Kayla Oliver

This year the Young Conservatives of Texas announced that they’re bringing back their ‘professor watch-list’, which attempts to bring attention to professors that teach with either a conservative or liberal bias, and either discourage or openly reject dissenting opinions.  It’s a noble cause, of course, but as my colleague Larisa Manescu pointed out in a recent column, “The fact that an inherently biased political organization considers itself the architect of a watch list to identify and eliminate bias is suspicious. This concern would be just the same if the University Democrats proposed the same project.”

It’s important to address biases, especially in the classroom and in the media.  From my experience, my professors do an excellent job of welcoming diverse opinions.  But Danny Zeng, communications director of College Republicans of Texas, thinks the media is liberally biased, asking me, “For instance, how many conservatives write for The Daily Texan?”  My own observations of this semester’s group of weekly columnists tells me there are few.

The reason is actually rather simple.  At the beginning of the year, Kayla Oliver, a Texan associate editor, did actually invite members of both the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives to apply for a spot on the paper, though only two expressed an interest in applying.

As a libertarian, I often feel like my voice is left out.  Realizing this, I applied to be an opinion columnist.  I reached out to the College Republicans and the Young Conservatives for this column, like I did for my last three columns, to no avail.  Danny Zeng of the College Republicans did contact me for this column.  The Young Conservatives, however, have not yet replied to a single interview request — for this column or any other.  Perhaps the issue isn’t some ‘liberal’ media bias, but rather a lack of cooperation.

“Bias in media is not simply how one phrases certain things, but more importantly, what topics are chosen to be covered,” Zeng said.   However, the College Republicans refused to participate in the recent Hook the Vote election debate, claiming, “CR officers re-evaluated the whole situation and saw absolutely no benefits for us to stage a dog-and-pony show, putting our members through debate prep for a group of maybe 20 highly partisan college students.”  I asked Zeng if the group regretted their decision after the debate attracted more than 100 attendees, as well as media coverage.  “Short answer, no,” Zeng said, “I have to ask if any significant number of that “[more than] 100 attendees” did not have their minds made already prior to attending the debate.”  Maybe there is a bias that affects which topics are chosen, but removing yourself from a publicized debate is not a great way to help your case.

But how do others see bias?  Journalism professor Robert Jensen noted that, statistically, people with higher education levels, including journalists, are typically more liberal on social issues than the general public.  So, he says that “there is a kernel of truth” to the alleged bias, but it’s a very small kernel that’s been exploited by the well-funded right wing.

Plan II student Colleen O’Neill is a little uncomfortable with what she considers the media’s liberal bias, as are many other students I talked to.  Agreeing with Dr. Jensen that the entertainment industry has a very clear liberal bias, O’Neill told me, “Teens and young adults see these young, relatable and successful celebrities supporting the liberal party, and they see that being a part of the liberal party is the popular thing to do. At our impressionable, young ages, it is only natural for us to latch onto something that the crowd is doing.”  To see O’Neill’s point, one only has to compare the many celebrity endorsements of Obama to the fewer celebrity endorsements of Romney.

It is important to note, as Dr. Jensen did, that sometimes the supposed ‘liberal bias’ of the media is simply a ‘bias’ toward fact.  While supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion is subjective, pointing out facts is not. When Missouri Congressman Todd Akin infamously said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” the media called him out for his blatantly false statement — and rightly so.  Akin, however, claimed that the media attention was an unfair attack from the ‘liberal elite’ and the ‘liberal media.’  If a bias against stupidity is considered unfair, we have a significant problem.

Luckily, from the students I’ve talked to, our professors on campus do a good job of teaching without any significant biases.  Even Zeng told me, “I have personally not experienced much bias from the professors. My liberal professors are very balanced with their teachings, so are my conservative professors.” Exercise science junior Caroline Betik said, “All of my professors like to keep quiet about their views and allow students to decide for themselves.  I think the bias comes from who your friends are, roommates and what groups you associate yourself with, like certain sororities or other organized groups on campus.”  Seconding that point, Pierre Rochard of the Libertarian Longhorns noted, “Neither the city of Austin nor the University are monolithic, homogenous entities,” so we can’t make blanket statements about local biases.

So, really, the only thing I’ve concluded is that, with my libertarian bias, I can’t properly address whether or not there is a dominant bias in the media or on campus.  But there was one thing that everyone I interviewed agreed upon: it’s important to learn, discuss, and engage the ideas and views of all sides of the political spectrum.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas

Editor’s note: Bob Krueger served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and on the Texas Railroad Commission before becoming the American ambassador to Burundi in 1994. He spoke with Daily Texan associate editor Kayla Oliver about the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the political prospects of Texas Democrats and the lessons of public service. This fall, Krueger is teaching a Liberal Arts Honors and Plan II class called “Heroes in Life and Literature.”

Daily Texan: When you were serving as ambassador to Burundi in the 1990s, you narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an extremist group unhappy with your advocacy for the disenfranchised. Could you describe why you chose to take such an active role in the country’s politics, as did Ambassador Stevens in Libya?
Senator Bob Krueger: Well, an ambassador is a personal representative of the president of the United States. That’s what being an ambassador plenipotentiary means: you have all the powers of the president for United States citizens in that country. It is a huge privilege, of course, to represent the United States anywhere. The genocide I was amid — if you adjusted for the difference in population between Burundi and the United States — was like having ten Twin Towers attacks every week nonstop. Nothing was being reported. There was not a single international reporter there. I thought, I can do two things: I can do what I can to save democracy, and I can do what I can to save lives, and nothing else mattered to me. If I was to remain silent, then who was to speak? If the representative of the world’s most powerful country was afraid to speak, who else would speak?

DT: Does the Libyan government have any responsibility for failing to prevent the attack?
BK: What we have to understand is we are the oldest continuous democracy in the world. We are an immensely powerful nation, and we still have assassins and crazies who do things like killing Sikhs in a church or who take out a gun in a Colorado movie and shoot fifty-odd people. And that’s where we have a strong legal government. Think about what happens where you have a fledgling government just trying to get underway. We have to understand that their government is still under threat from radicals in Libya and radicals coming from outside. The government is seeking their own footing. We’ve had a couple of hundred years and we still have these challenges. We have to put this in a global and historical context and understand that their country is just trying to get underway in a democracy. It’s the same position we might have been in in 1777.

DT: How should the American government respond to the situation?
BK: I think we’re responding appropriately. We have sent Marines to shore up the defense at the embassy itself. Fifty United States Marines are worth a lot more than that many from any other location, and they will come equipped and trained and ready to protect American interests. And we are sending a couple of destroyers that will have drones for observation. I think there’s no doubt that we’re responding with strength, but we don’t know just which group was responsible for this attack, and we certainly can’t go out in another country and think we’ll find the perpetrators. What we need in such instances are cool heads, historical understanding, broad vision and not a silly ‘cowboys and Indians’ approach — saying, “By gosh, I’m going to pull out my gun and get ‘em!” We wouldn’t know who to get.

DT: You were the last Democrat to serve as U.S. Senator from Texas. What realistic odds do you give the Democrat on the November ballot, Paul Sadler, for that seat?
BK: Well, obviously the odds are against him. On the other hand, one never knows in an election what can happen. Sadler is a responsible individual; he is not an ideologue. He has sought to work with people of both parties, and I think he is better qualified to bring some sort of coherence and comity in Washington than an extremist whose economic and other policies are antediluvian.

DT: What have been the disadvantages for Texas to not have a Democrat representing it in the U.S. Senate when one occupies the White House?
BK: I think a Democrat is likely to be a better, more responsible senator and it’s always a benefit, particularly for the second most populous state in the Union, to have connections with both parties rather than just one.

DT: What could a Democrat do to win a statewide office in Texas in November, given the polls?
BK: I suppose hope, pray and do his or her best. We never know what can suddenly turn an election. The odds are against it, but when I first ran for the Senate the odds were against me — I was up against an 18-year incumbent — and I lost only by three votes per thousand.

DT: What one lesson do you think UT undergraduates may take away from their years on campus that will inspire them to work to stop, if they have the opportunity in their lifetime, a genocide like the one you made the world pay attention to in Rwanda and Burundi?
BK:
My own experience in life is that there is no real satisfaction in simply seeking money or things. Looking back, the richest experience I had actually was not either during my time in the Senate or perhaps even in the House. It was when I was in Burundi, an assignment that most people would not have wanted. It gave me a chance to work to save democracy and work to save lives. That was for me an immense privilege. I wouldn’t trade a hundred million dollars for that privilege.