We have all heard the complaints from conservative pundits about”liberal media bias.” Strangely enough, many veryintelligent people believe in the supposed rampancy of liberalismin the media.
The whole concept of “liberal media bias” is a redherring. In the realm of politics and law, “redherrings” are introduced to divert attention from the realissue. It is no coincidence that when a news story makes the Bushadministration look bad, conservative pundits are quick to raisethe age-old complaint of “liberal bias,” shifting thefocus away from policies.
This myth of “liberal media bias” has beenperpetuated far too long, and is in need of debunking, so that weas a culture can move onto more relevant issues. It is time todismantle the myth of “liberal bias” one piece at atime.
“Liberal Media” Argument
If we take the time to examine the “liberal media”argument as a whole, we see that it lacks logic.
Let us suppose that the media is as liberal as conservative punditsclaim, and that every single news host and columnist are partisanDemocrats, pounding their party’s message downAmerica’s throat.
If this is true, the reputation of every Republican running foroffice would be so defamed, that they would never have a chance.Now, if “liberals” really were holding the mediahostage, why did Republicans get stronger holds in both the U.S.House of Representatives and Senate during the 2002 elections?
Clearly, the “liberal media” did not matter in thisinstance.
Reporters are Owned
Traditionally, reporters have had liberal leanings. The argumentgoes, “if reporters are liberal, they will insert their viewsinto their stories.” Yet this negates one very importantfact: no matter what the political views of journalists are, theymean nothing after producers and owners have their say.
If the media were as “liberal” as some claim, therewould be a constant stream of news stories criticizing bigcorporations, right? Not exactly. Consider this example ofcorporate censorship: Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, an investigativereporting team at WTVT, Fox’s Tampa Bay affiliate hadproduced a story about the health risks of rBGH, a synthetic growthhormone developed by Monsanto used in cows to increase milkproduction.
Just days before the story was aired, Monsanto sent a letter toRoger Ailes, the head of Fox News, questioning the objectivity ofthe story, hinting at a possible lawsuit.
The story went through a series of cuts, revisions andexaminations by lawyers.
Despite these changes, Monsanto sent another letter warning FoxNews of “dire consequences” if the story aired. Akreand Wilson were willing to refine the story further to make it”fair and balanced” to all parties involved. Finally,WTVT’s station manager cut the story altogether, and told thereporters, “We paid $3 billion for these television stations.We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you itis.”
Similar attitudes are commonplace amongst elite corporateowners. Consider the words of Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney,”I would prefer that ABC not cover Disney, I think it’sinappropriate.” I suppose that means we won’t behearing about Disney’s practice of using child labor overseasfrom ABC News any time soon.
Even the”liberal”news website Slate.com, is underthe tight leash of its owner, Microsoft.
Michael Kinsley, Slate’s founding editor has stated,”Slate will never give Microsoft the skeptical scrutiny itrequires as a powerful institution in American society.”
In response to some of the pressures faced by corporate ownersand advertisers, journalists are engaging in the practice ofself-censorship. According to a study done by the Pew Research forPeople and the Press, “about one-quarter of the local andnational journalists say they have purposely avoided newsworthystories, while nearly as many acknowledge they have softened thetone of stories to benefit the interests of their newsorganizations. Fully 41 percent admit they have engaged in eitheror both of these practices.”
The study also found that journalists “either get signalsfrom their bosses to avoid such stories (30 percent) or ignore thembased on how they think their bosses would react (24 percent). Ofthose who believe newsworthy stories are being ignored to protectcorporate interests, fully three-quarters say journalists getsignals or anticipate negative reactions from superiors, and just 8percent say journalists decide to avoid such stories completely ontheir own.” Producers, owners and advertisers have the finalsay in which stories are presented and how some stories shouldpresented. There is little room for any liberalism.
Where’s the Balance?
If there was one place where one could find bias, it would be inthe news sources that are chosen.
We can assume that if the media had a “liberal”slant, most of the people interviewed would be environmentalists,consumer advocates and union members. This is not the case. In a2001 study by Media Tenor International found that “unionrepresentatives made up less than 0.2 percent of sources on theevening news, making company representatives 35 times more likelyto be heard.”
Who else could the media interview regarding labor issues?Democratic politicians would be a natural choice, because of theirparty’s history of working with organized labor. Apparently,the major networks don’t think so. Media Tenor found that of”the partisan sources presented on labor issues, 89 percentwere Republicans and 11 percent were Democrats.”
When examining the nightly news shows from ABC, NBC and CBS,Media Tenor found that 75 percent of the sources that had beenasked for a political opinion were Republican, while 24 percentwere Democrat.
Another effective way to learn about a news corporation’sbias is by looking at the “experts” they interview, oneof the best places to find a batch of experts are think tanks.California State University lecturer Michael Dolny researched theideological standings of the think tanks cited by newscorporations. He found that in 2001, 47 percent of the think tankscited were conservative, 39 percent centrist, and 14 percentliberal.
The Herring Doth Stinketh
We have to come to terms with the simple fact that the mediadoes not hold, or remotely represent anything resembling a liberalbias.
Our media is owned by large multinational corporations, who havea stake in extending their power.
Some conservatives feel that they have such a stranglehold onthe American media, that they are willing to admit there really isno liberal media.
Consider the words of Pat Buchanan during the 1996 Rep.Presidential Nomination, “I’ve gotten balancedcoverage, and broad coverage — all we could have asked. Forheaven sakes, we kid about the ‘liberal media,’ butevery Republican on earth does that.”
Let us not forget the words of neo-conservative WilliamKristol,”The liberal media were never that powerful, and thewhole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives forconservative failures.”
We need to recognize that this “liberal media bias”argument is exactly what Kristol calls it: an excuse byconservatives for their political failings. As a public, we mustnot become distracted by the putrid and festering carcass of thisred herring.
A Truly Liberal Media
What would a truly liberal media be? The very concept ofliberalism is the tolerance of a wide range of views and socialissues.
To reach that point we must reduce the size of corporate mediaconglomerates.
This can only be done if we put pressure on thier leaders to doso. In order for democracy to function, we need a liberal media tochallenge and hold established power accountable.
We should demand nothing less from our news institutions.