Charging Liberal Bias. Conservative Strategy Wins.

21 Nov

Lately I have been thinking what a moron I am to have not been recording my Politics in the Media class lectures because Professor Robert Sahr is phenomenal. He brings up such great points of discussion and carries great knowledge that is always leaving me great thoughts to ponder. One particular point he brings up quite often is the charge of liberal bias. I think it is a great insight into how media is portrayed. Here is a collection of his notes and sources discussing similar issues in the news.

The CHARGE of “Liberal Bias” (very important conservative strategy in recent decades)

Why many people believe national media has liberal bias:  There appear to be two main reason:

  • It is widely stated and seldom rebutted, e.g.,Rush Limbaugh always says “liberal media”
  • We see what we look for:  if we expect a certain kind of bias we are more likely to believe we find evidence of it than if we do not expect it

Note that most media analysts reject the “liberal bias” view, arguing there may be a conservative bias, or at least a “mainstream bias,”and many      analysts are not themselves liberal

Evidence that challenges or undercuts “liberal bias” charge

To prove liberal bias, almost always conservative point to the fact that polls show that more journalists identify themselves as liberal (or at least Democratic) than conservative (or Republican).  This is true, but focusing only on this point ignores important evidence in a different direction.

1.  Endorsements: With only four exceptions (1964, 1992, 2004, 2008) since records began be kept in the 1930s, more newspapers – often many more – endorse Republicans than Democrats for President (see below)

2.  Talk show hosts and political columnists: Many more (about 70%) are conservative than liberal

2.  Media ownership:

Owners/executives are usually politically conservative

Increasing sharp concentration of ownership, with decreasing number of companies controlling media

So, even if journalists are politically liberal, they would have to challenge the views of owners/executives, who control       their advancement

4.  Actual Coverage (most important): Regardless of whether journalists are politically liberal as individuals, what counts is the actual coverage of conservative and non-conservative presidents, candidates, etc.

Compare media treatment of Presidents G.H.W Bush (initially positive) and Clinton (initially negative)

Compare media treatment of Presidents Carter (consistently negative and Reagan (generally positive)

Compare media treatment of Presidents George W. Bush (generally positive) and Clinton (almost uniformly negative)

An effect of the constant charge of “liberal bias” is that it challenges national journalists to be tough on non-conservative presidents, maybe to go easier on conservatives.

One reason for constant emphasis on “liberal press” and President Clinton as “liberal” appears to be to push journalists in this direction (note, though, that the Wall Street Journal and other analysis suggested that Clinton is not a liberal but instead a relatively middle of the road Democrat).

Is there, despite all these points, a liberal bias among national media?


The following analysis from Media Matters critiques the MSNBC survey. Although Media Matters admittedly is liberal, their analysis contains useful points in relation to sample (the small number of all journalists), the data about overall contributions to parties by media organizations, the non-inclusion of data from publishers (who) are very likely to be conservative and Republican) and editors (almost as conservative, having been selected by publishers), and similar points.

The following are useful links to past pieces regarding media bias.

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