When I worked in DC in the summer of 1984, a politically conservative friend introduced me to the idea that the media had a liberal bias. Being fairly conservative at the time, I could see what he meant. While Ronald Reagan seemed to rise above too much harsh criticism, the newspapers and nightly news regularly took shots at the administration's policies. Maybe that is the press's role, but it seemed unfair at the time. Now that I've moved to the left, I often see media coverage slanting to the right. Like a fun house mirror, the news seems to skew from your own point-of-view.
Most of us are defensive of our strong held beliefs, making it easy to sell a "liberal bias" to conservatives. Actual bias is more difficult to quantify; however, there was a survey in the 1990s that said 60% of newspaper reporters identified more with the Democrat Party. Even if those numbers are accurate, I don't necessarily see a communist plot. Journalists are typically intelligent, inquisitive people who have to research their stories. It's just possible they may know more than the average guy. And, as Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well known liberal bias."
Even if "liberal" reporters have a little leeway in their stories, ultimately, they are really working for corporations who are owned by conglomerates that have interests in a variety of industries. Naturally, it is in corporation's interest to protect, or at least not attack, the hands that feed them. A well known example occurred in 1995 when CBS's owner, Laurence Tisch, stepped in to alter a 60 Minute's expose on the tobacco industry. (Tisch also happened to own a large percent of Lorillard Tobacco.) While news departments claim independence, they know which stories to push and which to pull.
"Corporate media" has a vested interest in being noncontroversial since advertising rates are based on ratings or the number of viewers they can attract. Unless they're programming to a political demographic, the major networks don't want to pick sides simply because they don't want to alienate any potential viewers. Now, because the mainstream media is fearful of being accused of a liberal taint, they will go to great lengths to give both sides of any argument equal time. So, if 97% of scientists believe in global warming, they will find the one scientist to present the counterpoint.
The network's sometimes awkward attempt to be as neutral as possible has almost become irrelevant in the age of channel proliferation and niche programming. No matter how extreme your political views, you can find a channel, blog, or podcast to tell you exactly what you want to hear. People can now wallow in the media of their choice, blocking any conflicting views and reinforcing their own preexisting beliefs. Certainly, the radio airwaves have become inundated with talk show hosts who preach their ultra-conservative doctrine 24 hours a day.
When it comes to TV, Fox is the king of partisan journalism. Since its inception, Republican media strategist, Roger Ailes, has run the "Fair and Balanced" cable network. It is unprecedented for a "news" network to be run by a political operative and, while Ailes's has delivered impressive ratings, the Fox News audience consistently ranks as the most misinformed of all TV viewers. Issues such as the Iraq War, immigration, healthcare reform, and climate change pose particular challenges to the Fox crowd.
Starting with Fox News, conservative media reinforces the mainstream media's "liberal bias" because it builds dependence on them. While I'm not saying they actually brainwash their audiences, making followers reliant on only them for information is a classic indoctrination technique. Anyone who deviates from the party line is automatically suspect. Besides journalists; college professors and scientists and other "over-educated" types have been colored with the brush of "liberal bias." Now Nobel prize-winning scientists and economists can be disregarded if they disagree, which they often do.
Another basic propaganda tactic is "proof by assertion," which basically means to keep saying the same thing over and over until the lie becomes the "truth." To boil it down to a simple set of brainwashing instructions: shampoo with the message, massage it into the scalp, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Ronald Reagan and both Bushes were experts at firing repeating bullet points at their unsuspecting audiences. Easy to remember messages work best, such as "no new taxes, flip-flopper, and WMDs."
The most insidious result of promoting the idea of a "liberal bias" is that it sows seeds of distrust, making true believers closed systems, unwilling to believe anything that doesn't come from sanctioned sources. Of course anyone, on the right or left, can be brainwashed or, at least influenced, by a heavy dose of inflammatory information. The good news is that anyone can be deprogrammed too. The instructions could be the following: Turn off the faucet of "news," rinse with cold water, take a good look in the mirror, and think for yourself again.
Fulmer lives in Nashville Tennessee and is the author of the blog and the book Hometown
Prophet . If God spoke through a prophet today, would we really want to
hear what he has to say? For more information, visit