Sunday News Shows and Media Bias

Bias graphic 1

On January 31, Media Matters published, as it does every year, an analysis of the biases exhibited in the Sunday network news talk shows during the preceding year. And even though its findings pretty much replicated what it discovers every year with a similar survey, the results might be quite a surprise to many people. Because contrary to the persistent narrative we hear about the “liberal media” dominating the American landscape, the survey, as always, indicates a very pronounced right-wing bias in mainstream media.

Now you may say that Media Matters is itself biased, and so this survey can’t be trusted. And you’d be half right. Media Matters is definitely biased, as I’ve mentioned before. But bias in itself isn’t necessarily a problem; biased is not a synonym for inaccurate or dishonest, even if they frequently all go together. (See previous post, Shades Of Subjectivity). Media Matters has an extraordinary track record of honesty, accuracy, and even balance. If you can find a more accurate accounting of media bias during the past year than the one it presents, I’d love to see it.

Besides, the type of survey in question is pretty much foolproof. Media Matters did not attempt to determine the biases evident in the stances taken on various issues, as that would have entailed too much subjective judgment. Instead, what it did was tally the biases of the personalities involved. And it’s almost always a simple matter to determine whether an individual — particularly a public figure — has exhibited an ideological position, and if so, what it is.

The report examines the four leading Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, Fox’s Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press. And it examines each of them for six types of ideological bias: ideology of guests, ideology of interviewees,  dominant ideology of panels, ideology of elected and administration official guests, ideology of elected and administration official solo interviewees, and ideology of journalist guests. (Note that there is some overlap.)

Only one network, ABC, displayed even a slight tilt to the left: it leaned slightly leftward on 3 of the factors, rightward on 2 of them, and was evenly balanced on the other.  The other three networks were, with the exception of a single instance, consistently “conservative”, often to an extreme degree. The single deviation was that in the category of elected and appointed administration official guests NBC’s Meet the Press hosted “liberals” over “conservatives” by a slim 50-48 margin — hardly stunning given that it’s a Democratic administration. Nonetheless, Fox managed to dig up more Republicans to interview.

Of particular interest is the distribution of journalist guests:

Bias graphic 2

As you can see, all 4 networks featured far more “conservative” than “liberal” journalists, even though allegedly there are far more “liberal” journalists to pick from. Yet 3 of the networks featured far more independents than either left or right; but good old fairandbalanced Fox had considerably more “conservative” than neutral journalists.

Are you shocked yet? None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who’s paying attention, but it runs very counter to the dominant narrative of the “librulmedia”. (Am I the only person who’s noticed that when people parrot the myth of the “liberal media”, they’re generally repeating a refrain they’ve heard from the “liberal” media?)

In his 2003 book What Liberal Media?, Eric Alterman comments that the persistent hammering away at the narrative of the “liberal media” is part of a tactic that he calls “playing the refs”: by constantly complaining about a supposed “liberal” bias, the right-wing punditocracy hopes to nudge the mainstream media even farther rightward than it already is. If that’s the case, the strategy seems to be working quite handsomely.

Misquoting Gore. Again. Still.


As 2013 was coming to a halt, the cult of climate science denial believed they had great reason to gloat. After all, hadn’t their favorite bogeyman, Al Gore, predicted 5 years ago that the Arctic would be free of ice by now? And wasn’t there still plenty of ice left at the North Pole? And heaven knows, as long as there’s at least one icicle left on Santa’s beard, it totally proves that global warming is a hoax. Ditto if we can establish that Al Gore has been wrong even once in his life.

Sorry to pop the bubbles in your champagne, deniers, but you got it wrong on both ends; both Gore and the scientists he was quoting were all too accurate.

Climate science denial is predicated on the belief that climatology is part of an evil commie plot to destroy the American economy by nibbling away at the mountain of profits raked in by corporate polluters. Somebody forgot to pass that memo along to the CEO of ExxonMobil, who has acknowledged not only that global warming is real, but that fossil fuels “may” contribute to it.  But the global warming “skeptics”, as they like to fancy themselves, know better.

If you’re one of these cultists — oops, “skeptics” —  then I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that them thar evil commie scientists were indeed mistaken. The bad news is that their error is minor, and not one that will be very friendly to your dogma. On the contrary, the estimates were too conservative: Arctic ice is disappearing even faster than projected.

The “skeptics” generally try to discredit climate science by stringent cherry picking. Unable to grasp the concept that global warming is an AVERAGE increase in WORLDWIDE temperatures over a LONG period of time, they instead seize upon very short-term variations in temperatures in one location, particularly if they happen to occur during the winter. The folly of this type of cherry-picking “skepticism”, particularly with regard to arctic ice, is readily apparent in the following graph borrowed from Truthout:

Arctic Ice

Yeah, there was a spike in the ice in 2013, just as there had been in certain previous years; but there’s still an unmistakable downward trend. Any gambler who records his wins and losses at the craps table long enough can show you a graph like this one. It doesn’t mean that probability is a hoax or mathematicians are frauds or casinos are generous. But gosh, ain’t it fun to just forget the facts and ridicule Al Gore.

If you try Googling something like “Gore’s 2013 prediction”, you’ll come up with an ocean full of blogs sneeringly touting Gore’s pronouncements that the Arctic would be ice free by 2013. What an idiot!  What a lunatic! What a shill! What a propagandist! What an opportunistic manipulator!

But what you’ll have a much harder time finding is his actual words. So let’s take a look at them. Chances are you saw them here first:

Last September 21 (2007), as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

In case you’re having struggles with the Mother Tongue, let’s point out that there’s a difference between “could” and “will”; between “one study estimated” and “without a doubt”; and between “in as little as 7 years” and “in at most 6 years”.  In their ever-mounting desperation for a Gore flub, the anti-sciencers also turned to a speech he made in 2009, in which he supposedly said that the arctic ice could be gone in 5 years. Even if that had been what he said, that would mean this year (2014) and as of this writing it’s only January. But what he actually said was this:

Some of the models suggest that there is a 75 percent chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months will be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years.

His office later clarified that he meant to say “nearly” instead of “completely” — in which case he was, again, too conservative, as the Arctic is already nearly ice-free during summer — but even as it stands, the statement leaves way too much wiggle room for anyone to declare that it’s wrong. Except, of course, for the Gore-hating science deniers. They’ve even misrepresented the words of the scientific source Gore was citing. But their most extensive smearing and distorting is, as always, reserved for Al himself.

As its own Exhibit A against Mr. Gore, PJ Media, one of those innumerable bastions of disinformation and general wingnuttery out in the blogoshpere, presents a brief, undated, uncontexted, garbled, and possibly edited clip of Mr. Gore appearing to say that arctic ice could be (or might be, or something) gone in 5 years. PJM notes that a presumably more damning clip that it had alluded to previously seems to have vanished down the “memory hole” along with, presumably, its smoking gun evidence that global warming is a hoax and thousands of the world’s top scientists are frauds. Doncha hate it when that happens?

The campaign to discredit Mr. Gore has been long, intensive, nasty, silly and downright bizarre. For sheer silliness, it’s hard to surpass the recent grade school gigglefest at Fox “News” over the fact that Mr. Gore’s book finally has, as any book eventually does (are you ready for this?) gone on sale. (Snicker snicker tee hee) Except maybe for photographing a copy of the book in the snow. But above all, there’s the standard practice of heavily editing his own words, as above.

As discussed previously , the Gore haters were relentless, systematic and unscrupulous in their efforts to assail Gore’s credibility during the 2000 presidential election, twisting his words like pretzels. When he said of a student’s campaign to clean up the toxic spill at Love Canal, “That was the one that started it all”, the librulmedia, taking its cue from GOP propagandists, quoted him as saying “I was the one who started it all.” And even more famously, of course, his observation that “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet” will be forever remembered as “I invented the Internet”. They branded him permanently as a pathological liar without producing even one lie he’d told.

Not content merely to distort his words, the Gore haters have distorted his actions as well, pegging him as a blustery con man. What a hypocrite, they say, to warn people about the dangers of pollution when he, like any successful American, lives in a nice house and travels on planes occasionally. Obviously, he’s spent 4 decades warning about climate change just so he can put a feather in his own cap and rake in a few bucks in the process.

What you probably won’t hear these folks talk about is how he used planes after Hurricane Katrina. Remember Katrina? Even if you’re one of those sage souls who pooh-pooh the commie notion that global warming may have contributed to it, and instead chalk it up to gay marriage and abortion, you probably agree that the government’s finger-in-the-ass response to it was less than stellar — under the “leadership” of the guy who, by all evidence, had stolen Gore’s job.  Meanwhile, Gore himself shelled out $100,000 of his own money to secretly charter two planes to fly to New Orleans and evacuate 270 stranded citizens — an effort in which he physically assisted. And he refused to discuss it with the media when they found out about it. A big spender he may be. A self-aggrandizing phony he ain’t.

Somehow, the rightwing anti-science vendetta against Albert Gore, Jr. reminds me of a line from the movie Love Story. Perhaps it’s because the author of the book , Erich Segal, was a friend of Gore’s at Harvard. Perhaps it’s because Gore’s good faith reliance on an inaccurate newspaper article about the book was transformed into another of his baldfaced “lies”.  Perhaps it’s because the line in question was uttered by Gore’s Harvard roommate, future Hollywood superstar Tommy Lee Jones.

In any case Jones’ character, upon hearing the news that the male lead is romantically holed up in his room with his girlfriend, initially responds, “Again?” But then after a moment’s reflection, he amends it to the more appropriate reaction: “Still?”

Likewise, when I hear about the smears and distortions against Al Gore by climate science “skeptics” I seldom think, well there they go again.  Because in all these years they’ve never once put on their clothes and gone home.