It's a wonder my parents ever got married: my father voted for Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan (twice), and my mother voted for Dukakis, Mondale and Carter (twice). Their opposing ideologies never seemed to be a cause of any arguments between them, but still, my earliest political memory is of family friends heckling my mom for being a Carter supporter. My mom would always reply, "The media hated Carter. They never gave him a chance ─ but oh, how they looooved Reagan!" It was the conservative media conspiracy, and my mom was a firm believer that they were all dead-set on getting Republicans into office. So now, when I hear Rush Limbaugh rant about the liberal media, I can't help but chuckle a little.
I realize perceptions of media bias switch back and forth depending on which party is in office. No one is accusing the media of being soft on Clinton ─ if anyone has ever been scrutinized by the media, it has been him. Still, the liberal media conspiracy seems to have reached a hysteria that would make Oliver Stone proud. Part of this, I think, is because we have had so many Republican presidents, and presidents always get the brunt of scrutiny. After 24 years of Republican rule (with a brief Carter intermission) I suppose it would seem Republicans were getting the brunt of bad press. But until recently, the president got almost all of the media scrutiny which naturally meant Republican.
This doesn't mean every President got equal amounts of favorable and bad press. Obviously, Carter got more bad press than Reagan. Does this mean the media loved Reagan and hated Carter? No. The public hated Carter. Some of this was bad luck with a poor economy and hostages in Iran plaguing the airwaves every night. Part of this was due to charisma under media scrutiny. And part of it was a function of how many controversial proposals were being pushed through Congress ─ not media bias.
But the most compelling evidence I can think of against the idea of a media conspiracy is that it is quite simply not in the media's economic interest to push any particular ideology. The object of newspapers is to get Safeway to pay for printing diet Coke coupons and to sell papers. Some papers, like the The Star and The National Enquirer, do this printing alluring stories, the facts be damned. Others, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times get people to buy their papers by maintaining a reputation for objective journalism.
We also need to consider who owns these newspapers. Dan Quayle's family owns one of the Phoenix papers, and I suppose some bias is evident since they pulled the Doonesbury comic strip after it alluded to a prison's inmate's accusation that Quayle sold him pot. On the other hand, the Christian Science Monitor is owned by Christian Scientists, but is considered a reputable paper because they, despite what the owners bias may be, do good, objective journalism.
It's not difficult to see why Rush Limbaugh sees some large liberal conspiracy out there, especially since he claims he is a moderate. If that's true, then I suppose everything does have a liberal bias. "Wall Street Week" must have a pinko-commie hue. But, as Rush Limbaugh is so fond of pointing out, we are a conservative country. We may not be as conservative as Rush Limbaugh, but we are conservative compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Men will pay a $5 cover charge to see here what is commonplace on any beach in Europe. To push a liberal bias in this country is no way to sell newspapers and journalists know this.
Some media outlets, however, do make their money because of their bias. There's the National Review and Rush Limbaugh, who because of his conservative bias, has become one of the most popular radio talk show hosts in the country. Mother Jones and alternative eco-magazines cater to a liberal audience. The press is as varied and diverse in points of view as people are, and to brand every newspaper, TV and radio station as having any one collective bias is not only absurd, but impossible to achieve.
I think the real reason for these conspiracies is obvious. If a politician we hate is attacked by the media, they deserved it. If a candidate we support is attacked, it's because of some media conspiracy, and if a candidate we support is praised, then it's about time they got some credit. The media is a scapegoat whom we condemn for bringing down the politicians we like and cheer when they tear down the opposition. It's not evidence of bias─ it's just a damn good way of selling newspapers.
Dylan Krider is a creative writing senior. His e-mail address is dkrider.uug.arizona.edu
Read Next Article