Over the summer I had the privilege to have several spirited debates with then co-worker and current fellow Badger Herald staff writer, Chris McCall. Chris, a self-described “bleeding-heart liberal,” was upset about what he considers to be a lie perpetrated by conservatives: that there is a liberal media bias which slants news coverage in a way that unfairly favors leftists and their agendas.
Because it is the beginning of the year and most of you who are reading this will be reading a lot of news in the next year and throughout your lives, it is very important to persuade you that there is indeed a widespread liberal media bias. With this knowledge, you can evaluate for yourself whether or not you are getting a balanced and fair view of the world.
Members of the press unintentionally taint the news in two ways with their personal opinions: 1) Their choice of what constitutes news and 2) By labeling groups and individuals inconsistently and sometimes incorrectly. Both of the ways news is colored can be done completely subconsciously.
I suspect the vast majority of the press corps is completely honest when say they do their best to offer fair news coverage. All legitimate news organizations try to limit their personal opinions to their editorial and op-ed pages. There are notable exceptions to this practice, but such outlets are correctly recognized by (nearly) all as such and are treated more skeptically.
I also wish to preface the following explanation by stating that I am not conservative by a long shot. Rather, I am a libertarian who is sick of seeing newswriters’ opinions finding their way into news stories.
As with many other fields which require high amounts of education but have low social status and rates of compensation, journalists are liberals in amazing numbers. For instance, 89 percent of journalists voted for Clinton in 1992, as opposed to just 43 percent of all voters. Only seven percent of journalists voted for Bush Sr.
All people, regardless of political affiliation, are logically predisposed to think of certain issues as more important than others. For liberals, the environment, socializing health care, expanding a huge patronage system of government bureaucracy, maintaining privileges for organized labor and social-welfare programs designed to redistribute goodies to their supporters are important causes.
When typical journalists sit down to decide which stories to explore, they end up choosing issues they think of as important. Non-liberal journalists are equally guilty of this practice, though they do not exist in nearly large enough numbers to offset the liberals.
People consume what they are told is news and, for the most part, are not exposed to what these few major gatekeepers do not deem to be important. With the exceptions of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, America’s major news outlets (both television and print) are all left of center.
The second way the media distorts the news takes place in its actual coverage. Typically, a person refers to an individual as “left-wing,” “right-wing,” “conservative” or “liberal” to identify someone as not being politically moderate. These labels assume a political center existing with half of all Americans on one side and half on the other.
In theory, then, if the media were unbiased, there would be just as many labels identifying those on the left of the political spectrum as there would be on the right. Naturally enough, people tend to use their surroundings as a point of reference.
Journalists, surrounded by other left-of-center individuals, see themselves and their Democratic friends as well-reasoned, sensible individuals. What does this make Republicans? One year ago, following the Republican and Democratic conventions, a search was done on the Lexis-Nexis news databases for the weeks of the conventions. The following results were found: Republicans were labeled as “right wing” 373 times, “far right” 144 times, “hard right” 44 times, “religious right” 141 times, and “conservative” 3170 times. Democrats were labeled “left wing” 120 times, “far left” 49 times, “hard left” seven times, “religious left” four times, “secular left” twice, and “liberal” 1589 times (http://www.cato.org/dailys/09-07-00.html). Republicans were more than twice as likely to be labeled off-center than Democrats. These labels degrade the integrity of news outlets when used incorrectly and inconsistently.
It is possible much of the media has not recognized these problems in the past, though the complaint of bias is hardly new. However, for those in the media not to make a conscious effort to be fair in their coverage, given this evidence would be inexcusable.