T Nation

Media Bias - Prove it


I will not state a position here in regards to my political philosophy... and, attempts to discern it will likely just detract from the thread.

Here's the topic:

Media bias.

There was a period of time, between Reagan and Clinton's second term, during which liberals (especially the more activist types) raised a banner of persecution, the premise being that the news media was biased against their interests... it tended to be primarily issues-based as liberals so often are.

In the beginning of Clinton's second term, I began to hear the mainstreaming of the position that Rush Limbaugh has championed for decades, that the news media has an inherently liberal bias. With the emergence of Fox news and the strengthening of conservative talk radio, this opinion has become effectively universal among conservatives.

I posit that it is a ridiculous opinion. It was just as lacking in substance when the liberals championed themselves as being persecuted by the news media as it is now by the conservatives. I have seen no credible evidence from either side supporting the following conclusions:

  1. That they can discern the motivations of individuals in the news media, let alone a collective psychology.
  2. That either side is treated any differently on a consistent basis.

Let's leave out Fox news and the current incarnation of MSNBC which are both admittedly pursuing a particular agenda. These two organizations are effectively reactions to this opinion phenomenon.

Let's see some evidence.


I've argued against the concept of liberal media bias on here in the past. There certainly is a liberal bias in the media, but there is also just as strong a bias regarding conservatism as well. It is pointless to not include Fox or MSNBC in this discussion though. They are both huge media outlets, especially Fox.

It is extremely hard to accurately determine whether media as a whole is biased one way or the other. Some research groups use keyword searches and that sort of thing, but these methods largely ignore the context in which they were used. Also, public opinion surveys are pointless as well. Most people don't expose themselves to both sides of the proverbial aisle nearly enough for their opinion to carry any merit.

I will argue this though, as I have done here in the past: the media in general is dominated by "conservative" outlets. The largest cable news network is Fox, and it's not even close. They consistently get more viewers than MSNBC or CNN and frequently get more viewers than both combined. They also got better ratings than ABC, CBS and NBC during parts of the 2008 election. The highest-rated TV talk show hosts (on matters political) are Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Six of the seven highest-rated radio talk shows are conservative (the one that isn't is not a political show, it's a personal finance advice show) and Limbaugh dominates. He gets about 15 million listeners a day, which gives him access to more people than any other media outlet anywhere in the country. The largest newspapers in the country ae the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times (I am excluding USA Today because they have very little editorial content compared to these two). The Wall Street Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch and while the NY Times is definitely not conservative, only a paranoiac would call it a bastion of liberal bias.

The only media outlet that is not heavily dominated by conservative ideology is the Internet, but that isn't dominated by liberal ideology either. Rather, it is only slightly slanted toward liberalism. Six of the top ten websites are what mny would consider "liberal". Beyond that, the top news/political websites still don't get nearly the same unique hits in one month as Beck, Hannity or Limbaugh get on their radio shows in one week.

So chances are, the sources that you get your news from are going to be slanted toward conservative ideology if they are slanted one way or the other at all.


Another problem with determining media bias is that people by and large assume that if you disagree with a liberal, then you must be conservative and vice versa. So a revealing article that is legitimately critical of a person who is a pillar of the conservative or liberal community (such as the recent article about Palin in Vanity Fair) is dismissed by many as simply being biased.

I see it here all the time. I am constantly criticized for being liberal on this forum simply because I do not agree with the frequent bullshit I hear from conservatives on here. But I am not a liberal. I am a registered Libertarian but I would not label myself as a Libertarian either because I disagree with many of the LP's stances on taxation and drug legalization. If I had to choose one label or the other, I would begrudgingly choose conservative, but TRUE conservative, in the mold of William F. Buckley or Barry Goldwater.


It's become impossible for most people to distinguish in either direction since it's now so easy to saturate yourself with media that conforms to one's own view. You get TV, radio, and internet "news" that confirms an ideology you already have, because you've sought sources that do (maybe only implicitly, which is worse). That then allows people en masse to realign their perception of what's "mainstream".

People who ONLY watch Fox and listen to Beck and Rush, think most Americans think like they do, that represent the mainstream, and that all those other channels present a liberal bias. Same with folks who ONLY watch MSNBC and ONLY listen to Amy Goodman and Ed Shultz: they perceive a radical right-wing bias in everything else.

I don't know what's to be done. The obvious solution is to rely on multiple sources for information, even when you can't stand the bent, or personalities associated with it. But most Beck viewers can't take five seconds of Olberman-self-righteous-rant, and most Maddow viewers wouldn't take Beck seriously if told them the sky was blue.

Confirmation bias is in our nature. And these days it's offered in droves. I could pick pretty much any view (from the twisted, to the mainstream) and find a community and media ready to tell me I'm right.


medias are biased toward :
-drama and narratives
-anything that can be stated in less than 7 seconds.
-hype and other buzzes

and more than anything else, they are biased toward... themselves

the whole questioning about the "left or right" bias of the media is a waste of time.

nowadays, the left and right are both trying to format themselves to fit in the mediatic landscape and pre-emptively answer its exceptations.
the left and right are both adaptating themselves to the media and they are both selling their souls to do it.

which is way more frightening than a simple bias toward the left.


I've always enjoyed Bernie Goldberg's web sight. He often writes about bias in the media, giving many examples.



Are you including popular entertainment? Probably more persuasive than the news in it's own subtle (even not so sublte) way.


I agree wholeheartedly. The Family Guy is one that comes to mind. I love the show, but it makes me want to puke everytime I hear that fucking dog get all philosophical, like the episode where he convinced Meg that God didn't exist because if He did, He wouldn't have made her so ugly.

Of course, there's nothing liberal or conservative about religious views. Most would have you think that God is akin to conservatism and therefore liberalism is akin to atheism, but it's not and.......well, we're getting off topic here. The point is that this bias can be forced onto us from both sides of the political spectrum (and is) with equal frequency and with equal insidiousness. Anyone who thinks the left has a monopoly on this is only believing and reinforcing what they want to feel rather than challenging their convictions. Challenge yourself before you challenge others.


that is definitely a big part of it. conservatives in popular shows are not generally shown in a a good light, and if they are they have a brain tumor or some other ailment with their brain. just watch the kiddie stations and you will get overloaded with liberal viewpoints and conservative straw men ready to be knocked down.

another factor is that the presence of fox news has made CNN a better new organization. It has forced them to do some soul searching and take seriously the charge of bias. I think they have responded very well to it.

its interesting how time washes away the memories as well. the bias in journalist such as mike wallace, dan rather, and cronkite is fairly evident.

here are just a couple of examples:

i dont expect any of these people to be perfect, but I do expect them to at least try and keep their points of view in check. This refers to both in story selection as well as how they report on it. If you cant do that then you really cant call yourself a journalist.


This is an extremely interesting analysis. I would demur however, on one point: FOX did not start out as a behemoth. If you remember when that network started it was getting clobbered by everyone. I would posit that FOX's rise was a possible result of bias at that time, which allowed FOX to grow as a reaction against it, and eventually as Murdoch got his claws in, to excel.

Further I might ask whether your advice against including survey studies extends to that of journalists themselves, since they are supposed to be exposed to any and all news--because they report it. For instance,

In a 2005 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll of nearly 700 journalists, the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 3.4 to 1

In a 1996 survey of 1,037 journalists, the respondents identified themselves as liberals 4 times more frequently than as conservatives. Among journalists working for newspapers with circulations exceeding 50,000, the ratio of liberals to conservatives was 5.4 to 1. (American Society of Newspaper Editors survey)

A 2008 Investors Business Daily study put the campaign donation ratio at 11.5-to-1, in favor of Democrats.


I didn't expect to get any responses as solid as the above two.

Interesting stuff....


We're good for an occasional surprise or two...


Just to emphasize:

"...It's become impossible for most people to distinguish in either direction since it's now so easy to saturate yourself with media that conforms to one's own view. You get TV, radio, and internet "news" that confirms an ideology you already have, because you've sought sources that do (maybe only implicitly, which is worse). That then allows people en masse to realign their perception of what's "mainstream"..."

Simply outstanding, Spartiates...




I admit I don't know shit about the beginnings of FoxNews and why they started out slowly, but I would suspect that virtually ALL networks of any kind start out slowly. I also suspect that Fox's surge in popularity is simply because there are more people who self-identify as conservatives than liberals and Fox tells these people what they want to hear, just like MSNBC does for the other side of the spectrum.

But I have a large problem with surveys that ask people to identify something as conservative or liberal, whether it be the media or themselves. A lot of people don't even know how to accurately self-identify their political ideology in the first, so how do we expect their assessment of the media to be any more accurate? I remember when I was earning my degree in political science that several books I read showed surveys that all indicated that roughly half of Americans are incapable of accurately labeling their ideology.


Fortunately, our diligent news media is providing a basic framework:

The conservative - Liberals suck!
The liberal - Conservatives suck!


A perfect assessment. It seems to me that when you have one side saying the other is wrong 100% of the time and vice versa, you just end up with two sides that are each wrong half of the time.


Which may not be the worst idea... Consider:

I have a good friend, an independent, who for most of his adult life has voted purposefully for gridlock. In the 70's and 80's it wasn't such a bad strategy when you consider the results of many of Washington's more 'active' decisions.

Now, he votes for the wackiest candidate he an find. He figures that one side or the other will somehow attain the power to force policy, so he goes for the candidate furthest on the other side of their ideology, assuming that they will counterbalance their decisions in the next legislative cycle.

I suppose it's still voting for gridlock... just on a longer scale.


I think most news is biased left for the simple fact that by far the majority of journalist are liberals. They vote liberal, they donate liberal, and then they get on the air and deliver the news. Its just human nature that they subconsciously take sides in a way that is going to influence their reporting.

An interesting thing to think about is also what bias really means. It comes in many forms. Comentary programs that all lean one way on a network? Omitting newsworthy story that portray your ideology in a bad light? Picking out small stories you like and making them front page news because you like them? Giving more time to one side of an argument over the other?

You could even have 100% fair even coverage of everything you report and still be biased. And the truth is that ALL networks do some of these things. Some may be more covert about it is all.