Is media bias real?
February 5, 2001 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Is media bias real? MRC has an interesting collection of quotes by the big 3 news anchors comparing how they treated Clinton & GW Bush on the same issue - abortion. It sure looks like bias to me, but then again, I'm biased.
posted by schlyer (36 comments total)
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." -- Noam Chomsky

It's no surprise that the media tilt about .01 degree left of center -- liberalism correlates pretty directly with education and urban/suburbanism. The significant and dangerous bias in the media, though, is in favor of wealth and power.

Check out Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's What's Wrong with the News? for more info.
posted by sudama at 2:22 PM on February 5, 2001

"A bi-weekly compilation of the latest outrageous,
sometimes humorous, quotes in the liberal media."

Anyone who still repeats the "liberal media" lie has a bias of their own. All objective evidence to date indicates that the media - owned and controlled by large corporations - tends to play to the interests of those corporations, and that there is in fact no "liberal bias" in the media at large.
posted by Outlawyr at 2:47 PM on February 5, 2001

There could be some media bias in this case however while Clinton made a change that was seen as moving forward, Bush's action was seen as reverting back to "the old". He reverted the policy to what it was before Clinton.
posted by bkdelong at 2:49 PM on February 5, 2001

All objective evidence to date indicates that the media - owned and controlled by large corporations - tends to play to the interests of those corporations, and that there is in fact no "liberal bias" in the media at large.

Evidence? I'd urge you to cite some if it.

The "global media conglomerate" theory really depends upon the assumption that the board of directors of Time-Warner, say, have more influence over the output of its media outlets than do the people who select, write, edit and present the stories we see every night.

While there may be some upper-level influence, the day-to-day reality is that reporters, editors, anchors, and all the other-rubber-meets-the-road types tend to be urban, overeducated, underpaid, and decidely left-wing compared to our society's midline.
posted by mikewas at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2001

I like that. "Overeducated."

I wonder who hires all these writers and editors and journalists?
posted by Doug at 3:30 PM on February 5, 2001

Gerald Levin. He personally vets and approves every single hire at every single AOL Time Warner media outlet. What an amazing man.

Get real.
posted by aaron at 3:32 PM on February 5, 2001

Organizations tend to become reflections of those who are at the top. If the people at the top of news media organizations' power structures are pro-corporate, then yes, all the people who get hired from there on down to the lowest level will tend to be that way, too. They don't have to go through and hand-pick every person in the company to make sure the majority of them are corporate lackeys. They just have to hire some people like themselves who will in turn hire more people like themselves. It's a cascading effect.
posted by Potsy at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2001

... overeducated, underpaid ...

Evidence? I'd urge you to cite some if it.

Most media types I know have only a bachelors degree. So is your solution to have the news prepared by better-paid high school grads?

And if the media are so liberal and not, as you suggest, not controlled by corporate interests, why did the Nader campaign get such shoddy coverage?

posted by luke at 3:45 PM on February 5, 2001

Evidence, you ask? Evidence, I say. A survey of 141 Washington-based journalists reveals that the majority of respondents tend to self-identify as centrists; trend left on social issues, right on economic issues; are less likely than the general public to believe that the federal government should provide health-care for all; and are more likely than the general public to support Presidential powers to fast-track free trade agreements.

Now, I'll admit that 140+ Washington-based journalists is probably not a statistically relevant sample. And I'll admit that there is, anecdotally at least, a tepidly liberal slant in certain major news outlets (notably the New York Times). And I'll admit further that FAIR would look for these results (just as the MRC would look to find a liberal bias). But to just assert that there's a universal liberal bias in the media seems to call for slightly convoluted interpretations of the words "liberal" and "bias."

Or perhaps I just hallucinated those Newsweek cover stories during the early-nineties furor over the "new McCarthyism" of political correctness? Am I confused about the political tendancy of the Wall Street Journal editorial page?

Journalists deserve to be picked apart for their tendency toward group-think, but I think the majority of them make an honest effort to avoid slanting their coverage toward their own views (and instead pander to what they think the public wants to hear, but that's another story).
posted by snarkout at 3:51 PM on February 5, 2001

And to toss in two more cents... Hey Aaron? Do you really think it doesn't ever happen?
posted by snarkout at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2001

Compared to my libertarian ass, the media is liberal ;)~
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:01 PM on February 5, 2001

Compared to my liberal ass, the media is conservative.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:12 PM on February 5, 2001

Compared to my ass, the media have more cracks but a better odor.
posted by luke at 4:18 PM on February 5, 2001

What could be easier to do than to be selective and pull quotes to make a case?
Want to see what the tv bias is? watch the talk shows on Sunday. Then tell me about a liberal bias.
posted by Postroad at 4:31 PM on February 5, 2001

Want to see what the tv bias is? watch the talk shows on Sunday. Then tell me about a liberal bias.

Speaking of being selective, how about choosing shows that are aired when hardly anyone watches TV?
posted by kindall at 4:34 PM on February 5, 2001

Doesn't anyone read the newspaper anymore?
posted by luke at 4:35 PM on February 5, 2001

Well, nothing can quite compare to your collective asses.

The only bias the media has is towards its own self-interest and that generally means the interests of the powerful in society.

You could even say that they fill the role that was once played by the Church before TV came along. They shape and reflect the orthodox views of society and therefore they tend to favour the government of the day. They don't challenge, they reinforce. Clinton bias will be replaced by GWB bias soon enough.

So, if your views don't happen to coincide with the mainstream views of society, then you will inevitably see it as bias (either to the left or right). That's just the way things work.

posted by lagado at 4:43 PM on February 5, 2001

didn't this whole past election coverage put to bed that silly fairy tale of the "liberal bias" in the media? i mean gore couldn't even sigh without getting torn apart in the newspapers the next day, while the press basically kissed w's butt the whole fall.
posted by saralovering at 4:59 PM on February 5, 2001

I think Luke touched on a good point with the ass comment. Actually, no, I think Crouton did.
I see the media as VERY conservative, but I'm VERY liberal. Aaron sees the media as VERY liberal, but he's VERY conservative. But mass media can't be too extreme one way or the other, so people who have strongly held beliefs, even if they're silly (such as those held by Aaron...just kidding....sorta) will see the media as opposed to their values.
But at least we can all agree that the media SHOULD be liberal.
posted by Doug at 5:42 PM on February 5, 2001

Of all the content analyses that stand-up to scrutiny, Chomsky’s propoganda model, with its paired-example proofs, is the most innovative in ferreting out media “bias.” Constantly and consistently, it shows media is little more than a tool of the state and that news is almost solely defined by what politicians say.

The Press is particularly prone to following stories that re-affirm their prejudices, without actually citing enough evidence to prove them. Ergo, we see many recurring themes, including: Bush is stupid, Gore was an exaggerator, Palestenians are always the aggressor, class wars are fought only from the bottom up, terrorism nearly always refers to property destruction, but almost never harm to people, US foreign policy is always benign and Nader was an egomaniac — just like Ross Perot was portrayed.

Editor & Publisher has tracked newspaper endorsements since 1932. For the 2000 election they found 48% supported Bush while 23% picked Gore. Most publishers (who ethically aren’t supposed to have final say on content, but history shows otherwise) proved their Republican colors as 59% said they’d vote for Bush, while only 20% stated they’d vote Gore. Editors who took part in the survey were also mostly Bush supporters, though the margin was slimmer.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 9:59 PM on February 5, 2001

the problem with calling "the media" liberal or conservative is that there's no one, definitive "the media", so no one's going to prove a damn thing. You could say CNN is left-leaning and Fox News is right-leaning. And they're both "the media". So is Mother Jones, so is National Review.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:51 AM on February 6, 2001

What I want when I watch a news story about, say, politics, is to hear both sides of that story. If Bush cuts abortion funding I want to hear both a critical reaction and an affirmative reaction. Then I'll be able to decide whether or not it was a good thing (at least, I'll be in a better position to make that decision). I generally don't see that sort of coverage in the media.

Also, the media is a business and they are in it for the money. They attempt to string you along at every opportunity so that they can make money (just giving the people what they want).
posted by tallman at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2001

tallman - The problem with showing both sides to the story is that sometimes one side isn't valid.

Holocaust deniers have gotten a lot of coverage that makes their claims (that the Holocaust didn't happen) seem valid because of the tendency of the press to do "he says, she says" coverage without looking critically at what is going on.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:06 AM on February 6, 2001

What I want when I watch a news story about, say, politics, is to hear both sides of that story.

Why do you need to hear spin from flacks on both sides of an issue? Why are you basing your opinions on reactions from someone else? Why can't you just hear the facts of a matter and then decide the merits of it for yourself?

It is just that very desire, to have the thinking done for us, that has brought us to the point where we turn a collective blind eye to the ever-blurring line between news reporting and editorialising.

Tell me what happened, let me determine for myself if it's good or bad. Keep the talking heads, the spinmeisters and the people with the agenda off of the news reports and save them for the commentary shows.
posted by Dreama at 12:09 PM on February 6, 2001

Tell me what happened, let me determine for myself if it's good or bad.

OK, but language is rarely free of connotation.

In addition, the more in depth an issue is covered, the more judgment calls and editing decisions have to be made in order to decide what content to present. So the best way to reduce bias in news reporting is probably just to present a one-word statement: "Today, President Bush signed an act that [blah blah blah]." Of course, then the nightly news would be about three minutes instead of 30. (Which might not be so bad.)

Some inherent bias is usually going to come through in news reports; people should just realize that, and try to find out the other side for themselves. Read, listen, or watch the news intelligently.

Then again, human beings are stupid.
posted by Tin Man at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2001

Don't depend in the mainstream television or radio as your only source for information. Because the issue is often times never discussed. Thank you for the Internet.
posted by passionblack at 12:49 PM on February 6, 2001

I'm still waiting for a definition of "overeducated"...
posted by jpoulos at 1:10 PM on February 6, 2001

They just have to hire some people like themselves who will in turn hire more people like themselves. It's a cascading effect.

Ah, this explains the dramatic similarity between formner General Motors head honcho Andrew Card and the line workers hired during his tenure. In fact, it is widely known that the UAW underwent a noticable rightward shift due to the nefarious brainwashing of underlings performed by Card and his minions.

Come on. Political leanings are determined by much more personal factors than your boss' boss' boss' opinions, factors like one's own upbringing, socioeconomic status, and any number of life events more important than the CEO's favorite pols and policies. Do you really think that Rupert Murdoch and the printing press operators in his employ have the same opinion on minimum wage? Then why on earth would that be true of the reporters working for him?

And Doug, "overeducated" means to me, anyone who's been locked in the ivory tower so long they've lost all sense of reality. Don't try to deny those people exist.
posted by mikewas at 1:49 PM on February 6, 2001

Golly, Mike, you sure know a lot about the people who work in media. What newspaper did you say you worked for? Or were you in TV?
posted by luke at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2001

luke, you gonna counter him or make unrelated comments?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:04 PM on February 6, 2001

Fine, I'll counter: He's full of it. He's calling the media's trenches an "ivory tower" without having ever stepped in a newsroom. This has as much merit as someone describing the political attitudes of lawyers based on last night's "Ally."

As someone who has stepped in a newsroom -- as someone in one now -- yes, I deny "these people" exist.

posted by luke at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2001

Ah, thank you. I didn't understand you.
Now you must concede that ivory towers are invisible from the inside... :)
mikewas, I agree that any bias will be at the lower level, however, you haven't even given us any anecdotal evidence about liberal, overeducated, pressmen.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:31 PM on February 6, 2001

As someone who's stepped in a number of newsrooms - real, national, NYC- and Washington-based ones, I'll say the exact opposite of what luke said. They exist. There aren't as many as you'd think, but they exist. Especially in the pool of editors and anchors.

(I also think luke should have pointed out for the purposes of this discussion that he is an alumnus of the Clinton White House. Full disclosure, y'know.)

Not that all this arguing about how many journalists have PhDs is at all relevant to the subject at hand: Do the political beliefs of journalists (or of their boss's boss's boss's bosses) cause their reporting to be slanted, or not? Regardless of which way you believe the bias is, you can't deny it exists. It's simply not possible for a journalist to be truly objective. As snark said above, "the majority of them make an honest effort" to do so. I agree. But if they were truly objective, they wouldn't have to make an effort at all. They take their inherent biases into every story they write, every story they cover, even the choices of which stories to cover in the first place. And those biases will always show up in the finished product, to some extent or another.
posted by aaron at 12:34 AM on February 8, 2001

Aaron, to take your argument a further step, where are these mythical "objective" journalists who have no opinion on anything they write about? I'll grant you that there are many biased journalists, but is journalism as a whole biased?

Looking at one dictionary's definition of bias, we find that it is "A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment," or, perhaps, "An unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice." Do you feel that journalistic prejudice prevents an impartial judgment and if so, do you feel that it then causes journalists to commit "unfair acts" like slanted reporting? The kicker: If your answer to these questions is "yes," do you believe that there is a uniform political tendancy to journalistic bias?

Looking at the manhandling Bush and Gore got in the press, which rarely, if ever, seemed to address serious problems of character or policy, I once again assert that most journalistic bias is due to groupthink -- the desire to write stories confirming the conventional wisdom of the day (thus an infinite number of stories about Bush being dumb and Gore being a liar). But I don't think that, regardless of the tendancies of the journalist, this groupthink is necessarily of the right or of the left. (I think Herman & Chomsky do an excellent job of demonstrating this in Manufacturing Consent, although you may disagree.)
posted by snarkout at 8:44 AM on February 11, 2001

Following up on my own post, I do think that journalistic bias is, in some ways, political, but that has to do with a failure to ask certain questions (assumptions about corporate authority, say, or international relations -- big issues) rather than a prevailing spin on stories; on a day-to-day 7:00-news/morning-edition-of-the-paper kind of way, I don't see it having a universal political character.
posted by snarkout at 8:50 AM on February 11, 2001

Finally, big questions like disassembling the federal entitlement system also don't get addressed, just to acknowledge a point Aaron might make; it's not all purportedly leftist causes that get overlooked. (Although I saw a brief mention in the Washington Post of the fact that Bush's new secretary of the treasury wants to abolish the corporate income tax, which went totally unremarked upon. Maybe he was misquoted.)
posted by snarkout at 10:07 AM on February 11, 2001

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