Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three stages in liberal denial of media bias

I was 15 years old in 1984, and an avid follower of politics and the news. When Reagan was making his decision whether to run for re-election, I was opposed to it. It wasn't that I didn't like Reagan; I loved him. But I was convinced that he wouldn't stand a chance in the election, and I didn't want to see him lose. Of course, he went on to win one of the most lopsided elections in history. Why was I so wrong? Because I had been watching network news (the only kind, back then) and the coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

Since that time, I have watched with disbelief as liberals have criticized Fox News as unbalanced, culminating in the amazing spectacle of the president himself declaring that Fox is not a legitimate source of journalism. Meanwhile, these same liberals refuse to acknowledge that ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, etc. (ad nauseum) have any bias of their own. What makes this all the more incredible is that a number of studies have been produced demonstrating media bias in a scientific fashion: use of "extreme conservative" and "far right" vs. "extreme liberal" and "far left," describing liberals as "pragmatic" and conservatives as "ideological," citing self-identified liberal think-tanks as news sources, and so on. Even when the evidence is clearly against them, however, liberals refuse to admit that it is an issue.

My aim in this column is to outline the three modes of defense that liberals use against claims of media bias. I was inspired to this task by a recent article in Forbes. The article contains the results of yet another study demonstrating liberal media bias, but what interested me particularly were the comments. Because Forbes is a mainstream publication rather than a specifically conservative one, it has attracted a number of comments from liberals, where you can find the following defenses advanced:

It's all subjective

The first line of defense is to claim that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Conservatives think some outlets are biased liberal, liberals think some outlets are biased conservative, so who's to say which is right? For example, Todd Charske writes the following in the comments: "Opinions and words can be taken however you want. Fair and balanced I'm sure they think that but probably CNBC thinks the same thing. Strange world."

It's only unbalanced by American standards

The previous line of defense only works as long as you are willing to ignore the evidence, so liberals eventually fall back to a second defense: Sure, the news leans to the left, but that's only because America is so far to the right. Compared to the rest of the world, our news is actually to the right. I didn't see this argument used in the article's comments, but I heard an otherwise very intelligent history professor use it.

Journalism isn't supposed to be balanced

The idea that news in the United States should be held to the political norms of France, Sweden, Brazil, or North Korea is prima facie silly. Since there is no other way to defend the news as balanced, liberals instead offer that news is not supposed to be balanced; it's supposed to be right. Journalists favour liberal politicians because they are on the right side of the issues (and not lying crooks like conservatives). Here's user "mynameisjon" commenting on the Forbes article: "Here's the problem with the article and Fox's claim of fair and balanced in general:
Journalism doesn't have to be balanced. If one candidate is horrible, makes dozens of mistakes while making a damn fool of himself, then the coverage he gets is likely to be, and should be, predominately negative. Creating a sense of balance which doesn't naturalistically exist without prompting is creating a bias, no matter which way the scales tip. So to say Fox is more balanced because it was harder on Obama than the other networks doesn't show that Fox has more integrity, is more honest or has tougher journalistic standards. It only shows that they gave McCain a bigger pass and slung more mud at Obama than the other news outlets while ignoring the facts that were staring back at them. By failing to report on the McCain's missteps, time and again, they blurred the lines of reality in order to make their chosen candidate seem more appealing than the alternative."

Another user, "schmoe," put it more simply: "Let's suppose that Abraham Lincoln is running against Joseph Stalin. Would it be "fair" for a news network to post positive/negative coverage of each candidate equally? Of course not. Balanced, yes. Fair, no."

Finally, we are getting somewhere. Liberals who take this position are at least being honest, and, truth be told, I have no problem with journalism presenting a particular point of view. Everyone has his own ideas, and those ideas are bound to come out in journalism. Far better to make your point of view explicit than to try to sneak it in under the guise of neutrality. Besides, the idea of journalism promoting the best ideas is the only way I can see that we can excuse not covering Dennis Kucinich, Lyndon LaRouche, and David Duke to the same extent, and with the same neutral tone, that we cover sane politicians.

For many years, almost every newspaper in America was openly partisan, aligned clearly with one party or the other. It is only since World War II that objective, neutral journalism has become the ideal. I don't want to say that objective journalism is a bad idea. If we could have someone report on events without any bias, it would be nice -- although even then, the person would have to make decisions about which events warranted inclusion, and I don't think there's a completely objective way of determining that. What irritates me are journalists who claim to be the height of independence and neutrality when they are, in fact, more liberal than 95% of the population. Their reason for claiming neutrality is clear: it gives them certain privileges and respect as protectors of democracy, and it lends more credence to their partisan views.

Thankfully, the American people do not seem to be falling for this confidence game. They are very sceptical of network news, and are fleeing it for Fox in droves. In the end, therefore, the issue of liberal media bias doesn't concern me too much as a pratical issue. What does concern me is when the White House attempts to shut out Fox News because it is supposedly biased, or when Democrats talk about reviving the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine" with the idea of limiting conservative outlets such as talk radio -- and exempting the purportedly objective network news, of course.


  1. All public personalities and journalists who dissiminate information to the American public should voluntarily vote publicly and to publicly disclose on air the party which they voted for. If they voted Republican then an "(R) should appear after their name just like it does with politicians. This will give the viewer the option of filtering and absorbing the views and information accordingly. Journalists should have something similar to the Bar Association that governs their behavior and professional conduct and is capable of punishing those who violate the public trust.

  2. I like the idea of creating FAQ's, or Standard Rebuttal Lists and CounterRebuttal Lists for some issues that come up over and over again.

    It'd be nice to be able to reply to some lib talking point...

    'that's defense number three, and rebuttal no. 2 totally swamps it.' followed by a link.

    I dunno. It might not work, but then again...


  3. The problem is not that they are biased but that they pretend to be objective. Thus they chose to deceive the reader by presenting the "news" as just the facts when it is nothing but their slant on what facts they want you to know.

    But the more insidious side of this bias is that they treat the reader as unable to form a fair opinion on what they are supposedly reporting on. So they chose to not inform their readers of key information - for fear that they may use it incorrectly. If I were an exclusive reader of the NYT I would begin to wonder why I didn't know about what was going on with Van Jones. Or why this global warming thing is falling apart. The NYT won't tell me. As a result I need to go elsewhere to find out what is really going on and then make up my own mind on why this is or isn't important. In the end, the old time new media is killing itself. In a way there is an upside to this bias thing.

  4. FOX media, in general, is way more biased. They finally have libertarian shows though, which is making up for it. For example, Judge Napolitano and Stossle. How ever, when you watch how Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman reacted to the, Rand Paul Supporter Stomp, you see just how arrogant they can be, not really to biased, and I think their just trying to play the republican game of ignoring certain facts that don't make their position on the matter look good.. Also, when you blog about liberals you have to remember that there are liberal republicans and there are also fiscally conservative democrats. Is this your only blog Derek? If you repost your blogs on my blog, I will publish them on the front page. It will, with a doubt, bring you more traffic and recognition (Because I will optimize them for you for free!)