Just after Nov. 8, Peter Jennings offered the following incisive election analysis: "Ask parents of any 2-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums Ä the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming . The voters had a temper tantrum last week . The country can't be run by an angry 2-year-old." This claim's absurdity (some of those angry tots are earning Ph. D.'s in mathematics, Pete) is matched only by its arrogance. Nonetheless, it's worth repeating as a shining example of what causes media bias in America.
Long denied by the press and other liberals, this leftward tilt has been thoroughly documented by study after study. First, a 1981 survey by Lichter and Rothman found that 54 percent of the 240 journalists surveyed placed themselves left of center, while only 19 percent chose right of center. Moreover, the report states, "Leading journalists emerged from our survey as strong supporters of environmental protection, affirmative action, women's rights, homosexual rights, and sexual freedom in general." Many similar surveys, including one of over 2,500 news and editorial staffers by the Los Angeles Times, confirm these findings.
Even liberals don't usually deny such solid findings. Instead, they reply that reporters may be liberal, but that doesn't mean their stories are. And they're right; we must look at the reporting itself.
When we do, we discover that liberal bias in news reporting is not some right-wing bogeyman but a tangible fact. Studies compiled in the landmark 1990 book And That's the Way It Is(n't) analyze word use, policies recommended in news stories, which issues get most coverage and positive/negative coverage ("spin"). The results point to an overwhelming slant favoring liberal politicians and policies.
For instance, how often do we see phrases like "the conservative Concerned Women for America" as opposed to "the liberal National Organization for Women"? Quite a lot. Four major studies show that the "conservative" labels are used up to 35 times more often than the "liberal" counterparts. Labels are manipulated in the abortion debate as well ("anti-abortion" far outperforms "pro-life"), along with environmental issues.
More studies show that networks tended to sympathize with the USSR, ignoring its massive human-rights violations and portraying its system as morally equivalent to America's. On regional conflicts such as Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Granada, the media either were silent or strongly favored the liberal side (such as the Marxist FMLN in El Salvador, never once labeled "communist").
On economics (you guessed it), free markets are out, high taxes and regulation are in. Of 22 feature-length TV news stories in November 1988, reporters and on-camera spokesmen favored tax increases over spending cuts for deficit reduction by almost four to one. The list goes on and on. (And these are not from "opinion" pieces, either, but from actual reporting.)
Sadly, not much has changed since 1990. Recall the fawning coverage Clinton enjoyed during the campaign, and still does. (Read much about Whitewater in the press lately? Know who Paula Jones is? How about Anita Hill?) An exhaustive study of Colorado media coverage of the Amendment 2 gay-rights debate found a pro-gay slant of nearly 5 to 1, with even editors admitting to the bias. This December, Newt Gingrich may have set a record for the number of derogatory photos, captions, and caricatures (one as the Grinch) on the covers of major news magazines.
In the face of such evidence, liberal ripostes don't add up to much. Some claim leftward bias among reporters is balanced by rightward-leaning owners and editorial pages. Even if true (and I wouldn't bet the farm), this is beside the point. But the most interesting rebuttal of all is also a very likely explanation of why the bias exists. I believe it stems not from a grand conspiracy or even deliberate attempts to skew the news, but from a sincere belief among reporters that liberal is objective.
Michael Kinsley writes in The New Republic, "It seems to me [liberal views are] the sort of views a reasonable, intelligent person would hold." Hence the tenet that "reasonable" coverage is liberal coverage. Liberal beliefs in socialism (if not communism), abortion rights, gay rights, glasnost, the greenhouse effect, and the like become indisputable facts, which means a story no more needs a pro-life quote than a flat-earth one. I consider this theory extremely likely.
Whatever the cause, liberal media bias is assuredly real. Fortunately, Americans are wising up; hence the explosion of alternative news sources such as Rush Limbaugh's program. As a free-market capitalist dog, I favor such solutions. It is up to individual Americans to determine the truth of what they are told. And for now, that means understanding the liberal tilt in the supposedly "objective" news.
John Keisling is a graduate student in mathematics.
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