By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Nov 12, 2003

Have you ever noticed that reporters find a lot of "ultraconservatives," but never an "ultraliberal?" That some American politicians are constantly identified in the media as conservatives, but very few are identified as liberals?

You haven't been imagining it. A Wall Street Journal op-ed (available, for now, only to WSJ subscribers) reveals the results of a careful survey of stories in the New York Times and Washington Post, finding that reporters use the term "conservative" more than twice as often as "liberal." And that's not all. When a politician is characterized as a liberal, it's usually a "respected liberal" or a "thoughtful lliberal," whereas a conservative is more likely to be a "partisan conservative" or a "rock-ribbed conservative."

OK, I realize that I'm telling you something that you already know. My point for today is: Doesn't the same reporting bias affect coverage of the Catholic Church?

In the secular media, someone who rejects fundamental Catholic doctrine might be characterized as a liberal, but anyone who defends basic Church teachings is certainly a "conservative," and probably a "doctrinaire conservative" at that. If those are the extremes, then what's the "moderate" Catholic position? Why, cafeteria Catholicism, of course.

The secular media can live happily with Catholics who treat the Catechism like a grocery-store flyer-- this teaching looks attractive; that one doesn't appeal to me. But if you claim that the Church teaches with authority, then you're... ultraconservative.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2003 8:00 PM ET USA

    I believe the difference between a conservative and a liberal { whether it is in politics or the church} is that conservatives express their ideas just as they are because they believe in them;Whereas, liberals use verbal enginering to make sure that they can convince everyone that look at things emotionally. They will not take the chance that their ideas can stand on the merits. Just look at church disenters!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2003 3:44 PM ET USA

    Along the same lines, ever notice that according to the media, "moderate" only modifies the noun "Republican," never "Democrat"? Or that "rigid" never applies to liberal ideology? Or that .... oh, forget it. It's just so tiring to catalogue the way the left has framed the discussion. And, as a regular peruser of The Globe here in Boston, I get to read the screeching LTEs of the pseudo-intelligentsia complaining that the media is actually controlled by the vast right-wing conspiracy. . . help

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2003 1:27 AM ET USA

    Excellent analysis !

  • Posted by: Sterling - Nov. 12, 2003 11:13 PM ET USA

    Oh, Phil, you such a conservative.