The Myth Of The “Liberal Media” (Part 2): Examining the “Evidence”


Quite often, when right-wingers issue  their declarations about “liberal bias”, they don’t even bother offering  anything to support them. Instead, they simply rely on the power of  good old repetition,  which always has been quite effective. But some right-wing  propagandists, especially if they want to pose as intellectuals, do make  at least some effort to substantiate their allegations — and it’s  usually as flimsy as a paper hammer.

One classic example that we’ve mentioned before (and it’s too good  not to repeat a number of times) came from our friends at the ever-inept  National Review, which claimed it was solid evidence of “liberal bias”  that the media within a certain span of time gave more coverage to “gun  control” than to gun ownership. Aside from the fact that this is an  extremely narrow basis for defining “liberalism”, and aside from the  fact that “gun control” is inherently more newsworthy than gun  ownership, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the brilliant folks at NR  that right-wingers consider “gun control” newsworthy just as much as  anyone else — if not more so.

Yet as dumb as this argument was, it was actually an improvement over the most common tactic, which is simply to cite cherry-picked anecdotes — often taken out of context and distorted in a most Orwellian fashion. Never mind that it’s also  quite possible to cite plenty of anecdotes to support “conservative”  bias — often the very same anecdotes.

A quintessential case in point occurred after a 2010 debate between  two candidates for Senate in Delaware: Chris Coons (Democrat) and  Christine O’Donnell (Tea Party). At one point, O’Donnell asked (to gasps  and howls of laughter from the audience of legal scholars) “Where in  the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” To which Coons  patiently replied that it was right there in the First Amendment, which  he briefly paraphrased.

The next day a Fox “News” chyron read: (quoting from memory) “Media’s  Liberal Bias: Coons gets a pass on First Amendment gaffe.” In their  universe, it was a major blunder that Coons failed to recite the entire amendment verbatim, even though he accurately summarized its contents  and intents. Yet they were perfectly willing to give O’Donnell a pass  for having no grasp of the passage whatsoever. Furthermore, neither Fox  nor any of the rest of the “librulmedia” made an issue out of the fact  that, only moments later, she admitted she had no clue about the  contents of two other amendments she was queried about.

And merely by lumping Coons, a former Republican, together with the  “liberals”, Fox was employing another common tactic: shifting the  goalposts. The public perception, constantly reinforced by the “liberal” media, is that America is embroiled in a battle between the Right Wing  and the Left Wing. In truth, it’s between the Right Wing and everyone  else. But there really is no substantial Left Wing in America; what commonly gets labeled as leftism or liberalism would be considered quite  centrist in just about any other country. Democrats are rarely true  liberals, and almost never real leftists. The standard right-wing  talking point during the Obama years was that he was a “socialist”.  Meanwhile the real socialists not only scoffed at this suggestion, but  questioned whether he was even a liberal.

Cherry-picked anecdotes frequently depend highly on false  equivalence. One popular narrative has the wingers denouncing the  librulmedia for being unfair in its treatment of 45 in contrast to how  they have treated Obama or Biden. But there simply is no comparison  between 45 and anyone else. In the matter of his lies, for instance, he  lied far, far more often than any other politician; furthermore, his  lies were consistently of a more vicious, nasty, juvenile, malignant and  dangerous nature.

Another strained topic for comparison is executive orders. The media,  say the wingers, criticized 45 for his executive orders, but have no  problem with Biden’s, even though he issued considerably more of them during his first few days in office. The part they leave out is that  Biden undertook his executive actions in an effort to patch up the  damage wrought by his reckless and destructive predecessor; and Biden  made it clear on the campaign trail that he was going to follow this  course of action if elected.

Anecdotes and comparisons, if soundly chosen and appropriate, can  contribute useful and meaningful pieces of the puzzle in forming a  picture of bias; but they hardly make a convincing case by themselves. What is really needed is a comprehensive study — or actually a number of  studies. Right-wingers rarely if ever even attempt a real study. One of  the few exceptions — perhaps the only exception — is Media Research  Center, founded in 1987 to be a supposed “watchdog” against the vast  left-wing conspiracy that dominates the media. Since that time, MRC has  become the go-to authority for right-wingers wanting to “document”  “liberal bias”. Any time you hear one of them pull up a fact, figure,  statistic or allegation to support the librulmedia narrative, it’s a  good bet that the same thing can be found on MRC. With its years of  experience, superlative network of funding and support, and status as  the preeminent authority on such matters, surely MRC can tell us all we  need to know about “liberal bias” — if it’s real, you can bet that MRC can offer us evidence. So let’s have a look at it, since  there’s precious little else to look at.

Researching the media “research”

The first thing to remember about Media Research Center is that its  founder, Brent Bozell III, in addition to being a denizen of the  farthest reaches of the Republican loony fringe (he has been heavily  involved, for instance, with the CPAC), and being a plagiarist whose  staff has accused him of putting his name on their work, is a  highly accomplished liar.  But let’s forget about all that. Let’s assume that all of his “research” is perfectly truthful and accurate, and just consider only its relevance  and significance.

When you look at the websites of Media Research Center and its  affiliates, what you mostly see is… more cherry-picked anecdotes. Often  taken out of context and distorted in a most Orwellian fashion. (My  favorite title for one of their breathless exposes, a title that is much  more illuminating than they realize: “CNN Demeans Republicans as Drag  Queens”.) But wait. There’s also a section called Media Bias 101. Ah,  now maybe we’re getting somewhere. It appears not to have been updated  in several years, but it looks like the closest thing we’re going to  find to some actual research. The page is divided into three sections. Let’s take these out of order so we can progress, as it were, from least  significant to most. Here’s part of section two:

As you can see, these links are simply polls about public  perceptions. And given the perennial, persistent, nonstop bombardment of  the public by propaganda outlets like MRC, it’s no big shocker that a  large percentage of the public buys into the “liberal media” canard.  Somehow, this is supposed to be, in a weirdly circular fashion,  confirmation of the very narrative the public is being sold. In other  words, “some people believe it, so it must be true.” Just as some people  believe in a “stolen election”, a pedophile pizza parlor, birtherism, a  faked moon landing, a Sandy Hook hoax, and Jewish space lasers.

Of particular interest in this section is an item about media  attitudes toward the Iraq War. This, you may recall, was a war that was  sold on not one, but two big lies: that Saddam was involved in 9-11, and  that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The good folks at MRC  don’t seem terribly concerned about this, or about the senseless  destruction and the killing and maiming of countless thousands of  innocent civilians. What really bothers them is that journalists  disapproved of the carnage more strongly than the general public (71  percent compared to 46 percent) — as if they were… well, less inclined  to swallow the bullshit or something. Oh, and on top of that, they also  were more likely to disapprove of good old fashioned torture — those  spineless commie traitor libruls!

Opinion and belief also drive the next section we’ll look at. Only  this time, we don’t even have anything so systematic as polls — merely  isolated quotes from people expressing their take on “liberal bias”. But  at least these individuals are journalists themselves, so they should  know, right?

These “journalists” include Bernard Goldberg, who has made a  lucrative cottage industry out of promoting the notion of “liberal bias”  — apparently motivated by a vendetta against former colleagues. So it’s  hardly surprising that he’d be among those “admitting liberal bias”, in  MRC’s cute choice of words.

Funny thing, though. For some inexplicable reason, MRC decided to  depart from its usual modus operandi in this section and strike some  “balance” by also including statements from journalists “denying liberal bias”. And there are quite a few more of those — about 80, compared to  about 60 snippets “admitting liberal bias”. So in trying to buttress its  premise by dredging up gossip, MRC has dredged substantially more  gossip that undermines its premise. How do you even do that?

And it’s worth noting that in making the case that what the public  believes defines reality, and that in particular what journalists  believe defines the reality about journalism, MRC includes a poll  indicating that “nearly all” journalists believe that other journalists  are honest; and overwhelming majorities of them believe that journalists  get the facts straight and correct their mistakes. MRC just can’t seem  to stop stumbling over its own genitalia.

Finally, we come to the real meat of the thesis, section one — which  has something resembling a systematic assessment of bias. But there’s a  big problem.

As you might have noticed, there is little if anything in this  segment about journalism — rather, it focuses on the people who create  it, i.e., journalists (“the elite”). It includes more about journalists’  disapproval of the Iraq invasion — evidently, being a patriotic  Amurrcan these days requires unflagging enthusiasm for genocide and  torture. And there’s a poll reflecting that journalists have shown a  marked preference for the Democratic candidate in the past few  presidential elections. It seems beyond the grasp of MRC that there just  might be some basis besides personal ideology for not being  enthusiastic about the candidates the GOP has been fielding in the past  few years.

While most surveys confirm that journalists tend to be “liberal”  (though many of those contacted don’t respond to such polls), that  doesn’t translate to majority identification as Democrats.

If 64.8 percent are either Independents or “Other”, compared to only  28.1 percent who are Democrats, and yet a strong majority supports  Democratic candidates, then obviously candidate preference isn’t just a matter of a  journalist’s political affiliation.

The tactic of attacking the messenger, and identifying journalism as  merely the personal expressions of journalists, has become a staple  among right-wingers. The idea is that since most journalists are  “liberal”, then journalism itself is “liberal”. But there are three  major flaws with that line of reasoning.

First, journalists who are worth their salt are quite capable of separating their personal likes and dislikes from their professional duty. (This  means real journalists — not Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson.) Interestingly, one of the quotes of “journalists admitting liberal bias”  is this:

If we wore our politics on our  sleeves in here, I have no doubt that in this and in most other  mainstream newsrooms in America, the majority of those sleeves would be  of the same color: blue. Survey after survey over the years have  demonstrated that most of the people who go into this business tend to  vote Democratic, at least in national elections. That is not  particularly surprising, given how people make career decisions and that  social service and activism is a primary driver for many journalists.
Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman in an August 15, 2007 e-mail to his staff, posted by Poynter.org.

Somehow MRC overlooked that rather important little word “if” right up front — making it clear that Boardman is saying they do not wear their politics on their sleeves. Additionally, note the last  sentence of his statement, which spells out that journalism attracts  many “liberals” because they want to make a positive difference to  society. What does that suggest about the “conservatives” who enter the  field?

Since MRC put so much emphasis on the opposition of journalists to  the Iraqi quagmire, let’s point out another survey showing that, despite  this, the media outlets themselves expressed support for it:

So 71 percent of American media outlets supported the Iraq misadventure. Does  that number sound familiar? It’s the very same percentage of journalists  who were opposed to it — an exact mirror image reversal. Why the huge  discrepancy if journalism is nothing more than the sum of its  journalists?

Which brings us to the second point of contention: journalists  generally don’t have ultimate control over the content of their  reporting. That belongs to the owners of the media outlets. And those at  the bottom of the totem pole not infrequently are at odds with those at  the top. Reporter Laura Italiano made headlines when she resigned from  the New York Post after being forced to write a false story about Vice  President Kamala Harris. How many other journalists do not stand up to  their “superiors”, but instead put career above conscience? 

OAN, the  most rabidly right-wing network imaginable (so far), is reported to be staffed largely by “liberals”. And although some of them have resigned over their network’s atrocities, many others are biting their lips and  staying aboard. Maybe you can’t blame them — one OAN producer who spoke  out about his network’s false claims about the 2020 election was  promptly sacked.

And finally, Republicans during the past few decades have been  astoundingly, phenomenally successful at saturating the public forum  with their soundbites and talking points.  Media discourse has become so  deeply embedded with misleading or silly phrases like “cancel  culture”, “culture wars”, “wokeism”, “border crisis”, “stop the steal”,  “war on terror” and “America first”, that they often roll effortlessly  off the tongues of even the most “liberal” of journalists. And even if  one of these journalists were to thoroughly dispute, say, the absurd  narrative that Joe Biden is senile, they would be helping to transmit  and perpetuate it merely by giving it oxygen.

In short, the premise that the dancer equals the dance is the biggest  cannon that right-wingers have to fire in making their case for “liberal  bias”. And it crumbles to dust when exposed to just a little bit of  sunlight. Which leaves them only with “some people say”.

(In Part Three, we’ll look at some much more reliable indicators of real media bias.)

2 comments

  1. Your article is full of factual documentation and exposes some of the sleight of hand used by organizations like MCR while ignoring the fact that Liberal bias is often claimed based on misunderstandings about what MRCs research truly represents, i.e. that large number of journalists actually back up the truthful reporting of of liberals in the media because that reporting is more often correct!

    Here’s something which I wrote years ago for the opinion page of one of our local newspapers, and which indicates how the myth of liberal bias is actually not supported by facts;

    5/16/2014
    To We the People, In the Superior Telegram,
    Putting Benghazi into perspective;

    Taken from the Huffington post, May 09th 2014, posted by Bob Cesca.

    January 22, 2002. Calcutta, India. Gunmen associated with Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami attack the U.S. Consulate.

    June 14, 2002. Karachi, Pakistan. Suicide bomber connected with al Qaeda attacks the U.S. Consulate.

    October 12, 2002. Denpasar, Indonesia. U.S. diplomatic offices bombed as part of a string of “Bali Bombings.”

    February 28, 2003. Islamabad, Pakistan. Several gunmen fire upon the U.S. Embassy.

    May 12, 2003. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Armed al Qaeda terrorists storm the diplomatic compound.

    July 30, 2004. Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A suicide bomber from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacks the U.S. Embassy.

    December 6, 2004. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda terrorists storm the U.S. Consulate and occupy the perimeter wall.

    March 2, 2006. Karachi, Pakistan again. Suicide bomber attacks the U.S. Consulate. (This is the third Karachi terrorist attack in four years on what’s considered American soil.)

    September 12, 2006. Damascus, Syria. Four armed gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar” storm the U.S. Embassy using grenades, automatic weapons, a car bomb and a truck bomb.

    January 12, 2007. Athens, Greece. Members of a Greek terrorist group called the Revolutionary Struggle fire a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. Embassy.

    March 18, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire a mortar at the U.S. Embassy.

    July 9, 2008. Istanbul, Turkey. Four armed terrorists attack the U.S. Consulate.

    September 17, 2008. Sana’a, Yemen. Terrorists dressed as military officials attack the U.S. Embassy with an arsenal of weapons including RPGs and detonate two car bombs. (second attack in 7 months).

    These 13 embassy attacks all occurred during GW Bush’s two terms. I had to remove the numbers about those who were killed to keep under 400 words, but at least 98 were killed and dozens more injured—ever wonder why the GOP is so self-righteous about Benghazi?

    Peter W. Johnson

    Imagine if the left was truly intent on reporting in a biased manner about the Bush administration–each one of these attacks would have been summarily blamed on GW in just as many sanctimonious ways as were delivered by the right while trying for years to nail Hillary Clinton–implying that her supposed criminal actions during the attacks on Benghazi were political motivated dodges used to hide her gross negligence, which consequently, enabled terrorist to sucesfully attack our Embassies.

    How did the “liberal” media actually conduct itself during GWs terms?–it objectively and accurately reported these incidents for just what they were–violent terrorist attacks that could be mourned by all of us! Yet very few of us remember anything at all about the media’s handling of these stories–partially because these attacks were rightly considered unfortunate events that need not be politically blamed on anyone! The next day our hometown newspapers made no accusations against conservatives at all–they just continued delivering the daily news that interested us all!

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