Is there a liberal bias in the media, as so many believe? I like to think I’m pretty well informed about both politics and the media, and I listen to at least a few commentators on both sides of America’s political spectrum, so here’s my opinion: No, there isn’t.
Home in Vermont, the Burlington Free Press is the leading newspaper of the state, and one June morning I picked it up and read about former President Bush’s birthday, and how he celebrated by going skydiving. Apparently he had done so in 1992 also, to keep a promise he made himself in World War II to some day jump from a plane for fun.
The current president’s father celebrated his birthday by reminiscing about his days as a war hero, and in one of the most left-wing states in this country, it was worthy of front-page news. What a horrible liberal bias. And in July, in Newsweek magazine I found a story about Abu Ghraib. The story told of how almost all the people being tortured at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with terrorism, but were just car thieves and other petty criminals. And I do mean I “found” the story – it was the third news story in the issue, not even on the cover. If the media has a liberal bias, then why did Clinton’s peccadillos spend three years on front pages while Rumsfeld’s authorization of torturing muggers at Abu Ghraib spend only about three weeks on the front pages?
Of course, anecdotes are weak arguments. Conservatives cite studies showing that five times as many journalists lean left as lean right. But if most media editors, publishers and advertisers were conservative, would it really matter that the reporters happen to vote Democrat?
Studies of the media’s content itself paint a different picture. The Pew Charitable Trusts Project for Excellence in Journalism did a study of the 2000 election, to see how the media treated Gore and Bush.They found that Bush got almost twice as much positive coverage as Gore. Blatant, horrible liberal bias.
Some media outlets have a left-wing bias, and some have a right-wing bias. If you had a perfect measurement system you could probably determine if the media as a whole has a political bias or not, but the only bias in the media is in favor of selling itself. That means bias in favor of sensationalism – whatever is going wrong, whether it’s being done by the Left or the Right – and a bias in favor of the status quo – not offending anyone, getting sued or scaring off any advertisers. The now widely-held belief in a liberal media is as reliable as the once widely-held belief that the Sun moves around the Earth.
Levesque can be reached at email@example.com.