. “All engineers—except the one I married—are conservatives. English majors become journalists. And English majors are 90 percent liberal."