Economics, not reporters, dictate the news

by Beacon Staff • September 28, 2005

You have to hand it those on the right. They have somehow managed to convince almost everyone, including many liberals, that our media is slanted to the left. I suppose if the public hears something enough over time it just becomes accepted as fact, to hell with logic or evidence.

Well, I have news for you: that "liberal media bias" we hear about all the time simply does not exist. In fact, it is complete and utter folly-as mythical as the tooth fairy or those weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq.

In the eyes of the pundits who perpetuate this myth, there is simply no debate to be had. The conversation starts with the presumption that our media is a liberal thought machine, preaching secularism and anti-Americanism to the masses. In his book Bias, conservative author Bernard Goldberg writes, "Everybody to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger' as far as media elites are concerned." Moreover, talk-show host Bill O'Reilly has alleged, "liberal bias is a way of life at many media organizations," while the ever-quotable Ann Coulter said in her book Slander, "The public square is wall to wall liberal propaganda."

Clearly, media bias is an issue conservatives like to run with.

Who controls the media?

The arguments made by the likes of Goldberg, O'Reilly and Coulter are largely based on their beliefs that there are substantially more liberal reporters than conservative ones-a justifiable claim based on the 2004 PEW Research Center study, which concluded that 34 percent of reporters consider themselves to be liberal, whereas only 7 percent identified themselves as conservatives. (54 percent claimed to be moderate and 5 percent said they didn't know.)

These pundits, however, fail to acknowledge one painfully obvious truth: reporters do not decide what goes in the newspaper-their editors and publishers do. This is where the liberal media argument begins to disintegrate. A survey conducted during the 2000 presidential election by Editor & Publisher magazine reported that of all newspapers in national circulation, 58 percent endorsed President Bush over Al Gore. Oddly enough, Goldberg didn't point that out in his book.

Moreover, the political leanings of editors and publishers-whatever they may be-are as trivial as those of reporters when you consider yet another pink elephant in the room that conservatives rarely acknowledge: news is a business. The ultimate goal is to make money. In fact, publicly traded companies are legally bound to their shareholders to put the bottom line ahead of everything else, even the public good. When you seriously think about the economics of news outlets, the notion of a liberal media bias not only seems false, but also positively absurd.

According to a report by The Nation, the media is essentially owned and managed by 10 enormous corporations, all of which bring in revenues in the billions. Now couple that with the fact that most of their revenue stems from other large, profit-driven corporations in the form of advertisements. Given these realities, do you really think the decision makers at Disney, Viacom or News Corporation would really allow a pro-labor, anti-big-business, liberal agenda to be printed or broadcast under their watch? These are the types of conspiracy theories that I thought were reserved for The Flat Earth Society.

The media does not have a liberal bias. Nor does it have a conservative bias. What it has is a profit bias.

It just so happens that the motives-to earn as much money as possible-are far more aligned with conservative policies than liberal ones.

Bias and war?

The notion that the media has slanted war coverage in an effort to hinder America's War on Terror is also horribly flawed. If anything, the media's coverage leading up to Iraq was jingoistic and succeeded in garnering support for the war, not undermining it.

A 2003 study done by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), which interviewed 1,617 on-camera sources for six U.S. television networks' evening newscasts, found that in the first three weeks of the Iraq war, only 3 percent of American guests were opposed to the invasion.

Furthermore, the consolidation of the media has made critical reporting of the war is a financial liablity for some corporations. General Electric, which owns NBC, had $2.8 billion in defense contracts with the Pentagon in 2003, according to Defense Daily International. So when NBC reporters highlighted the effectiveness of the U.S. military's technology, they were essentially praising the equipment made by the company that pays their salaries. This reality prompted progressive radio host Amy Goodman to ask, "if this were a state-run media, how would it be any different?"

Despite what many will tell you, print media outlets, such as The New York Times have been anything but anti-war with their coverage. In fact, in May of 2004, The Times apologized for some of its coverage of Iraq, saying, "we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged ... in this case it looks as if we, along with the administration, were taken in."

If The Times was as slanted as the pundits would have you believe, an apology like this would not have been necessary because, according to O'Reilly, "undermining the War on Terror is priority number one" for our liberal media.

Since then, The Times' editorial page has taken the same view as the right-wing/pro-war faction of this country, saying in December of 2004 that "the only answer seems to be more American troops, and not just through the spring as currently planned." This opinion was expressed despite declaring, in the same editorial no less, that there was "no clear prospect of decisive success any time in the foreseeable future."

If that constitutes a leftist bias in the media's coverage of the war, then I can only shudder at the thought of how "balanced" reporting would read.

A rhetorical tool

The myth of the left-wing media is bad for our country and bad for journalism. The right has done such an effective job of turning this untruth into conventional wisdom that reporters and editors now feel compelled to shift their coverage to the right to counteract this perceived bias.

All the while, any criticism of our conservative leaders, no matter how valid, is thrown into the dustbin as just another example of our "liberal media elites" bashing the Bush administration. It's time for us to open up our eyes and realize "the liberal media" exists only in our minds-a tool used by conservatives that keeps us shifting ever further to the right.

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