The media are liberal. Big deal.

OK, brace yourself. The media have a left-leaning bias. The most liberal of all?

They find some interesting answers: most of the media does have a liberal bias (throwing out the editorial page, the Wall Street Journal is the most liberal of all, even beating the New York Times!). Fox News is one of the few outlets that is right of center.

But that study was done before Murdoch bought the paper. So, a later study, done in 2010, came to a more pointed conclusion:

The most important factor driving the slant of a given newspaper is the political leaning of the people who buy it. In other words, newspapers are giving the people the news that they want.

My experience at the News & Record suggests to me that this conclusion is inherently true. One indicator is how often winning political candidates also won the News & Record’s endorsement.

I know the argument about media bias will never end. Confirmation bias will continue. As Danny Kahneman said, “We think other people are biased. We don’t feel that we’re biased.”

3 thoughts on “The media are liberal. Big deal.

  1. I think the bumper sticker slogan that Truth Has A Liberal Bias is a sound bite way of explaining your discovery. Good reporters look for both sides of an issue, which invariably leaves the impression that a story has multiple angles and can be understood from different perspectives. The current conservative pundits see only one side to an issue, theirs, therefore when they see anything that thoughtfully explores an issue, they cry “Liberal Bias!”
    So, the truth is, that most good newspapers don’t have a bias at all, outside of their editorial pages, it is just perceived that way and because this threatens the conservative message they loudly repeat the claim as often as they can.

  2. I had a reading comprehension hiccup that went thusly. I read:

    “But that study was done before Murdoch bought the paper. So, a later study, done in 2010, came to a more pointed conclusion:

    The most important factor driving the slant of a given newspaper is the political leaning of the people who buy it. In other words, newspapers are giving the people the news that they want.”

    Both paragraphs refer to buying a newspaper, but the first is talking about ownership of the publication and the second about customers. So I was still thinking Murdoch when I read “The people who buy it” and “giving the people the news they want.”

    But to the actual point, I think it can be dangerous that our need for self-validation impacts how or whether news is reported. Commentary is one thing, but I don’t think actual news should be a flattering department store mirror. Having to monitor multiple sources to get key sides of a story takes a lot of time, effort and some discipline. I hope as consumers are further pressed for time, they will demand more objectivity from individual outlets. Won’t happen, but I hope.

  3. I suspect people don’t care about perceived political bias in media as long as that perceived bias fits their own political leanings. Birds of a feather. You don’t often see conservatives upset by Fox or liberals upset by MSNBC. As I see it, the problem is deeper and systemic. To my perspective, at the national level the news industry is now in the realm of American politics not as the Fourth Estate but as a fifth wheel. It’s just one more thing to fight over, one more way users can compartmentalize their identity, one more bumper sticker to put on their car to declare their disdain for or support of one political ideology or another.

    Is it the media’s fault for giving people what they want? Is it the owners’ fault? Is it the politicians’ fault for pointing fingers at media sources and encouraging this kind of political and, let’s be honest, demographic segregation? Are we really not doing a good enough job at being unbiased – or is that goal a thing of the past? I have a lot of questions and not many answers.

    A family member of mine refuses to intake any form of news other than that produced by an ultra-conservative Christian radio station that was actually dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I know many people in my age range (late 20s) who get their news from The Daily Show. I’m too much of a young’un to say whether it was always this way, but my understanding is that people often sought out news based not on their perception of political bias as seems to be overwhelmingly the case today, but on local ownership and at least perceived quality of a news source. Can you imagine a person identifying as a liberal subscribing to the Washington Times or watching Fox? Can you imagine a person who considers him or herself a conservative watching Olbermann? The NYT is in a unique position, I suspect, as perhaps one of the last sources that can claim readers from the full political spectrum based more on the fact that it’s the dad-gum New York Times than because of political leanings – though maybe that’s changing too.

    This issue directly affects reporters and the work that we do. I always wonder when I’m meeting someone for the first time what they will assume about me. It does not help a conversation for the person I’m talking with to secretly or not-so-secretly assume I’m just there to screw them over or tout somebody’s agenda. It’s something you can’t escape as a reporter whether you’re on the clock or not. I realized that when I was 19, a recently-declared journalism major, and at a casual gathering the active-duty military husband of a family friend grilled me about media issues in Iraq as if I was personally responsible and accountable for them.

    I will say this: I find this kind of compartmentalization to be devastating in many ways, not least of all because it hinders a true free flow of information. What’s the point of having fifty outlets reporting on a story if 1. the majority copy-paste and cite the original publication without picking up a phone to verify; 2. few people venture outside their political comfort zone to view news from a source that might have information their politically-preferred source doesn’t?

    Ever since realizing my feelings over this, I make it a point to read multiple news sources across the political spectrum, and doing so has helped me gain a better understanding of exactly why people get so angry. I think it’s helped me become a more balanced reporter and a more informed citizen. I am clinging fast to the concept that I need to be mindful of my sources and transparent with any political leanings they possess where relevant, whether it’s right or left. It might sound silly to say I try hard to remain free of bias – either silly because you assume it’s what I should be doing anyway, or silly if you don’t believe it’s possible – but I don’t like the alternative.

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