David R. Henderson  

Media Bias and Warren Olney

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Last week I posted on a case of media bias and a case of media bullying. Here's another true story about media bias, this time involving Warren Olney, a well-known name in the Los Angeles radio market. In the early 1990s, there was a lot of discussion of "national service." The late Charlie Moskos had written a book advocating it, which I reviewed in Fortune. I also wrote a piece on it in Barron's, in which I criticized the national service proposal of John McCain and used a damning quote from his spokesman, Scott Celley, in which Celley admitted that the voluntary national service proposal was a step toward compulsion. I also wrote a piece on it in Reason and a cost-benefit analysis of it that I presented at a Hoover conference and that later appeared in a book edited by Bill Evers. You'll see in a minute why I mention all these bona fides.

I got a call from Olney's booker, asking me to be on an hour-long (if I remember correctly) show in the L.A. market, a show called "Which Way L.A.?" I think the booker said that someone had seen my Reason piece. I accepted.

My first surprise was that I was on the live show with three other people, all of whom were advocates of national service. So it was stacked three to one. Actually, given Warren's tone, one could say it was even four to one. That was only a mild surprise. I've been in such situations before, although it's usually two to one, or three to one counting the interviewer.

Here was the big surprise. He introduced all three people before me and, in each case, gave their bona fides. He stated the books or articles they had written and/or their past or current jobs. I don't remember their names--the tape I had of it was destroyed in my February 2007 fire--but I do remember that one had been an aide to the late murdered Congressman Allard Lowenstein. Olney didn't even hint that any of the three had an ideology.

Then he got to me: "And finally, we have David Henderson, a libertarian from Monterey." That was it. No mention of my articles. No mention of my time as senior economist with Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers. No mention of my current job at the Naval Postgraduate School or my affiliation with the Hoover Institution.

The time actually went pretty well, given that I was outnumbered. But in choosing between making important points and trying to fill in the bona fides that Olney hadn't, I chose the former.

At the end of such calls, it is common to hang up. But I stayed on, in the hope that Olney would come on to say good-bye. He did. So I said:

Warren, I don't know if you noticed this, but in your introduction to the other three guests, you said nothing about their ideology but did give their important affiliations and accomplishments. When you got to me, you said nothing about my affiliations or accomplishments and instead mentioned my ideology.

He replied:
Oh, I did? I'm so sorry.

I accepted his apology. I didn't totally believe it though. A few years later, I got a call from his booker and I told him that I would be on the show if and only if the booker wrote up an intro for me that mentioned my bona fides and Olney promised to use it. The booker accepted and I was introduced the right way.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
Daniel Klein writes:

Way to go. This kind of thing is important, and too few make the effort to correct pervasive slights of such kind.

gabriel rossman writes:

i've been listening to /Which Way LA/ off and on pretty much all my life and this strikes me as an exceptional case for Olney. usually he's not only fair to all the guests, but contrary to your "three to one" became "four to one" experience, he'll often play devil's advocate if necessary to balance a discussion. i'm not doubting your account of the "national service" discussion, just saying that Olney is usually better about this sort of thing and my guess is that his apology was sincere.

John Fembup writes:

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - - Marx

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