Does TV Have A Liberal Bias?
A recent book, Bias, by a CBS insider Bernard Goldberg, sets out to document how the media regularly distorts the news with a liberal bias. Goldberg makes some persuasive arguments.
He points out, for example, that a 1996 study showed that most journalists were Democrats. Eighty-nine percent of them voted for a Democrat for President (generally considered liberal) compared to 43 percent of the general population.
From the standpoint of many conservatives TV news tends to be liberal because it features stories on gay rights, civil rights abuses, antiwar demonstrations, women's rights, environmental issues, etc. -- all seen as being liberal causes.
But, from the standpoint of some liberals television is conservative because it's seen as being pro-business, without giving adequate time to alternative, non-mainstream views.
These arguments primarily surface in how news is covered.
According to Elaine Povich of the Freedom Foundation as reported by the conservative newspaper, the Washington Times -
Generally speaking -- and there many exceptions -- people in business tend to be conservative and people who have a background in the social sciences -- through education or working with people -- tend to be more liberal. (We'll avoid trying to define the terms liberal and conservative at this point and go with the rather fuzzy, widely held definitions of what the terms seem to imply.)
People in the hard sciences
also tend to be more conservative than people in the social sciences.
The latter group includes many news people and actors, and some writers
and artists -- people whose ideas often surface in the media. Their
views also tend to "push the envelope" of social change.
When it comes to news, people show a preference for "news they agree with." This preference translates into ratings, which, of course, translates into profits.
A source of "left leaning" news is CNBC. However, since its audience and influence is a fraction of that of FOX News, in this discussion we'll concentrate on FOX News.
Without a doubt FOX News does an impressive job of covering news. It is easy to see why it ranks higher than any other source of Internet news. It is somewhat "tabloid" in its approach and it caters toward a conservative, Republican audience, going so far as to clearly support Republican causes.
Before you draw any conclusions about FOX News bias, keep in mind that a Florida court maintained the right of FOX news to broadcast distortions and even lies.
In a court case on this issue:
You will note from the graph below that leading up to the 2012 election FOX News, which bills itself as "fair and balanced," devoted almost five times as much air time to Romney's speeches as it did to Obama's. (Data source - Media Matters, which is viewed by many as being liberal.)
FAIR, a liberal media watchdog group tabulated five months of two of the most popular TV news discussion shows -- Special Report with Brit Hume on FOX, and Wolf Blitzer Reports on CNN. (Note graph on the right above.)
Both programs featured Republican guests (generally considered conservative) more often than Democratic guests (generally considered to be more liberal).
But, as shown here, the FOX News channel favored Republicans by a margin of about 8:1.
The same survey showed that FOX News featured white guests 93 percent of the time and male guests 91 percent of the time. According to the Nielsen Company, more than 95 percent of FOX News viewers are white.
But is there a downside?
People who only listened to conservative news sources such as FOX News, which had predicted a win by Romney in the 2012 election, were mystified by Obama's solid win.
A University of Maryland study reported in late 2010 that the audience for FOX News was far less accurately informed about world and national events than the audiences of other news sources, especially public broadcasting.1
The study found that there was a direct relationship between the amount of time spent watching FOX News and holding false information on key issues of the day. No partisan divide was found. People who watched FOX, and voted Democratic were just as likely to be incorrect on major issues as the FOX viewers who voted Republican.
Despite claims to the contrary by a FOX spokesman, it was also found that viewers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show (considered to be liberal) were better informed about politics and current events than viewers of The O'Reilly Factor with Bill O'Reilly on FOX (considered conservative).
Both shows focus heavy on news and current events. It should be noted that that viewers of The Daily Show include a higher percentage of college graduates.
Even so, the popular perception is that TV news is too liberal (45% vs. 14% that think it's too conservative).
To help explain this we have to consider regular claims by popular radio pundits that the media has a liberal bias. It has been shown that a higher percentage of FOX viewers distrust the media in general -- even to the point of some carrying signs seen at political rallies saying, "Don't trust the liberal media."
Why does so much of the public view the news media as liberal?
Possibly it's because conservative think
tanks have poured considerable money and effort into painting the news
media as just that -- liberal.
The Conflict Between
In late 2004, the FOX network, considered the most conservative in news, faced the largest fines ever levied by the Federal Communications Commission for sexually indecent programming.
Note below that in 2010 the FOX network was responsible for more complaints about program "indecency" as filed with the FCC than any of the other networks.
of Program Indecency
(Source: Hollywood Reporter, 2010.)
Clearly, there is a frequently a conflict between profits and what many people see as traditional values -- with profits typically winning the contest. Other opinions on this topic can be found in this Business, Sex, and Morality Forum posting.
* In February, 2003, Eric Alterman's book, A What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, was published. This exceptionally well documented book credits the shift to the right in the recent decade to efforts by well funded conservative think tanks and their financial backers.
** According to data, during the Iraq war Americans turned to foreign news sources in great numbers, especially at the beginning of the war, to get a more balanced and realistic perspective.
*** In the well-reviewed and thought-provoking book, The Sound Bite Society: Television and the American Mind, Jeffrey Scheuer argues that television relentlessly simplifies, and simplicity is the core principle of conservatism. TV likewise punishes complex ideas and messages, which are the core of liberalism. Scheuer notes, for example, that the causes of poverty, unemployment, the crime rate, gangs, etc. are complex and cannot be effectively addressed with quick sound bites and political slogans -- even though the latter come across best on TV and appeal to voters.
Thus, rather than being a "liberal medium," according to Scheuer, television strongly promotes an appealing, conservative, oversimplified, direct-solution approach to the complex social and political issues of our times. For example, rather than address the real causes of crime, the solution that's easiest to understand is: get tougher on crime and build more prisons. Although this simplistic good-evil view is attractive to voters, it doesn't confront the causes of the problem.
1 A 2012 study reported at YouGov.com and noted in The Week news magazine (July 2012) found that 63% of Republicans (the primary listeners and viewers of FOX News) believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Of those, 64% believe that President Obama was not born in the United States. Numerous sources have proven both beliefs wrong.
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