MSM blackballing: How deep and far back does it go?

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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Were you ever blackballed for a job by the mainstream media? I want to hear from you.

I’m currently working on a project, tentatively entitled “Fourth Estate, Fifth Column,” about the history of media bias since Watergate (it will also touch on pre-Watergate media). There is no shortage of conservatives, from the Media Research Center to Big Journalism, who itemize the daily offenses of the liberal media. I want to do something that goes deeper. I want to attempt a critique of the media that features voices of those who were banned, dismissed or not hired by the mainstream media. It’s easy to turn on the TV and see the bias from George Stephanopoulos, David Gregory and Katie Couric. My question is: What about the forgotten conservative who was passed over for a job at The Washington Post in 1974? The person who could have been the next H.L. Mencken but, blacklisted by the media, went into accounting instead? I’m looking for the Robert Bork of American journalism — and there may be dozens.

I’m doing this for a couple reasons. The first is simple curiosity. I have heard both from people who insist that conservatives have been blackballed from the media for at least 40 years — if not as far back as the 1940s, when Whittaker Chambers was hated by the staff of Time, where he was an editor — and from those who claim that journalists are liberal because the profession simply attracts nerds and do-gooders, who tend to be Democrats. I’d like to find out which it is, although I think that there is a potentially huge cache of people who tried to get into journalism and were blocked by liberal gatekeepers. These are the people I am looking for.

I consider myself lucky to live during the age of Internet freedom, because were it not for that freedom, I may not be a journalist today. I grew up in Washington with The Washington Post. There was an excitement to The Post, a tingle in the spine as you padded down the driveway for your copy. The paper’s writers set the parameters of the debate. We read them over breakfast and talked about them with our friends: Did ya see what Tony Kornheiser said in Sports? Tom Shales’s piece about “The Gong Show” — you gotta read it! Sally Quinn wrote something you have to see! Richard Cohen and Meg Greenfield on the op-ed page were must-stops. Not to mention Watergate. Ignoring The Post during the early 1970s, before computers and cable, was unthinkable.

As a kid, I held the paper in awe. My father worked at National Geographic, just a couple blocks from The Post’s headquarters. In grade school we went on a field trip to the paper, and I remember the monkish solemnity we observed entering the environs of 15th and L. Then there was that day in 1989 when I got a call from the paper. I was working at a record store. I had written a letter complaining about an essay they had run, and they had liked my letter — they wanted me to come in and talk. I was 25, and being invited into the sanctum sanctorum of American journalism. I met with the editors of the Outlook section — the opinion section of The Post’s Sunday edition — who invited me to write “about whatever you want.” I didn’t even feel my feet touch the sidewalk as I walked from The Post building to my dad’s office at National Geographic for a congratulatory lunch.

Over the years, I wrote several pieces for The Post, most often for the Outlook section. But as I grew more conservative, I became more and more aware of what the parameters were. Nothing pro-life, nothing too blatantly Christian, nothing arguing about natural law or homosexuality — unless, of course, it was a performance of conservative switchback, like when Laura Ingraham wrote about her love for her gay brother. Inevitably, I ran up against the paper’s liberal orthodoxy.

The most striking example of this occurred in 1994, when Outlook ran an op-ed of mine about saving the Howard Theater, one of the oldest historically black theaters in America. I went into detail about the history of the Howard, yet something strange happened to my copy when I got to the 1960s. I had referred to the “moral and cultural collapse” that had destroyed the Howard and the surrounding neighborhood — the drugs, rioting and black racism that had brought down that part of town. The night before the paper came out, I was called and told that the phrase “moral and cultural collapse” had been changed to “social upheaval.” Note: This was an editorial in the editorial section.

Of course, I didn’t complain. This was The Post. You didn’t complain, because if you did, you’d be out — and if you were out, there was nowhere else to go. The old Washington Star was gone, and the Internet had not yet exploded. So The Post could and would ruthlessly jettison anyone even mildly critical.

My freelancing for The Post ended a few years ago. I was writing record reviews for the Style section, and had the dumb nerve to criticize some of the other coverage. Simply because he was a fan of jazz singer Diana Krall, Book World writer Michael Dirda got to review her album. It was a disaster — it was obvious Dirda knew nothing about jazz. Other rock and roll writers were often illiterate, which, I argued, was bad for The Post. I also had become a serious Catholic, which was a problem. The Post doesn’t cover religion — it’s buried on the last page of the B section in the Saturday paper — and it is simply out of the question that any should creep into your writing, no matter how subtly. One album I reviewed reminded me of Easter, I wrote in one piece. Rejected. When it bounced back, I simply removed the Easter reference and sent it to a different editor. It was published two days later.

Luckily, by now it was the 1990s. The Internet was a reality, as was Fox News. The Berlin Wall of the fourth estate was beginning to crack.

And today, the revolution is fully underway. Yet I can’t help wonder who has been forgotten to history — the would-be journalists who never got chances. The brilliant stylist who was shown the door by Ben Bradley to make room for Sally Quinn. Do such people exist? Are they still alive? Do they have stories to tell?

If so, they can reach me at msmblackball@gmail.com.

Let’s see how deep it goes.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.