Monday, May 24, 2004

What Liberal Media?
The new Pew numbers (via Andrew Sullivan) are out. Here's the synthesis: "At national organizations (which includes print, TV and radio), the numbers break down like this: 34% liberal, 7% conservative. At local outlets: 23% liberal, 12% conservative. At Web sites: 27% call themselves liberals, 13% conservatives.
This contrasts with the self-assessment of the general public: 20% liberal, 33% conservative."


Once again, the evidence shows that news professionals lean to the left. Ok, I'll temper that a bit to make it more accurate: a significantly greater portion of the news industry is liberal when compared with the general public. And, more importantly: barely a fifth as many conservatives are in the news than in the general public. So why does this imply a liberal bias?

It doesn't, necessarily. But the trick is exactly as I've explained before. Think to your past political debates with someone from the opposite side of the aisle (true moderates should think about debates with any true partisans). Have you ever noticed that you can't agree, and can't ever seem to make clear your reasons for believing the way you do? It's because political beliefs are based on fundamental ideology. I'll say it another way: you believe what you believe because you see the world in a certain way. Someone who sees the world in a different way can't come to the same conclusions as you, and often can't understand why you believe what you do.

So what does this have to do with the media? If only a very few reporters are conservative, then only a very few articles will be written that accomodate a conservative perspective. The result is not necessarily a liberal bias, but more accurately an anti-conservative bias. Why aren't we hearing in the media about the fact that we've driven al Sadr's supporters out of Kufa? Because that's not important to a liberal mind considering the war. The same goes for Nick Berg vs. Abu Ghraib. It's not that there's a conspiracy to skew the media, it's that liberals don't find the successes of the war, or the reasons for it, as enticing as the fact that things are going poorly.

I've sort of rambled, but hopefully you got the point.

UPDATE [5/24/2004 - 22:14]: More from Oh, That Liberal Media which actually contradicts some of what I just said. First, the quote: "An interesting (if predictable) detail of the study: the answers to specific 'issues' questions show that journalists are more liberal than they admit. Whereas most continue to self-identify as 'moderate,' the answers given to specific questions about religion and homosexuality indicate a strong tilt to the left. This reinforces what many of us believe: journalists think they are far more moderate than they actually are."
This would imply that when I limited the statement that "news professionals lean to the left," I shouldn't have. The fact that 7% consider themselves conservative, 34% liberal, and the rest moderate does not necessarily mean that the rest actually are moderate, and I tend to believe that a large portion of them are probably just wearing blinders to their own liberal side.

UPDATE [5/24/2004 - 22:51]: Best of the Web does a great job dissecting what is mentioned by OTLM above. It offers a great table that makes it pretty clear that those who belive themselves to be moderate are not necessarily so moderate.

UPDATE [5/25/2004 - 18:58]: I have responded to the comments posted to challenge my assertion, in the comments section.

8 comments:

Steve said...

You make the a priori assumption that because reporters are liberals, media coverage will be slanted to the left--that ain't necessarily so.

Who approves the headlines?
Who chooses which photos make the paper?
Who selects which articles make the front page?
Who edits the articles?

Reporters may be more liberal than conservative, but that's like arguing that batboys are primarily lefties--they don't make the crucial decisions, and most newspaper staffs basically cull their articles from AP, UPI, or the like. In addition, reporters are subject to the same pressures as any working stiff. If they're working for the Washington Times or Wall Street Journal, they'll keep their opinions under their hats for the sake of job security like anyone else.

A better analysis would be to critique what actually makes the paper.

Sandals said...

-Only twice in the past 50 years has a Democratic candidate received more media endorsements than the Republican candidate.

-While a high proportion of reporters are socially liberal, many of those same reporters are fiscally conservative.

-5 out of 6 stories published about Al Gore during the 2000 election were negative. Most of those were based on completely specious crap. (the false"invented the internet" quote, etc.) In constrast, only 1 out of 3 stories published about George W. Bush were negative.

-A Huge amount of attention was given to "troopergate" and other none-scandals during the Clinton administration.

-Networks increasingly hire vicious conservative pundits such as Scarborough and O'Reilly.

-There are almost NO "liberal" shows on television, while there is a plethora of "conservative" shows.

-The American press has been INCREDIBLY remiss in its investigative duty during the Bush administration, and in coverage of the 2000 election. While pundits yammered on about how Gore said he was the model for a book and how that made him a self-obsessed liar (when the author of the book said that Gore was, in fact, the model), they remained nearly silent on Bush, Arbusto-gone-bust, BCCI, and Harken Energy.

So the media is liberal because more reporters believe in gay rights? And they're anti conservative because they won't repeatedly play a man's execution?

Is this the same ****ing conservative movement that got pissed over Janet Jackson's tits?

Sandals said...

Excuse me, I was working from memory and I got the numbers all wrong:

Gore: 613 negative stories, 132 positive stories
Bush: 265 negative stories, 320 positive stories

News is Good said...

More people in the media might be liberal, but more readers might be conservative. In that case, there is a conservative media bias because it is read more.

Although there may be more liberal voices there are enough conservative voices so that wherever you are you can easily and quickly find one.

All this shows is that people interested in the world are mostly liberal. Maybe this reflect that conservatives are too interested in themselves, or something similar?

There are numerous interpretations, and I would like to challenge your, and those of the many who agree with you that you cite.

RFTR said...

Steve -
The Pew includes editors, who pick the headlines, photos, and article placement, as well as doing the editing. Reporters vs. editors is nowhere near the same as players vs. batboys -- it's more like players vs. managers, and the Pew includes the managers.

Sandals -
The press's investigative failures during the Bush administration are not for lack of trying -- the Bush administration just happens to be more tight-lipped than any administration in recent history.
Also, I'm curious to know where your "negative vs. positive" numbers come from, who made the determination, and what papers/magazines are included, because those matter.
Additionally, I'm not talking about openly negative or positive articles, but the fact that any article that is supposedly unbiased news, reporting on the facts, inevitably has a spin.

News is Good -
You're absolutely right: we can find conservative voices, and they are followed more closely.
What I'm talking about is big media: the three networks, the NYT, WaPo, Newsweek, Time, and so forth. The major news outlets have unbiased reporting that is remarkably biased.

Beth said...

I'm still going to maintain that this is entirely irrelevant. Proof of media bias comes much more from instances of biased reporting (partisan or intrapartisan, like how the NYT had a little photographic love of John Edwards) than from digging up the reporters' party affiliation.

It's also an incomplete study, because the true sense of where Americans get their news is a bigger picture.
You have to look at circulation and subsitution (that is, how many people just say "screw CNN, Bill O'Reilly tells me it's liberal. I'm going to watch Fox." Also, in presenting just the facts of a case ("there was a car bombing in Iraq today, and two Americans were wouneded"), there is a lot of consistency across sources. You yourself often say that the WSJ isn't conservative in its reporting, only in its editorials. Do you hold conservatives to a higher standard of being able to think outside ideology?

Also, why not have a bias multiplier? Like, a source with liberal reporters but no liberal reporting might raise some skepticism, but all-out propaganda like Fox would send off bells and whistles?

Finally, what do you think about someone like Edward R. Murrow, who had more integrity than anyone since the birth of broadcast journalism but still openly attacked McCarthy? Should that service to the nation discount his credibility in reporting?

Sandals said...

The indispensable Daily Howler. Scroll down to "We've got your study right here!".

Sandals said...

Laugh! The Networks and the Big Newspapers slide inexorably towards lax reporting that favors the Noise Machine. Judith-flipping-Miller. Scarborough. "Wolf" Blitzkrieg. (Did you watch Blitzer's coverage of Clarke? Shameful!) That's just the obvious ones.