Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The "Liberal Media"

Just to give you the background: this guy started talking about how the media has a liberal bias and this guy took umbrage. That whole debate got me to thinking about the issue and of course that means you get to enjoy my rant.

The media does not have a liberal bias. That's giving them too much credit for being politically and socially aware. It has very little to do with the actual beliefs of the media and just about everything to do with what will get people to watch/listen/read. This guy makes the same point about the local news. Do any of you remember that painfully slow summer where there was just about nothing on the news . . . until the Sharks Attacked! Time Magazine labeled it the "Summer of the Shark" too bad there were fewer shark attacks in the summer of 2001 than in previous years. I bet the media sources were happy that the news picked up at the end of that summer.

Sure, pretty much every media channel (The 700 club doesn't count as real media) likes to make fun of Bush. But here's the thing: making fun of people is good TV. And it's even better TV when you make fun of someone who gets their panties in a wad because of it. Have you ever listened to or watched one of the conservative programs? Rush Limbaugh pretty much has an aneurysm on cue. Now if your job was to be on TV and you knew that you could make all the little Rushites out there fill their pantaloons if you just said a mean thing about W, what would you do? I know, you are all very nice people that respect the truth and want to see justice done in the world. Too bad you don't work in the media.

Is the media liberal? Naw. Are they conservative then? Nope. The media are ratings whores. And what do whores do? Yup, you guessed it: whatever gets them paid.


Ty said...

Right on all counts. I heard an interview with a journalist who was asked about media bias and he quoted a scholarly study (perhaps a dissertation by Zengjun Peng or one by Tien-tsung Lee); the study, which used accepted statistical and sociological methodologies, indicated that the media has a definite bias. The bias, though, is not toward one side or the other, but AGAINST anyone the journalist perceives as being in power. He didn't say why, but I'll bet that most of it is because we, as a society, are mistrusting of, and threatened by power, so we pay attention to attacks on them, and attention is what journalists crave.

Mick Wright said...

Yes, there's an element of whorishness and "hey, look at this shark," but my concern is with the specific instances of actual reporting. It really has nothing to do with making fun of the President or any other member of my political party. If that's all it was, you wouldn't see me complain. My problem is the deliberate (or via natural bias) framing of specific issues to benefit one political viewpoint, and how that framing predictably shifts depending not on the issue but on who is on what side of it. Not only is there a double standard in media, but there is also an institutional bias that misinforms the public and withholds information. It's how you know that Karl Rove is evil and yet almost nobody knows who Sandy Berger is and what he stole from the national archives and shredded. It's how you know Scooter Libby is evil but none of the story timelines will include the name of the person who is actually responsible for the leak to Robert Novak: former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armatage. It shows up in stories about executive agencies where the most important and basic piece of information is left out: they are executive agencies. It's issue after issue, and story after story, of selective reporting that advances a particular political agenda and party.

Mick Wright said...

Here's a test you can perform: select any one issue or topic, say Social Security. Set up a Google alert that will gather every news article about that topic and send them to you in a daily email. Read each article and see what the assumptions are, what gets reported, who is quoted, and which side gets the most space. Match the reporting against the two party platforms and see which party the reporting favors most. If you think it matters, continue to study this for years, while both parties are in power (Democrats currently took control of Congress, so are they now in power, or are you talking only about the White House?). And then study a second issue with the same measures. I will give you the Mick Wright guarantee that those stories will overwhelmingly favor the positions, policies and assumptions held by Democrats.

James Wood said...

I think you're correct, Mick. Most of the stories out there favor the Democratic party and the liberal perspective. However, I don't think that the reason for that favor is due to their political leaning. I was trying to be humorous in making the point so it may have been obscured. Let me try again.

Republicans/Conservatives generally advocate a position based on logic and a general pessimism regarding the ability of people to do what is right (e.g. Capitalism).

Democrats/Liberals generally advocate a position based on emotion and a general optimism that people, if left to their own devices, will do what is right (e.g. Socialism).

Let's just assume for the sake of the point to follow that those are fair descriptions of the opposing positions.

Now, as a media-whore which will you find to be the most enticing and entertaining position to endorse? Emotion or logic? Pessimism or optimism?

The masses are more easily swayed by arguments that appeal to their emotions (even if they ignore logic) and make them feel good about themselves (even if such feelings are not justified). Hence the media bias does, in fact, favor the Democrat/Liberal position, but not for any political reasons. They just want to get paid.

Mick Wright said...

Your comment makes sense, but I would reverse the pessimism and optimism. I think capitalism is based on the optimistic belief that people left to their own devices will work out a system that is beneficial to all, while socialism takes a pessimistic view of people's ability to provide for each other without the government stepping in.

And, further, I would say media favors such pessimism: sharks! global warming! infant mortality! war! theocracy! halliburton! the dangers of smoking! the dangers of fatty foods! the dangers of gun ownership! lost jobs! declining wages! gas prices!

And that media wants people to feel bad about themselves in order to spur them into action: look at poverty in America! we aren't giving enough to Katrina victims! oh, crap, why have we caused the Middle East to hate us and attack our country!

Matt said...

For the most part I have to agree with Mic on this one. Although I do think what you wrote has gotten me thinking about a few things I probably should have thought about a long time ago.

James Wood said...

Mick, I think we're saying the same thing from different perspectives - I really hesitated to use the words 'pessemistic' and 'optimistic'. I don't think I communicated my point very well on that count. I think I will explain that more fully in a later post.

I just had to chuckle at all the "news" stories you brought up. It's a little funny and a lot sad how easily the media manipulates the emotions of the masses.

Matt, thinking is always good. I say you should keep it up. :)

Mick Wright said...

As if on cue...

Jake Shore said...

With respect, I think your dismissal of media bias as simply a symptom of their slavish pursuit of ratings is lazy. TV news execs may be ratings hounds, but journalists are idealogical creatures. Most TV national news programs parrot all their stories from print media, the New York Times and Washington Post in particular. As a result, the material that is broadcast is largely a reflection of the journalistic and editorial attitudes of these newspapers.

Just look at public opinion polls on major social/cultural issues and compare them with polling data of journalists. The news media stands decidedly to the left of the American public on every major issue. Are we to believe this has no affect on their reporting?

If the news media is so consumed with sensational stories, then why did they choose not, as Mick pointed out, to closely examine the Sandy Berger affair? You could make a TV melodrama out that story. Why do journalists, while interviewing George Bush, act as though they are cross-examining a child rapist, but behave like love-struck teenage girls when interviewing Bill Clinton?

Its easy to use the follow the money argument, but human beings are not so simple.

Take Hollywood for example. Why does an an overtly profit-driven industry continue to produce left-leaning, idealogical films (many with anti-American, anti-family, & anti-Christian content) that make virtually no money, despite the fact that family friendly movies consistently rake in the cash at the box office?

Does our status as Christians give us the high ground to patently dismiss others of being devoid of sincere political or idealogical motivations?

I assume by your condescening third-person reference to "the masses" that you except yourself from them and the manipulation they so "easily" fall victim to.

I wish I could say the same. Unfortunately, my talent to dismiss shark stories and the ongoing Anna Nicole Smith circus isn't a good measure of the very real effect the news media has on my view of current events.

Jake Shore said...

I'm sorry. That was harsher than I wanted to be. It's just something I feel passionate about and I'm glad you chose to address it. Great blog.

James Wood said...

Good thoughts, Jake. I wouldn't write a good response if I didn't take time to ponder first.


James Wood said...

Ok, Jake, I think I've had time to ponder through things.

You're correct in pointing out that a lot of the electronic media sources parrot the news from "real" journalists. You did forget that the Associated Press is, perhaps, the number one news source.

I have no doubt that there are journalists in all areas of media who are driven to seek the truth and to present the truth with accuracy and honesty. And even among those journalists who are doing their best to do their job with honesty I agree that there is a bent toward the "Left". Consider that the majority of the journalistic sources are from major urban centers. Those same urban centers also tend to align with the "Left", more often than not. I doubt that we'll see a major news source from Topeka any time soon, but I would guess that their news would be further to the "Right".

My skepticism is not about the individual journalists, but about media in general. I don't doubt that there are "sincere political or idealogical motivations" in the individual reporters. But the money-making behemoth that is electronic media is devoid of a soul or any ideology, other than making more money.

Side note: isn't it interesting that when insects work together they have a "hive mind" that makes them smarter together, but when humans get together we develop a "mob mentality" that makes us dumber together?

You're right, I would be pretty dishonest if I tried to pretend that the bias of the media does not affect my view (or even knowledge of) the events in the world. The difference between me and the "masses" is that I acknowledge and admit that bias and effect. That awareness allows me to mitigate the effects.

Jake Shore said...

I won't argue your characterization of the giant media machine. It's ugly. And let me just say, I don't think there is some conspiracy involved. I don't think a bunch of guys in a dark, smokey room set the agenda of our media. Rather, I believe a liberal bias is the cumalative effect of the political attitudes of individual members of the news media.

And I don't believe that any of them are even conscious of it. Bernard Goldberg, a CBS reporter for 28 years, points out in his book, BIAS, that journalists don't think of themselves or their positions as liberal. They believe themselves to be completely mainstream, and the red state crowd to be completely fringe. Anyone who questions that assertion represents the "far-right."

Voices like Goldberg and John Stossell resonate powerfully because their observations come from within the mainstream media, not from partisan figures like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter.

"The difference between me and the 'masses' is that I acknowledge and admit that bias and effect. That awareness allows me to mitigate the effects."

Well said.