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Liberal Bias in the Media: Fact or Fiction?

November 20th, 2007

media-bias.jpgThis essay by Jamie Austin explores the issue of whether or not there is a significant liberal bias in the news media. For the most part, I actually agree with it, although I probably would not have 20 years ago. With the relatively recent rise of (mostly conservative) talk radio, the Faux Fox News network, and the panoply of diverse views from Internet sources, the idea that news media as a whole is dominated by liberal bias has become rather stale.


Liberal Bias in the Media is a conservative catch phrase with users as diverse as radio personalities Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, television pundits like Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough, and even politicians such as Richard Nixon and George Bush. It’s a common phrase that is grossly misunderstood and exaggerated. First, what does it actually mean? Using a handy reference tool called a dictionary, namely the Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the phrase can be broken down into its individual components as follows:

a. Liberal: Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Bias: An unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice.
c. Media: A means of mass communication, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, or television. The group of journalists and others who constitute the communications industry and profession.

The phrase ‘Liberal bias in the media’ roughly translates into “Unfair acts or policies stemming from prejudice in mass communication, by those who constitute the communications industry and who are themselves not bigoted.” This concept is not only awkward, it’s unbelievable. Why would thousands of unbigoted and unprejudiced people conspire to warp the world’s views of the American people to promote policies that are mutually harmful to all of us? Actually, the concept isn’t just awkward, it’s insane. Where did this idea stem from in the first place? Oddly enough, it came about almost thirty years ago with the anti-Semitic ramblings of former president Richard “Dirty Dick” Nixon. Mr. Nixon had some issues with Jews, African-Americans, and Mexicans. Mr. Nixon seemed to have problems with almost everyone. His main problem, however, was with what he perceived to be “a terrible liberal Jewish clique” that “totally dominates the media” and “erodes our confidence, our strength.” It was from the base fear of one man that the myth of the liberal media was born and perpetuated.

It was a useful fable, too. The liberal media myth has been used to instill fear of misinformation into the general population. Eric Alterman discusses the subject well in his new book, “What liberal Media?” “Social scientists talk about ‘useful myths.’ These are stories we all know are not necessarily true, but that we choose to believe anyway, because they seem to offer confirmation of what we already know. (Which raises the question, ‘if we already know it, why the story?’). Think of the wholly fictitious but illustrative story about little George Washington and his inability to lie about that cherry tree. For conservatives, and even more many journalists, the ‘liberal media’ is just that: a myth, to be certain, but a useful one. If only it were true, we might have a more humane, open-minded, and ultimately effective public debate on the issues facing the nation.”

Is there any truth to the myth? Many books have been written regarding the subject. In fact, a copy of Al Franken’s “Lies And the Lying Liars who Tell Them”, is gracing my desk with its glorious presence this exact moment. Most books point to disturbing evidence that the opposite is true. There is a somewhat conservative bias in the media. Why wouldn’t there be? After all, most of what we see and hear every day is controlled by one of the “Big Ten”, AOL/Time Warner, AT&T Corp, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom INC, Bertelsmann, Walt Disney Company, Vivendi Universal, Liberty Media Corporation, and Sony.

These companies do not, in and of themselves, have a conservative bias. Their agenda is based solely on increasing profits. In the search for money however, there is a tendency to lean toward whichever political party makes it possible for large corporations to make the most money. Historically, this has been the Republican Party. If the media did have a liberal bias it would, in most instances, favor a liberal political candidate. It would help propagate liberal agendas. It would show liberals in a positive light. It has not.

During the 2000 elections Al Gore was branded as the ‘liberal’ candidate. If the myth is true he should have received more positive media coverage than the ‘conservative’ George W. Bush. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts just the opposite occurred, “Overall, nearly a quarter of all Bush dominated stories were clearly positive in nature, while that was true of only 13% of Gore stories, according to the study. Bush was also less likely to receive negative coverage than Gore” (PEW). Below is the chart composed by Pew.

[The chart compares the tone of news coverage for Gore and Bush. Positive coverage was 13% Gore, 24% Bush. Neutral coverage was 31% Gore, 27% Bush, and negative coverage was 56% Gore, 49% Bush.]

Furthermore, most of the coverage of Gore was nonsensical information regarding the moving of his headquarters and his role in the creation of the internet. There was much controversy over Gore’s role in the formation of the internet and he was often misquoted as having said that he personally invented the internet:

“The truth is Gore never said that. Gore’s actual words came from a 1999 Wolf Blitzer interview in which he said, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” This is true. Gore worked as both a congressman and a senator for funding that turned the military program, Arpanet. into what is now the Internet. The phrase ˜invented the Internet” first appeared in a Republican Party press release. If the news media is so liberal, why would they intentionally repeat conservative propaganda? Especially when a quick LexisNexis search can show one where to find Gores actual words. (Fink)

Another example of conservative bias in the media (or at the very least the lack of liberal bias) is the news coverage by CBS in regards to the war in Iraq. It is obvious that the war in Iraq is not going as planned, that the number of American casualties is mounting, and that we have no coherent exit strategy, yet CBS like so many other news networks has avoided attacking the president’s policies. Why? CBS is owned by General Electric who manufactures aircraft engines and is currently under government contract. They profit from the war and would never do anything to offend President Bush who not only spends more money on television spots than Kerry but is the main driving force behind the war in Iraq. It is this profit motive that gives the media a conservative slant on some occasions and helps to propagate the myth of Liberal Bias in the Media.

Whether the media is liberal, conservative, or a little bit of both on any given day is not important. What is important is that we, as people, choose not to rely on any one organization to inform us about what is going on in the world around us. We must actively search for the truth and not rely on the force-fed opinions of higher powers to guide our morality. By opening our minds and the occasional book we save ourselves from creating an Orwellian society under which we are willingly told what to believe.

Works Cited:

Alterman, Eric. What Liberal Media?. 2003. 16 July 2004 .

Fink, Mickayla . Liberal news media rarely seen in political coverage. 20 Feb. 2004. 16 July 2004 .

Project for Excellence in Journalism. How the Press Covered the Final Stages of the Presidential Campaign. 2004. 16 July 2004 .

Solomon, Norman. “The Liberal Media” — A Poltergeist That Will Not Die. 21 Mar. 2002. 16 July 2004 .



One Response to “Liberal Bias in the Media: Fact or Fiction?”

  1. comment number 1 by: Kevin

    this is just sad. honestly, if in 2010 you cannot see the forest for the trees, you never will.

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