© Josh Sager – September 2014
Right wing politicians, activists, and media personalities have long propagated the myth that the media has an entrenched pro-left political bias that colors all of its reporting. They blame this perceived bias for unfavorable reporting and even losses by right wing politicians.
The right wing’s claims of bias usually follow one of a few [il]logical paths of reasoning. First, they argue that major media outlets are bought and run by left wing activists like George Soros, thus have an institutional bias that only allows the coverage of pro-left stories. Second, they assert that reporters themselves are indoctrinated as left-wing shills, thus are slanting their reporting. Third, they argue that a culture of “political correctness” makes media figures too scared to tell the truth on certain issues (ex. terrorism), thus forcing them to toe the “liberal” line in order to avoid being tarred as racists.
Here are a few examples of such claims of bias from recent years:
“Many in the media are inclined to do the president’s bidding and I know that’s an uphill battle [referencing a left wing conspiracy] we fight with the media generally,” — Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate, 2012
“As I type, the left wing media is orchestrating a hit job on Ken Buck in Colorado.” — Erik Erikson, editor of RedState, 2014
Calling out Nonsense Isn’t Bias
Put simply, the assertion that the media is leftist or liberal is not only false, but an engineered tactic to trick the American people.
In recent years, the right wing has completely given up on reality and has base its entire policy platform on non-factual ideological dogma. They have become a party that rejects science in favor of religion, and that bases its entire economic platform on the discredited economic ideal of “trickle down economics.” Their foreign policy is based around perpetual war, where cost is no issue, while they are perfectly content letting the American infrastructure crumble because they argue that the cost of rebuilding is too high. They believe that business can regulate itself, while women’s health clinics must be regulated out of existence.
Because they know that their policies aren’t based in fact, the right wing elite must use smart rhetoric and tactics to deflect fact-checking. By preemptively calling the media liberal and predicting that they will criticize the right wing position, conservatives are able to assert irrational things or propose extreme policies, then label objective criticisms of their ideas as liberal smears. They plant the seed of “liberal bias” early and often so that they can dismiss fact-checking of their claims as partisanship rather than reality.
This preemptive attack is analogous to a person who plans on lying during a debate accusing the neutral fact-checker of being their enemy a couple days before the debate—they know that they are going to lie and will be called out, thus they use the accusation of bias to discredit the person who is likely to debunk them.
In an ideal situation, the media acts as the objective fact-checker which ensures that all political and ideological groups live within reality. If one political ideology decides to completely discard its connection to reality while the other does not, then it isn’t biased for the media to disproportionately attack the party of non-factualism.
The Conservative Media Bubble
In addition to the propaganda purposes of the liberal media accusation, there is also a very important business component. Over the last few decades, a right wing media bubble has formed that acts as an echo chamber for extreme conservatives to make their voices heard. Groups like the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Red State, the Daily Caller, and Fox News are major players in this bubble, but there are also innumerable smaller blogs and news sites who cross-post each others’ articles and cross-cite each others’ sources (ex. a blog makes up a story and is cited as a source by a larger news outlet, which is used a source for even more blogs and outlets—eventually, nobody knows who started the rumor, but everybody is talking about it as true because it is posted on so many sites).
In order for the right wing media bubble to function, people cannot be allowed out of it and into the real world. The second they realize that the right wing mediaverse is just an echo chamber for propaganda, they will no longer pay to be a part of it. As such, the right wing media bubble propagates the idea that they are the only “neutral” media outlets (the king of these claims is the “fair and balanced” assertion of Fox News) and that the other media outlets are all liars.
Once indoctrinated to stay within the right wing bubble, viewers are profitized via advertising and the sale of ideological products (ex. the Dinesh D’Souza book series). This industry is very profitable, thus is highly motivated to perpetuate the lie of the liberal media and retain their captive audience.
Real Media Biases
Unfortunately, while the liberal media bias is false, the corporate media does suffer from a series of biases and conflicts that make its coverage less than ideal. Here is a short summary of each such form of bias:
Pro-Corporate Bias – The mainstream media is composed of corporations which exist to make a profit, not spread accurate information. The corporate state of the media creates a conflict of interest where advertisers are concerned (ex. a news outlet that runs BP ads hesitates to cover their oil spills in the negative light that they deserve), as well as a conflict of interest when covering the spread of corporatism in the United States (ex. they want their taxes to remain low and to avoid new regulation).
Sensationalism Bias – Sensational stories tend to lead, even when they are far less important that truly substantive stories. This is because the corporate media lives on ratings, and stories that draw attention make them more money than stories that are less popular, but more substantive. Probably the ultimate example of this was CNN’s absurd focus on the missing Malaysian airliner that crowded out virtually every other story for several weeks, including the brewing Ukraine crisis.
False-Equivalence Bias – When dealing with opposing establishment groups (ex. the Democrats and Republicans), the corporate media often draws false-equivalences to avoid alienating either side. They simply report what both sides say about an issue, while not addressing the validity of either side’s argument. This type of bias is extremely toxic and causes people to become misinformed on many issues. Probably the largest example of a false-equivalence bias in modern media is the coverage of climate change—a host will have a scientist on to debate with a right wing politician who rejects climate change, and will let the viewer leave the discussion without understanding that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and anthropogenic.
Establishment Bias – The modern corporate media has gotten into bed with the political establishments of both parties and there is a great deal of overlap between the two groups. Political players and activists regularly move to the media as hosts (ex. Huckabee) or “experts” in some field of government. This closeness between the media and political establishments makes it less likely for the media to attack the status quo—they have personal entanglements with those in the political establishment and are hesitant to burn those bridges. If some media figure disregards this “courtesy,” they will lose their access and will likely be replaced with somebody who is willing to play ball.
Fox and MSNBC Biases – Fox and MSNBC are both networks with entrenched biases towards the Republicans and Democrats, respectively. Both outlets have hosts who support their party and who report the news in a way that tends to favor one side. That said, Fox makes up nonsense out of whole cloth, while MSNBC merely cherry-picks its stories to favor the Democrats—in this, Fox is pure propaganda, while MSNBC is more opinionated analysis. In general, it is best to take anything you hear on MSNBC with a grain of salt, and only after fact-checking it (except for “All In” with Chris Hayes, which is one of the most fair political shows I have seen), while reflexively disregarding anything heard on Fox unless it is confirmed by neutral sources (and even then the story is likely presented in a disingenuous manner).