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Is the Liberal Media a Myth?
Like a really big bumper sticker.
One day, as I was driving home from a very long day, I noticed a car with a bumper sticker that read "I don't believe the Liberal Media!" There were, as one can imagine, other bumper stickers on the car, but the one that caught my eye was the one bearing the words "Liberal" and "Media" in the same sentence. Those two words are used together so often that one doesn't really even notice them too much any more, unless you happen to be among those who paste bumper stickers to the rear end of your car to proclaim proudly to the world that you have an opinion which can be summed up in a single sentence and likely needs more profound thought than is usually found in the said bumper sticker.
I got to thinking "why does the Right mistrust the News Media so much?" After much consideration, I came to these three conclusions; One, that the Far Right often considers itself to be stigmatized unfairly by mainstream News Media. Two, that conservative attitudes towards News programs reflect the views of most Americans in general, regardless of their political ideology or allegiance. And Three, that the "Liberal Media" is largely a myth coined by the Right, which, like most myths, has some basis in fact. This article will address each of these conclusions.
Does the Media unfairly Target Conservatives?
Eric Erickson at RedState believes, as do many who commented on the linked article, that there is an inherent bias within the Media against conservatives. Erickson goes on to list many examples of left of center reporters who now either work within the Obama White House, have served Democratic Administrations and politicians in the past, or have worked for other left of center media organizations. To hear him talk, one would think that the "Liberal Media" has it in for conservatives. Apparently, many people do think so.
Conservatives are often quick to point out that the majority of those who work in the news media vote Democratic and identify as such. Nonsense. Erickson provides many examples of liberals in the Media. He makes no mention of Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Stuart Stevens, Kathleen Parker, Ron Christie, David Frum, Michael Gerson, David Brooks, or any of the other doubtlessly countless conservative reporters, columnists, pundits and pollsters working for the News Media. There is only a brief, passing mention of FOX News, but at least two mentions of MSNBC.
Erickson does have the basic facts straight; most journalists do have views that are either left of center or are downright liberal. Why is the interpretation depicted in the previous paragraph nonsense? Because Erickson exaggerates the power of the liberals, and largely ignores those conservative voices which present a counter force. In his article Why the Media Will Never Treat Conservatives Fairly, he makes mention of only a single conservative journalist, Tony Snow. Erickson's argument is that the news media, while making false claims of objectivity, never really gives conservatives a fair hearing.
Tell that to the Sunday News Shows. Apparently, in 2013 alone, John McCain made 24 appearances on the Sunday Show circus in 52 weeks. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, of Michigan, made 27 such appearances. All in all, ten Republican politicians were invited back for interview and participation on the Sunday news. This was in contrast to three Democratic politicians.
Still, feelings are feelings, and many conservatives perceive themselves to be unfairly represented in the mainstream Media. They argue that media focuses on the most sensationalist news with respect to the conservative movement. Republicans are not far wrong; the American News Media always fixates on the most shocking stories possible. This is likely a reason for the next conclusion, that Americans in general distrust the Media.
Because of the Liberal Media...
Do Americans Distrust the News Media?
A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that a whopping 60% of Americans had "little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly." Of course, the actual results were somewhat contradictory;
-Only 28 percent of Republicans had any faith in the Media, yet this was the group that paid the most attention to the News.
-58 percent of Democrats trusted the News Media to be fair and balanced in their reporting, yet this was the group that paid the least attention to the News.
-Only 39 percent of Democrats regularly paid attention to the News.
-Independents were also less likely to watch or read news media, but 31 percent still mistrusted the News.
What conclusions can be drawn from these results? One, that mistrust in the News Media was at an all time high in 2012, the year the poll was taken. The second conclusion to be drawn from the poll is that most of that mistrust was driven by Republicans and Independents. Despite their suspicion, however, Republicans were still the group most likely to watch the News. A more recent Gallup survey shows that the News Media has recovered some points since 2012, but its numbers are still nothing to be proud of.
Do Americans distrust the News Media? Yes. Why? Because, according to one headline, Americans perceive the News Media to be "Biased, frivolous and incompetent." It found that a plurality of Americans, including a plurality of Democrats, believed the News Media to be biased in favor of liberals.
It would seem that conservatives are far from alone in their conclusions about the News Media. After all, when a plurality of Americans, including a plurality of liberals, agree that the News Media has a liberal bias, then the News Media is not doing a very good job of convincing anyone of its objectivity. In a larger sense, few Americans, including myself, trust the television News Media to provide an accurate coverage of events. News Media is supposed to inform, and few Americans seem to feel as if they are learning when they watch the evening news.
The Myth of the "Liberal" Media
Finally, there is the question of whether or not the News Media does in fact have bias in favor of the Left. After all, as has just been established, most Americans believe this to be the case, and it not even just conservatives who believe it!
As in all things, the reality is neither black nor white, and the News Media is neither extremely liberal or conservative. A more realistic view is this; that some forms of media have a bias in favor of the Left, while other forms of media have a bias in favor of the Right. The New York Times, for instance, is widely known to be biased in favor of the Left. On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal is known for its conservative tilt when covering events. One would be blind and deaf to argue that MSNBC is not biased in favor of liberals. At the same time, it is common knowledge that FOX News is widely followed by conservatives.
Television and print media both have their liberal and conservative angles, but overall, it does seem that both of those forms of media lean towards the Left, though only a little bit. There are, after all, more than enough conservative reporters, columnists, pollsters and pundits to hold their own against the supposed liberal onslaught. Talk radio, however, is dominated by conservatives, and the Internet seems about equally divided between both ideologies.
In the end, the News Media, when divided up between television, print, talk radio and the multitudes of websites and blogs on the Internet, seems far less "liberal" than one would think when one sees a certain bumper sticker.
The American News Media, and particularly the television Media, is in trouble. It faces a public that is deeply skeptical of its ability to remain fair and objective, even when that is actually the case, which, often, it is not. More and more people are turning to alternative sources of media in order to get their news, and the number of people watching or reading traditional news outlets has declined quite dramatically.
This is tragic. All to often, alternative news outlets, especially those found online, are ripe with disinformation, rumors and outright lies. Insane conspiracy theories can seem sane and logical more easily on the Internet than anywhere else, and this is often where conspiracy theories emerge now. Americans have become disenchanted with the News Media, and this correspond with a public that is currently quite uninformed about the events that shape the United States and the world.
The News Media has a responsibility not only to its viewers, but to American Democracy itself. It has the potential to inform Americans, inspire them, and to make them engage with the world around them. An informed, inspired and engaged public leads to a similarly knowledgeable and active government. Instead of informing the public, however, the News Media has gone off in search of the highest ratings, and their coverage of events is often sensationalist and, yes, biased. The American Media may not be a mouthpiece for the Obama Administration, the "Liberal Media" may be largely a very compelling myth, but there is no doubt that the Media is indeed serving all of us poorly.