The Phantom Menace (of Liberal Media Bias)

It’s common knowledge that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. If anyone says anything contrary, they are labeled as a liberal apologist. FOX News is not biased; it is fair and balanced, and necessary to provide a counterpoint.

I’ve said many times that the idea of liberal media bias has been disproven over and over, yet it is a notion that refuses to die.

The touchstone for the liberal bias proclaimers is the book Bias, by Bernard Goldberg:

(If there are other independent studies discussing liberal media bias, please point them out to me.)

Several years ago, NPR devoted time on three successive weeks on its program “On the Media” to discuss the issue of whether NPR is biased:

All of the above texts take a while to pore through. I confess that I have only read the first 10 pages of Goldberg’s 110-page text. The “On the Media” transcripts are much shorter.

So far, from what I read in Goldberg’s book, he seems focused on personal anecdotes, which, while they do a lot to inflame readers, represent Goldberg’s biases. I have not run across any data yet to prove his point. I do plan on reading the rest of the book, and I will follow up when I am done and modify any statements I made here.

The NPR stories focus on whether NPR is biased, not whether mainstream media as a whole are biased. This may seem self-serving, but was pertinent, as these stories aired during political discussions on funding public radio. In trying to get a handle on the issue of whether NPR is guilty of liberal bias, the correspondents realized they needed to answer a few basic questions:

What is bias?

What is liberal?

In fact, what is NPR?

The discussions opened my eyes. A self-proclaimed conservative, evangelical preacher and NPR News listener was asked to point out examples of liberal bias as he listened to the news. Many things he pointed out were not outright left-wing statements, but matters of tone that suggested support of a left-wing viewpoint. He did acknowledge that on the whole, the news coverage was balanced.

What was eye-opening to me was the fact that some statements that seemed innocuous to me set off red flags for the conservative listener. I confess it will be tough for me to change my listening style to pick up more on those examples, since that is not my natural bent. (If you think this is a leftist attitude, I challenge you to listen to FOX News and find points that you think liberals will find offensive.)

In summary, all of the data suggested that NPR has a slight liberal bias, less biased than some other media outlets, and much less extreme than FOX News.

There are many facets to this discussion, some of which I may take up in a future post. I still believe listening to the news on NPR is a great way to get both sides of any story.

Let me leave you with another study that suggests how subtle bias can be. In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes a study that shows that, based on facial expressions, all three major news anchors showed no favoritism toward any presidential candidate. The one exception was Peter Jennings. He showed a subtle, unconscious, but measurable bias in favor of Ronald Reagan, and that was reflected in his viewership.

So, it seems to me that painting the media overall with the term “liberal bias” is short-sighted. If a person is interested in objective news reporting, he can find out what outlets to follow and what outlets to avoid.


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