O'Reilly distorted journalism survey to prove pro-Kerry media favoritism

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that a recent survey of journalists by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism proves "the media favors [Senator John] Kerry by a wide margin" in the upcoming presidential election. In fact, the Pew survey never asked journalists about Kerry or, indeed, about anything concerning their preferences for the fall election.

O'Reilly's false claim came on the August 11 edition of The O'Reilly Factor during a discussion of recent campaign appearances by Kerry and by President George W. Bush at the UNITY conference of minority journalists in Washington, DC. "[T]here's no question the media will be a factor in the upcoming election, as we just discussed. And the media favors Kerry by a wide margin, according to a Pew research study, among others," O'Reilly said.

What the survey actually found was that 34 percent of national journalists describe themselves as "liberal," compared with only 7 percent who describe themselves as "conservative." But an accompanying essay by three of the journalism scholars who designed the study specifically warned against interpreting the survey as O'Reilly did:

But what does liberal mean to journalists? We would be reluctant to infer too much here. The survey includes just four questions probing journalists' political attitudes, yet the answers to these questions suggest journalists have in mind something other than a classic big government liberalism and something more along the lines of libertarianism. More journalists said they think it is more important for people to be free to pursue their goals without government interference than it is for government to ensure that no one is in need.

Yet even if one rejected this advice and assumed that all journalists who self-identified as liberal (34 percent) favor Kerry, the Pew survey would still not warrant O'Reilly's assertion that "the media favors Kerry by a wide margin." That's because 54 percent of national journalists described themselves as "moderate," offering no discernible clue about which candidate they favor.

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