Where is the liberal media?

One need only listen to the news for minutes before hearing a newscaster, blogger or radio host deplore the mainstream liberal media. This overwhelming liberal bias is mentioned in every source of media in the country on a regular basis. Yet here we run into a conundrum, because the “existence” of liberal media bias is a propagandistic lie. In refuting claims to the contrary, I will do my best to avoid making jabs at those responsible, but such criticism will be impossible to avoid in its entirety.

The critique of a leftward media bias, far from arising in response to empirical information, has been a result of a very well-funded political movement that decries the media as unreasonably hostile towards business interests, the military and socially conservative individuals. A large number of books have been released in the past several years claiming to identify this bias[i]. These charges, coupled with loud repetition by talk show hosts, politicians and news anchors have made journalism increasingly uncritical of conservative policies while reinforcing the corporate and commercial bias build in to the media structure. This has only led to a growing double-standard in the coverage of politicians and events, with journalists and anchors behaving more and more favorably towards conservatives in fear of losing their position for “liberal bias” and “lack of objectivity.” The trouble is, while even weak criticism of conservative policies will lead to howls of liberal bias, nowhere will you find a media source being criticized as too conservative. Indeed, any mention of a conservative slant is justified by claims that such coverage counterbalances widespread liberal bias, although specifics are rarely, if ever found.

Like all effective lies though, such charges of a “liberal conspiracy” are based upon a kernel of truth that will be explained shortly. The fact that this kernel is misleading and de-contextualized seems beside the point. Regardless, when charges of a liberal media bias are broken down, they generally rest on any of three presumptions: 1) Ultimate control over the news lies with journalists rather than owners and advertisers, 2) Journalists tend to be politically liberal and use their position to promote their values, and 3) Truly objective journalists would perceive the world in the same way it is seen by modern conservatives[ii].

The first presumption is beyond absurd, for only those with no understanding of commercial businesses (of which the media is part) would claim that journalists control what and how news is provided. “In commercial media, owners hire, fire, set budgets and determine the overarching aims of the enterprise[iii]. ” Those journalists that become successful can do so only by internalizing the commercial and political values of the owners, who by and large are traditionally conservative businessmen[iv]. Arguing otherwise is like claiming the President’s press secretary controls the decision-making process simply because they are the public face.

The first claim lies beyond the bounds of reason, but is the second where the most evidence lies.  A number of different surveys demonstrate that journalists tend to vote democratically in greater proportion than average, and this fact is repeated loudly and often by those who complain about a liberal media. Yet this is for the most part irrelevant by virtue of the first assumption’s failure. Ignoring that the charge of “liberal” includes everything from a radical Marx to moderate or conservative democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, why would journalists’ personal views matter when their editors and owners are overwhelmingly conservative? Journalists may be socially liberal (though fiscally liberal is another matter), but as I mentioned before, the agenda-setters are not[v] . Cherry picking journalist’s political views while ignoring the context under which they operate downplays the extent to which a conservative bias is built into the newsroom.

This last assumption, that objective coverage would favor a conservative worldview simply reveals the ideological foundation for these erroneous charges. No conservative politician or news anchor has ever been attacked for unfavorably portraying liberals. By unspoken agreement, any favorable coverage of conservatives is unbiased, and unfavorable coverage of liberals is unbiased, and all unfavorable coverage of conservatives is biased. Heads I win, tails you lose. As the former chair of the Republican Party Rich Bond explained of the frequent cries of liberal bias, “There is some strategy to it… if you watch any great coach [conservatives], what they try to do is ‘work the refs [browbeat the media].’ Maybe the ref [media] will cut you a little slack on the next one [radically insane socioeconomic policies][vi]. ”

It’s a frighteningly effective manipulation.

[i] Bias by Bernard Goldberg, Slander by Ann Coulter and Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity are some of the most popular publications.

[ii] The Problem of the Media, Robert McChesney

[iii] http://www.turnoffyourtv.com/reviews/problemofmedia/problemofmedia.html

[iv] https://umdrive.memphis.edu/cbrown14/public/Mass%20Comm%20Theory/Week%208%20Journalism%20Studies/Breed%201955.pdf

[v] http://www.editorandpublisher.com/PrintArticle/Readers-support-Bush-say-coverage-was-good

[JL1]maybe you could start off with “The other day when I was listening to RADIOSTATION, I heard BLANK.” And then continue on how common that is.

[JL2]Could you work in the examples with “Such as…”?

[JL3]I really don’t know if we can use footnotes. I’ll have to ask, but for the meantime I’m assuming no. Can you work in the title somehow?

[JL4]Just state, “This person said from this website, “BLAH””

[JL5]See note above.

[JL6]See note above.

[JL7]See note above.