Heritage Foundation’s New ‘Straight-Down-the-Middle Journalism’ Seems Headed Straight Toward the Far Right

May 16th, 2014 · No Comments · journalism

By Denise Tessier

OK, dear reader, here’s a question: Do you think mainstream news slants too much to the left?

That’s the premise the radically conservative and already influential Heritage Foundation is using to justify creation of a new digital news site, the Daily Signal, which will launch June 3.

Heritage says its site will deliver “straight reporting.”

Joshua Green reported on Heritage’s plans in “The Tea Party Gets Into the News Biz” in Bloomberg Businessweek:

“We came to the realization that the mainstream media had really abdicated the responsibility to do the news and do it well,” says Geoffrey Lysaught, vice president of strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation, who will also serve as publisher. . . . “We plan to do political and policy news, not with a conservative bent, but just true, straight-down-the-middle journalism.”

Having its think tank positions appear regularly in “left-leaning” mainstream publications like the Albuquerque Journal apparently isn’t enough for The Heritage Foundation.The Bloomberg article tends to confirm this, saying Heritage is hoping to reach a younger demographic through the site:

The Daily Signal will also publish an opinion section aimed at a younger audience that isn’t thumbing through the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Heritage is betting that these readers, attracted to the Daily Signal’s news, will find themselves persuaded by the conservative commentary and analysis that will draw on the think tank’s scholars and researchers.

To attract younger readers, the Heritage site will have a sleek, clean look, designed with phones and tablets in mind. In fact, the Heritage site’s editor-in-chief , Robert Bluey, compared the look to former Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein’s new site, Vox , and data reporter Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. And as Green notes:

Because the Daily Signal is fully underwritten by Heritage, ads won’t clutter the experience.

Bloomberg says Katrina Trinko was lured away from National Review to manage the Signal’s news team, and that she “promises a strict divide between news and opinion of the kind that’s standard in traditional newspapers.”

Now, that would be something new, a return to the “retro” days of traditional newspapers, as the strict line between news and opinion was blurred a long time ago. Using the Albuquerque Journal as example, we’ve pointed out on numerous occasions that news columns not only have jumped from the opinion section to the front page, but even the top-right column normally reserved for hard news is now routinely slotted for news/opinion UpFront columns, as pointed out here and here . The Journal did it again Tuesday, May 13, with John Fleck’s “Odds are improving for El Niño.” So, it appears UpFront columns will continue to be placed where they can be seen in coin-slot sales boxes – above the fold – even though highlighting them above the masthead as a sneak peak to inside would have much the same result.

And, as JournalWatch readers know, the blurring of the line between news and opinion is exacerbated by the Associated Press stories coming out of Washington, which the Journal routinely uses.

Bloomberg’s Green gets it right in calling out the Heritage Foundation for the influence it already has:

Last year the conservative Heritage Foundation had more influence on the direction of the Republican Party than just about anyone else—and not necessarily for the better. Over the summer, the conservative think tank’s president, former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, teamed up with Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other lawmakers on a cross-country tour to convince party activists, and eventually GOP leaders, that they could stop Obamacare by refusing to fund it. DeMint forced a showdown because he wanted Republicans to unify around his vision of an unapologetic hardline conservatism—a vision he thinks most Americans will support if given the chance. That led to a government shutdown, a collapse of conservative will, and plenty of angry recriminations from fellow Republicans.

Imagine a paragraph like that coming out of the Daily Signal’s straight news desk, or even its opinion section.

Only by starting from the false premise that mainstream media slants to the left could Heritage come up with the idea that Daily Signal will achieve a middle ground.

Green illustrates the unlikelihood of Heritage sticking to its claims by quoting Daily Signal editor-in-chief Bluey, who somehow fails to consider how it looks when he brags to Bloomberg that Heritage’s current blog, the Foundry, “produced a steady stream of negative stories about Debo Adegbile, Obama’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, that eventually led to front-page coverage in the Washington Post. Adegbile’s nomination later failed in the Senate.”

Green notes, “That story is the model for how Heritage, without taking an overtly conservative position, can nonetheless inject its worldview into the mainstream press.”

The unlikelihood of a “straight news” Heritage site also is made clear by the list of stories publisher Lysaught offered as examples of what Daily Signal will cover. According to Bloomberg, they include “Internal Revenue Service audits of political groups; the recent Supreme Court case Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, which touched on religious liberty issues; and the emerging debate about Common Core academic standards.”

Lysaught says the media is neglecting or misconstruing these stories, which is an incredible statement considering the dozens of stories carried by newspapers like the Journal on the IRS story alone, which was made into a scandal by the media continuing to report conservative claims and portraying conservative political groups as the “victims,” even though the only outfit actually denied non-profit status by the IRS was a Democratic women’s group.

From Green’s story:

“A lot of the traditional media, they’re lazy,” says Lysaught. “When they get up in the morning, they’re looking for what’s already working. I think they’ll look to us. We want to be the place where the news gets its news, drive that news narrative by identifying real stories, doing the homework, and let those guys run with the work we’ve already done.”

Got that? Newspapers should let the Heritage Foundation “do the homework” and “run with the work” Heritage has already done.

The sad thing is, newspapers already have a relationship like that with Heritage, and have for 41 years .

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