What I saw at the devolution

Memorial Day. A good day to ponder how I ended up here, writing this column and not exactly changing the world. It might surprise some to hear that I decided to become a journalist on a rainy sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic. My son, about 9, was marching with a sign, “My mom chose life.”

A reporter interviewed us. I had a few questions. Any pro-lifers working at the newspaper? Probably not, she answered.

This seemed evidence of the liberal media bias that I’d heard about on right-wing radio. I was a part-time college student and full-time evangelical Protestant. When I wasn’t listening to religious talk shows, I was tuning in to Rush Limbaugh—with self-proclaimed “talent on loan from God.”

In 1992, perched on a kitchen stool next to my yard-sale boom box, I listened to election returns and cried as Bill Clinton beat H.W.

Six years later, I’d earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and was on my way to becoming a free-thinking nonpartisan. The conversion was slow and painful.

Reporters are exposed to tons of information from multiple perspectives. Ideally, we research issues, interview knowledgeable sources and carefully observe politics in action.

In the mid-1990s, I wrote about conservative luminary Phyllis Schlafly when she came to Reno. Taking cheap digs at Hillary Clinton, Schlafly argued that it does not take a village to raise a child. Accompanying me to the event was a good friend—the woman who babysat my kindergartener so I could attend university classes.

My first trip to the Nevada Legislature was an eye-opener. After watching Republican lawmakers hobnob with corporate lobbyists for hours, I felt polluted, unable to write a story. Instead of going back to the office, I headed to the Washoe County Registrar of Voters Office and changed my party affiliation from Republican to nonpartisan.

When George W. was elected the first time around, it wasn’t the end of my world. I’d been punching the ballot for Ralph Nader and the Greens—voting “my hopes and not my fears.”

I wrote about Nevada’s Marriage Protection initiative and tried to interview a conservative who didn’t sound intolerant and self-righteous. I couldn’t find one.

Then 9/11. Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, and instead of going after al Qaeda with the support of the indignant world, we were bombing civilian weddings in Afghanistan, imprisoning people without trials at Guantánamo and futilely looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Not to mention outsourcing torture.

Rich Americans got tax cuts, and the poor got the shaft. Fewer Americans had health insurance. Jobs went overseas. Housing costs soared. Wages stagnated. No Child Left Behind made education more about testing than learning. Nuke and oil moguls crafted the administration’s energy policy. Loggers were put in charge of national forests. Federal abstinence programs stopped teaching teens about birth control.

Media bias? How about the 24/7 news channels’ warmongering and pesky insistence that we’re the Good Guys? Stories like the Downing Street memo got play overseas—but U.S. mainstream media find boring any attempt to hold elected officials accountable for troubles that don’t involve an intern and a cigar.

Friends and family members don’t see this. To them, the War on Terror keeps Americans safe at night. So what if conservatives bend ethics rules? Right-wing lawmakers protect the “institution” of marriage and work ’round the clock to save the lives of innocents like Terri Schiavo. (A local pro-lifer e-mailed me in March: “The misreporting is just pathetic and unprofessional. There’s a lust for death.”)

I knew where they were coming from, but that doesn’t matter. I’m part of the liberal media, never to be trusted again.

Maybe I need a radio show. Or, better, a blog.