Posted by: Jim | October 17, 2006

Is the Media Biased?

This started out as a short post, but the more I read, the more I converted to my surprising new theory. That is that the media has no blatant Left-leaning or Right-leaning bias. I heard a lot about MSM Bias during the Clinton smearing over Monica Lewinsky. It got as many news cycles as World War II, it seemed. I felt they were out to get Clinton.

Then, during the beginning of the Iraq War, it seemed as if the networks had become Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, and the White House was Paul Winchell. In my opinion, the notion of a Left-Wing Media Bias was a thing of the past. Clearly the big corporations were having their way with the American people.  

But lately I’m reading a lot of conservative blogs, and I’m hearing a lot about MSM Left-Wing Bias again. They say that the media is only reporting the bad news about Iraq, and not covering the “lefty” scandals, etc. Admittedly, even to me it seems as if the news “bias” has shifted. A lot of the news cycles of late involve stories that do not help the White House’s cause. 

This is the part where Jim started scratching his head, and started reading. First, let’s agree that it is practically impossible for anyone who leans Left or Right to look at Media Bias with an open mind. To support this, I recommend reading the Wikipedia on the topic. Additionally, the charts I post later in this blog entry corroborate this point.  

The fact is, everyone has their own bias when watching the news. We hold those news stories that agree with our beliefs to a lower standard of proof than we do for those stories that contradict what we believe. If someone reported that George Bush eats his pork raw, I would tend to say “Ah! He must have Trichinosis, and that would explain a lot!” Then I would move on to the next story. Someone who is a Bush supporter might say, “That is preposterous, and they did not offer any proof; therefore, it is biased.”

So the Left finds bias in stories that favor the Right. Likewise, the Right finds bias in stories that favor the Left. We don’t tend to see bias in news that validates our current view.  From Wiki: “Studies of US Media Bias studies show that A) Liberal experimenters tend to get results that say the media has a conservative bias, B) conservative experimenters get results indicating a liberal bias, and C) experimenters that do not identify themselves as either liberal or conservative do not detect any bias.” OK, since that corroborates my theory, I won’t require any further evidence. (See?) 

What drives the MSM? I think both Left and Right will agree that it is the market. Money. No surprises there. For the Media, profits come and go on the basis of how many eyeballs they can pull to their channel. Those are pulled on the basis of those little preview segments seen during the previous hour(s).  

Ask yourself, which of the following preview segments will get more American eyeballs? 

1. “We’ve got more on the unfolding Foley pedophilia scandal. Stay tuned at 11 when <network ID> asks the question, ‘Did Foley ever act out on his fantasies?’ We’ve got your answers on <network ID>” 

Or 2. “Breaking news indicates that Senator Harry Ried of Nevada did not disclose over half a million dollars in earnings from a land deal. How does this impact the current political race? Stay tuned at 11.” 

The answer is #1 And the Network will headline story #1 because they will get more viewers, and more viewers means more advertising dollars. Yet some Conservatives believe this to be hard evidence of Left Wing Media Bias. In my opinion, it’s actually far less sinister, but no less discouraging. As Elsa Maxwell once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the American people.”  Elsa was, aptly, an extremely successful gossip columnist. 

Let’s look at another example. When the media seemed to be Pro-Iraq War, I was personally livid over their one-track-mind approach. Saddam is evil. Saddam wants to kill us. Saddam has WMDs. Saddam has ties to Al Qaida. Blah blah blah. It was all such a lie to me. The Media was so biased, in my opinion. I had to force my mind out of its liberal box to look at this objectively. What is the one world event that gets people in front of their TV watching the news every night? The answer is war. Did the MSM want war? Probably not on a personal level. Did they want more money? Emphatically, yes. Do networks make more money for their advertising minutes during wartime? I don’t know the answer to this, but if anyone can point me to some research I’d appreciate it.  I bet the answer is yes.

It’s quite possible that for this reason the Networks might have had a pro-White House bias during the lead up to the Iraq War. Pity that. In addition, there was another factor at play during the lead up to the Iraq War. Another bias prevalent among the MSM is toward the status quo of their viewers. People want to have their own beliefs validated by the news they watch. To quote a Harvard Economics study, “When news customers share common beliefs, profit-maximizing media outlets find it optimal to select and/or frame stories in order to pander to those beliefs.”

So when the news media was spouting all the reasons we should go to war with Iraq, it was partly because they were only stating what their viewers wanted to hear.  

Likewise today, while the MSM gives us daily reasons why we should get out of Iraq, they are also merely stating what their viewers want to hear.

 The following two graphs are from The Polling Point, and shows how people want to see their own beliefs validated by the news they watch, and find bias in news that disagrees with their point of view.

             

And

here

is

the

second

graph:

(UGH!)

 

There are other factors that can make a compelling case of a leftward and rightward slant. The fact that more journalists claim to be Liberal is one. The fact that the MSM are owned by large corporations with a rightward slant is another. These might cancel each other out, although I would posit that the latter has more influence.   So my conclusions are this: we should stop blaming the media for stories that we don’t like. At the same time, we should stop putting so much stock in the sound-bite approach to truth that the MSM media tries to feed us every night. They are just in it for the money, and they cannot be counted on to deliver a balanced account.  

For those of us who seek the truth, we will have to work at it.

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Responses

  1. I’m having a *horrible* time with random deletion of line breaks by WordPress. Apologies!

  2. Linebreaks are (sorta) fixed, but I lost all my links.

    (Sob.)

  3. Jim, I applaud your open view.

    Last night as I enjoyed a cigarette outside in the SNOW, thanks to the new mandate by the state of Colorado that indoor smoking be banned. I didn’t even get to vote on it.

    Anyway.

    I engaged in conversation with an Air Force weather forecaster. Toby is leaving in three weeks for his third tour in Iraq, and as I do with all soldiers I bump into, I shake their hand and thank them. Our conversation evolved into what it is like from a first-hand point of view, in-country and away from the media. He stated that what we see over here is not really biased, but it is nowhere near a clear representation of what soldiers experience, i.e. ‘What’s goin’ on.’ We can imebed journalists in wartime situations, but they’re still journalists. Their goal is not the same as the soldiers fighting the war, and there is the difference, he stated. It’s like covering a bad steak in steak sauce to make it taste better. Beneath all the sauce, there’s still a bad steak.

    I think at this point that media, be it in print or moving pictures, does nothing except provide pictures of a place where a conflict is occurring. That’s it. I neither believe nor disbelieve reports from Iraq. I use what I’ve seen and experienced on which to base my beliefs. I think a two-tour veteran of Iraq is pretty damn credible.

    I got the feeling he was neutral, politically. He never denigrated Bush, he never said that our purpose there was wrong or right. I’m not sure if he was just trying to be objective or if he understood that when he signed up, this was his job, no matter where he was sent. He never ripped the media and he never supported them. His point was that we sit back here in America in our easy chairs, watch the news, and try to glean from it what is true and what is not, but the experience will tell you the truth. It discouraged him that Americans pass judgement on the cause over there based on FOX and Friends or CNN News.

    Like you say, if we seek the truth, we must work at it, akin to Fox Mulder’s statement, “The truth is out there – you just have to know where to look for it.”

  4. I inquired with someone who is in television news, and here is his response:

    “There is a bias in media. Most stations lean left of center, FOX leans far to the right. Thus the love they have for one another. That’s life right now. FOX made a fortune going conservative and the CNMSNBCNN’s are pissed and taking pot shots. FOX shoots back and we have a genuine high school football rivalry… including the same “Go Team!!” emotional maturity on both sides.

    On what I call discretionary news days, when there is no BIG-HUGE story rocking the news world, you best see the biases in news judgment. But that’s a side point.

    I think you’re right about the over-arching bias toward making money. Perhaps you should make an argument to have the FCC remove all television news products from ratings (or sweeps). I believe it would save the news business from itself. Literally have absolutely no monitoring of who or how many people are watching what news program. This would send news managers and reporters back to the drawing board. It would rid news departments of college business majors and return it to “news” people. It would immediately put out of business the news consultants every station pays to tell them what people want.

    Back at the drawing board, news directors, producers and reporters might start asking truly important questions like, “Well since our budget is no longer being determined by ratings, what should we be reporting? What stories really affect our viewer’s lives?”

    Guess what? It’s not car chases or sex scandals. It’s school bond issues and the environment and the like.

    “News that matters” was the mantra of news in the 1960s and ‘70s. Now the mantra is “Ooooh, LOOK! We got a spike in viewers last night at the top of the newscast, what did we lead with? Whatever it was, let’s do more of that!” Money wins!

  5. Excellent post, sir! You know, until robots start writing news stories, you can’t avoid it… and maybe not even then? The front page would be likley “Science and Tech”


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