'It' may start when we get up in the morning, tune the TV to our favorite morning show or turn on the radio to check on the latest news, weather, or sports. Some of us even get the morning newspaper to supplement the TV or radio while we throw down a bite of breakfast and sip on a cup of coffee. Then out the door, into the car we go where the radio is turned on. 'It' may end at night watching a serious drama, funny sitcom, news channel or even a favorite late-night comedian. So what’s 'it'? 'It' is media bias. 'It' is unrelenting. 'It' is pervasive.
In the past 50 years, numerous stories have surfaced discussing this pervasive phenomenon. But comments, in the past month, by Jake Tapper, Mark Halperin and Greg Kandra, all respected members of the journalistic community, emphatically emphasized appreciable and blatant media bias. Together their comments sent a tremor through the journalist/reporter community. We heard from Jake Tapper who said, in an interview with Laura Ingraham, “A lot of people are hurting out there. Unemployment is 8.3 percent. That doesn’t even take into account the underemployed”. Tapper then added, "I have said before… [that I] thought the media helped tip the scales [to Obama]. I didn’t think the coverage in 2008 was especially fair to either Hilary Clinton or John McCain". Mark Halperin, NBC Political Analyst, posited to Lester Holt that, “I think the press still likes this story a lot. The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this [Romney’s tax returns]. I don’t think there’s any chance, at this point, you saw Ann Romney on Rock Center saying that’s it, “we’re not putting out any more. He does have one more year of returns coming. Last year’s returns will be out in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure that’s all he’s going to put out”. Halperin’s remark was in answer to the question as to why the media was obsessed with Romney’s tax returns. Greg Kandra, a former CBS news producer, weighed in with, “[I’m] weary of trying to defend the indefensible.” And that, “[the media] deserve what they [the critics] are saying about you. It’s earned.” Kandra also indicated the media had “done a [great] job of diminishing what was once a great profession and undermining one of the underpinnings of democracy, a free press”.
Like pornography most Americans know media bias when they see it. Americans told Rasmussen polling that the media is clearly biased. They believe that Barack Obama has received the best treatment so far in the press 59% to Romney’s 18%, and think that bent will continue with Obama getting 51% of future support to only 9% for Romney…other responses were equally stunning. These results were supported to an extent by both a Gallup and a Fox News poll. Three recent egregious examples of journalistic/broadcast media bias were delivered by Candy Crowley, Soledad O’Brien, and Andrea Mitchell. Each video has an almost comical feel as these journalists state opinions not hard news and are taken to task for their views/actions. Candy Crowley, a CNN anchor and soon to be presidential debate moderator, opined that some of her sources felt the selection of Paul Ryan was a “death wish”. Soledad O’Brien decides to push the ‘birther’ issue with the wrong republican and demonstrates her liberal slant. The frosting on the cake is Andrea Mitchell’s deliberate and willful editing of a tape to misrepresent a Romney statement.
So what does the word bias and the phrase media bias mean? The dictionary says that bias is ‘a particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice’. Media bias refers to the bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of which events and stories are reported and how they are covered. The term "media bias" also implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism. Put differently media bias is the inclination for the media to present stories/concepts/ people based on the journalist’s disposition, prejudices, views of colleagues or possibly the views of society. Media bias can be blatant, but is usually subtle and has become chronic.
Bias in the news media doesn’t come overtly in the form of outright or intentional lies. It can manifest itself in the sins of subtle commission and overt omission. Omission encompasses facts omitted which would diminish the reported story's advancement. As Timothy Groseclose, of UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo, from the University of Missouri, stated, “[F]or every sin of commission…we believe that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sins of omission – cases where a journalist chose facts or stories that only one side of the political spectrum is likely to mention”. Other bias sins have been defined as ‘one-think’ or sameness, arrogance (the elitist attitude of ‘I know better’), laziness and ‘savior’ thinking. Sameness/one-think refers to the environment in which journalists work and interact; a habitat where 75-85% of their colleagues hold very similar beliefs. Laziness is often described as using a meme being promoted by the community of like-minded thinkers. For example journalists have used a ‘talking point’ as the foundation for a narrative. Since talking points usually have pre-developed rationales, this tactic saves the reporter time and the in-depth mental focus needed to develop the subject on which they are working. The ‘savior’ precept was described by Robert Lichter of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, as, “Increasingly, journalists see themselves as society’s designated saviors,” whose mission is to “awaken the national conscience and force public action”. ABC News’ Peter Jennings said to the Boston Globe in July 2001: “[for] those of us who went into journalism in the ’50s or ’60s, it was sort of a liberal thing to do. Save the world”.
Three serious media bias studies deserve mention and include:
- “Media Bias Basics”, a study published in 1981 by S. Robert Richter, of George Washington University at the time, and Stanley Rothman, of Smith College. The study compiled and analyzed data back to 1964 yet its conclusions remain highly relevant today.
- “A Measure of Media Bias” (the full study), sometimes referred to as the UCLA study, published in 2004 and subsequently updated, authored by Timothy Groseclose, of UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo, from the University of Missouri. This study used a relatively unique methodology to measure media bias.
- “The Harvard Media Bias Study” is summarized in, “Harvard Study Confirms Liberal Media Bias”, a synopsis of an article published in November 2007 in Investor’s Business Daily, a financial newspaper, reviewed by Herb Denenberg. The findings, albeit stunning, were quite compatible with the 2 previous studies and their conclusions.
“In the Tank: A Statistical Analysis of Media Bias”, by John Perazzo, a columnist and managing editor of DiscoverTheNetworks, summarizes many of the similar conclusions found in the Media Basics, UCLA and Harvard studies and a few other highly regarded offerings e.g. “The Invisible Primary-Invisible No Longer…”. Some of the conclusions are astonishing. For example The Wall Street Journal presents the news with a very strong liberal bias which is offset by the conservatism of its editorial/op-ed pages. The only news sources consistently measuring right of center (and only marginally) are Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times; both are slightly right of the average US voter; the “NewsHour with Jim Lehner” is the most centrist…interestingly the fourth most centrist is Fox’s “Special Report with Brit Hume”. Nevertheless of the 20 major media outlets examined, 18 scored left of center, with CBS, ABC and NBC evening news broadcasts along with The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times all ranking as very left/ liberal news sources (all in the top 8); at the top as previously mentioned is The Wall Street Journal’s news pages.
These media bias studies explored the views of news professionals on social, ethical and political issues in an effort to understand some the catalysts for bias. Their beliefs when compared to the public's beliefs vary significantly. These feelings simply do not comport with an average citizens. Some of the findings were:
- From 90-97% of news pros were pro-choice on abortion and more than 50% believe the procedure should be legal under any circumstances. Only 4% of those queried were anti-abortion in all cases.
- The statement, “government should work to reduce the income gap between rich and poor” was supported by 75% of the news people questioned.
- Just 30% believe that private enterprise is fair to workers.
- Only 6-8% of media professionals attend church on a regular basis verses a much higher public attendance rate.
- Over 80% of journalists support affirmative action in both business and education. They believe only the government can be an arbiter of fairness in either venue.
- Americans using a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources is considered “immoral” by 57% of the media respondents.
- The Republican’s 1994 Contract with America was deemed a campaign ploy by journalists surveyed in 1996; 3% indicated that the plan was a serious proposal
- A majority of journalists felt that adultery was acceptable in some circumstances.
Additionally the support of journalists for candidates that were Democrats or liberals were evaluated in some of these studies and it was discovered that:
- Between 1964 and 2004 the professional media has voted overwhelmingly for every Democratic candidate.
- Carter received more than twice as many votes as Reagan in the 1980 election.
- George McGovern garnered over 80% of the media’s vote in 1972.
- Even in 1984 Democrat Walter Mondale received 58% of the vote of news pros in the face of strong evidence that President Reagan had rescued America from a crippling malaise; both in public spirit and a severe economic downturn.
- An astonishing 12 to 1 ratio of news people voted for Michael Dukakis over George H. W. Bush in 1988. The sample encompassed White House journalists spanning print, broadcast and news services.
- In 1992 Washington bureau leaders and congressional reporters favored Clinton over George H. W. Bush by an 89% to 7% margin.
- Journalists donated to Democrats in 2008 at a rate of 8 times the level they gave to Republicans.
Serious studies of the media’s lack of objectivity are clear and compelling. Study upon study has demonstrated over a span of more than 30 years that a severe media liberal bias exists. The bias has been under-reported yet consistent. Only recently has the issue of MSM bias/favoritism surfaced with force. The focus will not be easily buried since solid and broad polling shows that the average American sees it, feels it and resents it. They have tired of media's condescension and arrogance which ignores their ability to critically evaluate issues/stories and decide on their merits. They have thrown down the gauntlet and stated without equivocation they no longer trust nor respect media's reporting.