by Rob Bluey and Ginny Montalbano
The Daily Signal spoke last week with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, about media bias. Smith discussed the House Media Fairness Caucus, which he founded, how Americans can combat media bias, and a new term he coined: mediacrats. This transcript of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Rob Bluey: Congressman, how bad is media bias today?
Rep. Lamar Smith: I have to tell you, I’m sure it’s been worse, but I’m not aware of it. What we’re seeing today, I think, is a real threat to our democracy because you’ve got virtually every media platform—and the ones that obviously come to mind are Facebook or Twitter or Google, for example—who have demonstrably been biased against conservative voices, against conservative commentary, and against conservative Republican individuals.
And you’ve got a situation where it’s interesting to me that the bias is always [in] one direction. It’s always the conservatives who are either shadow-boxed or censored, or their information is deleted. And all these social platforms—and we just had a recent hearing in the Judiciary Committee—say that they’re going to correct that, say they want to stop the bias.
But I remain unconvinced. The reason is that these organizations are permeated with liberal Democrats. There’s no other way to say it. Or with individuals who have very liberal, if not radical, views.
And so when you have an organization who’s owned by, run by, staffed by—I don’t know what the percentage might be, let’s call it 80 percent liberal Democrats—that is going to manifest itself in the work product. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not intentional. But these people are so smart you’ve got to believe that a lot of it is intentional.
The individuals who write the algorithms, the individuals who make editing decisions, apparently are influenced by their own political agenda and their own desire to, frankly, tell the American people what to think, override conservative thought, and make sure that the liberal viewpoint gets more play than the conservative.
Ginny Montalbano: Congressman, a couple of years ago, you started the [House] Media Fairness Caucus. What made you start that caucus, and what was that process like?
Smith: The Media Fairness Caucus I started, not to censor any media whatsoever, but to call attention to the fact that the bias is so palpable, it’s so obvious, every single day, and I want the American people to be aware of that. They need to realize that what they’re hearing and seeing is oftentimes filtered, it’s through liberal-tinted glasses. And to be aware of the bias is the first step in being able to counter it.
I’ve gotten in trouble for saying that the liberal media bias is a threat to democracy. But the reason I think it is is because if the American people don’t get the facts, they can’t make good decisions; and if the American people can’t make good decisions, that’s when our democracy is threatened.
The situation we have today is that, take for example the coverage of the president, which is 90 percent negative. Even if people are aware of the bias in the media, and many are, nevertheless, if that’s all you’re seeing and hearing day after day, week after week, it’s going to have an impact on how you think. You may not even be aware of it.
And so, the degree of bias we’re seeing in the media from my reading of history is the worst we’ve had in 100 years, since the days of the so-called yellow journalism at the beginning of the 1900s. It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the American people. And it’s not good for the American people because of the liberal mindset, which is basically very patronizing.
The liberal mindset is we know better than the American people what’s good for them, and therefore that entitles us to tell them what to think. That’s why so often today, whether it’s the social media platforms or whether it’s the national daily newspapers or whether it’s cable, that you have news stories that are really opinion pieces. And you have news stories that are not just giving the American people the facts, but they’re just a political agenda piece.
And if they’re going to be opinion, if they’re going to be editorials, they ought to be labeled that. You look at the front page of some of our national daily newspapers today and almost every article is opinion, not straight news. I just think we need to call the American people’s attention to it.
I think ultimately there’s bound to be somebody in the media who recognizes they’re doing their own profession a disservice. You see today, with the most recent polls, where it’s a record low percentage of the American people who now trust the media to give them the truth, to give them the facts. It’s down to close to, I think, 25 percent. But even if the American people don’t trust the media, if they’re still being barraged and bombarded daily with only one side, that does have an impact.
Bluey: Following up on that, what’s the best way that Americans, or people like you here in Congress, can combat media bias?
Smith: I think the best way to combat media bias is twofold. First, to point it out and make the American people aware of it, and give them examples. I think every Republican office holder ought to lace every single speech with examples of media bias, so the American people are aware of how often it occurs, the different forms it occurs in.
Then the second step, the second way, is to actually try to correct it. Confront the media, the liberal media, with examples of media bias, and try to remind them of their incredible responsibility to in fact give the American people the facts and not tell them what to think. I think journalism is a profession that has an incredible amount of responsibility, and right now [journalists] are not exercising that responsibility in a professional way. They’re letting their own prejudices, their own bias, get in the way of reporting. And that’s regrettable.
There may be one or two or three, and I hope there will be more, liberal journalists who are going to say at some point, ‘Wait a minute. We’re hurting our own credibility, it’s at a record low, we’re doing a disservice to the American people, and we’re not adhering to our own professional standards.’ … I’m seeing hints of one or two here and there, but certainly it’s going to take a lot more for that profession to get back to objective news coverage and restore their own credibility. I want them to succeed, and I want them to be credible, but I want them to be objective and fair and unbiased.
Montalbano: Since you started the Media Fairness Caucus several years ago, when it comes to media bias, do any top offenders stand out to you?
Smith: Oh my gosh, pick your subject. Maybe the first one to mention, it is controversial, but it’s also a subject that really demands that the American people be given the facts, and that’s immigration. I just happened to see recently, in the last day or two, that 90 percent of immigration coverage is liberal, is biased. It’s right in there with the coverage of the president.
My guess, it’s probably true of almost any controversial issue. But the American people are on the opposite side of the liberal media on almost every issue. You know, most of the national media, when it comes to immigration, are in favor of massive amnesty, they’re in favor of admitting far more people than the American people want to.
You know, you look at the liberal left and the Democratic Party, who even want to abolish our Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that stops illegal immigration and arrests criminal aliens. But the American people want secure borders, [and] the liberal Democrats and the liberal media don’t.
By the way, please help me coin a new word, and it’s “mediacrats.” The media, the liberal media and the Democrats, are now so wedded together, they’re so united in their propaganda and political agenda, I think we just might as well admit that they have become fused and call them the mediacrats, because they’re in effect one and the same. A little bit of a digression there.
But to go back to immigration for a second, we have a situation, this is more on the substance of the issue, where today we have hundreds of thousands of people coming into the country illegally every year. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know where they’re going, we don’t know what they might do. And we as a sovereign nation should stop illegal immigration. We have the most generous legal immigration policy in the world.
No other country comes close to admitting a million people every year legally, and that’s what we do. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to come into the country, and the right way is to play by the rules, seek admission, be approved, and come in. If you have to wait a few years, get on the list. But a million people come in legally every year, and we need to continue that.
Legal immigration has done wonders for our country in any number of ways, but illegal immigration is of a totally different nature and it’s no fair to the people who have been playing by the rules to let people cut in front of the line, or give them amnesty, or say it doesn’t matter if they come into our country.
Immigration is just an example where the liberal media really are on the opposite side of the American people, and yet their coverage only reflects the liberal point of view 90 percent of the time.
Bluey: I like the word mediacrats, I had not heard that before.
Smith: Oh, help me out with that. We need to spread the word. I think mediacrats is very appropriate, very descriptive, and very accurate.
Bluey: The New York Daily News recently announced it’s laying off about half of its staff. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that perhaps government subsidies could go to save some of these jobs for this New York institution, of course a very liberal New York institution. As conservatives, we just couldn’t believe that somebody would suggest using taxpayer dollars in this way; aren’t there dangers associated with getting the government involved in the publishing business?
Smith: Yeah, hard to imagine a worse idea. Of course, Democrats always believe in subsidies of one kind or another, and they don’t believe so much in the free market that has made our country so great and the most prosperous country in the world. So it’s an ideological chasm here that we have.
But yes, you should certainly not have the government subsidizing media, or the media’s going to lose their independence. And they’ve already lost their ideological independence because they all, not all, but the great majority, I think, of the media—particularly the national media, not necessarily local media—but the great majority of the national media are liberal Democrats and we’ve seen the voting records and what primaries they vote in and so forth.
But yeah, I think that’s a pretty bad idea to start getting the government to bail out the media, then the media’s obviously going to feel obligated to the government, or the government’s going to be in some kind of control. The last thing we want in this country is government controlling the media.
Montalbano: This president and the press have had a very contentious relationship from the start. Now the hot story this week has been CNN’s Kaitlan Collins being excluded from a White House event. What should the relationship between the president, the administration, and the press look like?
Smith: I’ve waited many, many years, decades, for a president who would point out media bias and who would try to combat political correctness, and we finally have a president who is doing that. I think he has every right, and I like to see him point out the fake news. And when you have reporters, like today, who intentionally say or write something they know is not true, that to me is the definition of fake news. I like to see the president point that out.
I had a great deal of satisfaction, I remember, on the House floor some months ago, probably it was a year ago, where I gave a speech and said it would be better for the American people to get their information from the president than from the media.
The media went ballistic, absolutely ballistic, and you know what? The next week they did a poll, and more people trusted the president than the media to give them information. So I felt like once again I was on the same side as the American people, and they saw through the media bias and they trusted President Trump more than they trusted the liberal media. So like I say, I had some personal satisfaction in having called it right on that.
Bluey: Finally, Congressman, I want to ask you on that note: This month the House had a hearing on social media. This president is somebody who has used social media very effectively. His tweets go directly to the American people without any filter through the media. You had a piece that we published in The Daily Signal about social media in particular. And it’s an issue where I think conservatives, I’ve seen it, are divided. They don’t want the government to necessarily regulate these technology companies. What role do you think they should have?
Smith: Well, I think we should do two things as far as government goes, or as far as the American people go, and this is conduct strict what we call oversight of these organizations. Again, point out to the American people how biased they are, examples of bias. Let the American people know that they’re not getting all the facts, and oftentimes you’re seeing more the left side than the right side, the liberal side than the conservative side.
But I’m hesitant to … I believe strictly in the First Amendment, and these are private companies. I don’t really think you can … it’s hard to regulate them. You need to get them to frankly be more objective and not restrict any conservative news or restrict the American people’s access to conservative viewpoints or conservative Republicans, or whatever it might be.
I think if we continue to exercise that kind of oversight that will, I hope, keep them on the right track. It’s not going to be easy when you have that institutional, built-in, innate bias. It’s really going to take the head of the company.
It’s going to take literally the CEO to change that culture, and that CEO is going to say … ‘Check your personal opinion at the door when you come to work. If you telecommute, check it when you turn on your computer. We are not going to tolerate any bias anymore anywhere.’
But it’s going to take that top CEO saying that and changing the entire culture before I think you have all the employees saying, ‘OK, well, I really can’t try to sneak in my bias.’
You saw recently where the employees of one social media [company] said, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with any military contracts or provide any information to the military.’ By the way, if that didn’t say to the American people how liberal they were, that they weren’t going to cooperate with our military to defend our country or our allies.
And you had the CEO capitulate in a matter of minutes: ‘OK, we won’t do contracts anymore or provide the military anymore with information.’ That’s how liberal the organization is.
I yearn for the day where the CEO would say, ‘You know what? We’re not a political organization, we’re a media platform, we’re a social platform. We have a responsibility to the American people to give them all sides. And you employees, again, you can be as biased as you want, you can campaign for whoever you want to, you can contribute to whoever you want to. But when you start work, we’re going to play it down the middle, we’re going to be objective, we’re going to be fair, we’re not going to be biased.’
But it’s going to take the CEO to lay that out there and change the culture before we actually, I believe, will see objective social media platforms.
Bluey: Congressman Lamar Smith, thanks for talking to The Daily Signal.
Smith: Always good to be with The Daily Signal. Thanks for all you do.
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Rob Bluey is editor-in-chief of The Daily Signal, the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation. Ginny Montalbano is a contributor to The Daily Signal. The Daily Signal depends on the support of readers like you. Donate now.