Wednesday :: May 4, 2005

Why The Liberal Media Myth Persists (Summary)

by eriposte

This is a summary of my second series on the media and the complete series (along with this summary) is posted at ICM.

Most left-leaning bloggers and commentators know why the notion, that the mainstream American media is liberal overall, is a myth. Indeed, I showed previously How the Liberal Media Myth is Created. What is often not discussed or acknowledged are the most important reasons why that myth persists, above and beyond the parroting of the myth by right-wing media or bloggers. This is important to explore because one cannot reform the media in the long term without understanding the real answer to the question

Why does the Liberal Media Myth Persist?

The answer: Apart from the role of the right-wing media, it persists largely because of the role currently played (or not played) by four groups of people - the people who matter the most in the media bias debate, the ones who have the ability to control the debate and change its terms.

1. Academics - who should be most concerned with the myth, as a matter of scientific integrity
2. Politicians on the left - who are most impacted by the myth (after the people of the US)
3. Influential, left-leaning opinion columnists/talking heads in mainstream media (especially those who take journalism seriously) - who have the most latitude to explode the myth
4. Honest front-line reporters and editors in the mainstream media - who are most subject to criticism because of the myth

Academics are important because their independence from the media provides them the opportunity to be more objective, but even more importantly because academic research (and scientific studies) play an important role in media narratives. So, if credible research is done by academics on media bias, it is my expectation (based on the data I am collecting at ICM) that such research will be unable to conclude that the U.S. media is biased liberal (overall). If anything, the bias arrow will point in the opposite direction. This alone would make it much more difficult for the media to propagate right-wing fabrications or charges that "the media is liberal." Needless to say, the situation is actually worse today because there are at least a handful of academic papers that come to the conclusion that the U.S. media is "liberal" (in some form or the other) - but as I've shown, none of these papers use valid approaches or assumptions, and their conclusions are totally incorrect as a result. Fundamentally, the most important reason why some of the academic papers on media bias, to-date, are flawed is what I have been saying for some time now - the implicit assumption made that the accuracy of media reporting is largely fine. In part, this may be because the authors seem to largely accept the media's own narratives on its accuracy or lack thereof. This deep flaw further illustrates the challenges faced by progressives on media reform. (More on this in Section 2).

In the United States, if you exclude the American people as a group, politicians on the left are the ones impacted the most by the liberal media myth. Yet, these pols do the least to dispel this myth rather than aggressively taking on the media (even by proxy, something the Republicans have brilliantly perfected over the decades). Indeed, the usual behavior of Democratic leaders and their spokespersons in front of a media clearly biased against them more often than not, ought to be beyond rational comprehension. If leading Democrats are unwilling to battle the misinformation in the media against them and against progressive values, how do they expect to successfully carry out the wishes of their constituents? (More on this in Section 3).

Talking about "liberal" opinion columnists/talking heads, it appears to me that there are two main types of "liberals" in the mainstream media: those who are more interested in sounding "centrist" (particularly at the expense of facts) - Type A (say), and those who are more interested in the facts (which is not to say they are infallible) - Type B (say). There is enough evidence that the "Type A" liberals sometimes have a deep-seated contempt for journalistic values, by confusing "independence" with an avoidance of facts - or worse, with a need to invent false balance. While this may not be as egregious as the more routine journalistic malpractice of their counterparts on the Right, it does explain in part, why people like them would have a tough time dispelling the liberal media myth: if you don't like mentioning the facts (or worse, if you invent myths), how can you dispel myths? Type B "liberals" are probably best suited to critique the media, but they face a structural problem, which the Right largely avoids. As Brock points out, lefty columnists (or talkingheads) are usually dependent on the mainstream media for their jobs, which makes it more difficult for them to criticize the media's constant misbehavior, even if they took journalism seriously. This is sad because left-leaning columnists actually have the most latitude to explore and debunk the liberal media myth - especially because they are opinion columnists. This gives them considerable leverage to educate themselves and their readers about the case against a "liberal media" at every possible opportunity. (More on this in Section 4).

Finally, we come to the journalists themselves - in particular the honest ones. Even if journalists facing the daily barrage of right-wing criticism are truthful enough to publicly acknowledge that the media is not really biased liberal overall, they are likely to find it more difficult to make a convincing case to their open-minded readers that the media is actually slanted conservative overall (either from a corporate perspective or from a political/ideological perspective) and that, it therefore requires appropriate reform. There are multiple (not necessarily justifiable) reasons for this, including their job security within the MSM being a function of their candor about the true nature of the MSM. Of all the reasons, though, two are probably more important than the others. First, due to the enormous success that the Republican party and its misinformation machinery has had in bashing the media into emphasizing opinions over facts, even the better MSM journalists have taken it upon themselves to push and defend the "he-said, she-said" style of "journalism" (leading to predictable, yet egregiously absurd, nonsense like C-SPAN wanting to give equal time to a holocaust denier to "balance" their coverage). With a mindset tuned to "false" balance rather than journalism, it is far more difficult to be objective about facts, without letting opinions about bias "balance" the facts about bias. Second, the way to make the case that the media strongly tilts conservative, requires journalists to acknowledge that even though one may find examples of "liberal bias", a pro-corporate or pro-conservative bias exists that exceeds any "liberal bias" that's present. Unless this point is made clearly and convincingly, they will continue to be bombarded with examples of "liberal bias" from readers (never mind that a lot of it will have nothing to do with facts) - and unless they give up much of their daytime job to keep debunking their challengers it's tough to fight back and retain their independence in the MSM without interference from their bosses. The challenge for those who want media reform is to provide comprehensive and convincing arguments that honest journalists can use to get the meme out in the MSM about the real nature of the media. The objective of my next series is to kick start this effort. (More on this in Section 5).


Part 1: Why

Part 2: Academics

Part 3: Politicians on the Left

Part 4: Left-leaning opinion columnists/talking heads

Part 5: Honest reporters and editors in the media

eriposte :: 7:12 AM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!