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Liberal media

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You have a man who is the editor of the Washington Post by the name of Ben Bradlee. I think anyone who would want to honestly assess what his political persuasions are would, I think, come to the conclusion quite quickly that he is not a supporter of President Nixon.
White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, right before Watergate hit[1]

The liberal media, sometimes known as the liberal-biased media or the "lamestream media" (per Sarah Palin) and derogatorily as the "jewish" liberal media, is what wingnuts call all news, entertainment, and information sources that do not perfectly toe their party line. This consists of — oh, practically everything besides Breitbart, Tucker Carlson, FOX, and Sinclair.[2]


Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times. I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become.
—Bruce Bartlett, former economic advisor to Ronald Reagan[3]

In Chomsky's words, there is no shadowy cabal writing and enforcing the media narrative; it is simply a by-product of a media that is for-profit, with ownership consolidated in the hands of a few. Just to name a few: Scott Pelley makes about $6m a year. Megyn Kelly is believed to have signed a contract for about $15-20m a year. Chris Hayes makes about $6m. Morning Joe makes about $5m. George Stephanopoulos makes $8m. The point is that even conservative anchors live in urban areas that are doing well economically. These people live in a bubble and it definitely affects their viewpoints.

The world of Trump/Breitbart is more conspiratorial. They believe that there is an intentional push by the MSM to present the news through a liberal-leaning filter in order to marginalize Republicans. You could see the seeds of this forming in the 1990s with Fox News, who saw themselves as "responding to" this perceived bias by pushing a counter-narrative. The counterpoint to this is that the market has corrected this bias through Fox News, which commands a greater market-share than all other cable-news providers combined. (In other words, the free market has already corrected this bias.) Trump seems to use the catch-phrase "fake news" as a kind of safety net.[4] It was a key talking point of his campaign, as well, stirring up distrust of the media.

The concept of the "liberal media" is more or less doctrine among wingnuts, but according to a 2009 Gallup poll, 45% of American respondents described the news media in general as "too liberal", suggesting this is a common perception.[5] (Barack Obama alluded to this in a joke at the 2009 White House Correspondents' Dinner.[6]) In addition, a 2011 Rasmussen poll had 46% responding that journalists were "more liberal" than those polled.[7]


The concept of the "liberal media" is an instance of the hostile media effect, in which people who take a strong stance on some issue believe that coverage of that issue in the media is biased against their stance.

How can we tell if there's any truth to this assertion? It's difficult to define all the variables. What counts as media? TV, radio, newspapers, the internet? Should only "straight news" be counted or should opinion, analysis, and editorial be included as well? Should "centrist" reporting be considered unbiased, or should fact-based reporting that might contradict either side be considered unbiased?

Ridiculous as it is, the 'liberal' media has come to mean any media outlet that isn't Fox News or some other conservatively-biased source according to many wingnuts.[note 1]

Commonly cited research[edit]

Journalist party affiliation[edit]

In any case, a few pieces of research are usually put forth as definitive "proof" of the so-called liberal media. Some polls have suggested a mild leftward 'skew' among journalists. A 2006 Pew poll found that 31% said that they were "a little to the left" while 9% replied that they were "far left" for a total of 40%. A total of 32% of journalists were registered Democrats according to a 2002 Pew poll, down from the 1992 numbers.[8] Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, authors of Manufacturing Consent, have argued that even if journalists are personally liberal, advocates of "liberal bias" in the media are ignoring the fact that media outlets are often owned by corporations. This, they argue, means that a confluence of factors, including the owners exercising their prerogative to overrule editors, the influence of advertising money, and reliance on the government and corporate-backed experts for information, can negate the bias of the individual journalist.[9] Obviously, it would be an imperative to not criticize your own employer, nor its business connections. A good example would be so-called commie MSNBC's reluctance to comment on its parent company, General Electric, avoiding taxes in 2011.[10] (Though Rachel Maddow consistently breaks this rule with a cheeky "Hi boss!")

Bernie Goldberg's Bias[edit]

The book Bias by former CBS journalist Bernie Goldberg is commonly cited. However, much of Goldberg's book relies on anecdotal evidence of his experience working with Dan Rather and other CBS journalists and contains some factual errors as well as unsubstantiated speculation.[11]

The main problem with Goldberg's book is that it collects a number of instances of bias but doesn't attempt to illustrate a systematic bias using broad empirical measures. In fact, many of the instances he cites as "liberal bias" could be seen as conservative bias or simply lazy reporting. For example, he faults Tom Brokaw for not reporting on a jet engine failure because it was made by NBC's parent company, General Electric.[12] Another unsupported claim Goldberg makes is that the media always identifies conservative political figures as conservative but doesn't do the same for liberals (supposedly because they see liberal as the "mainstream"). He offers no statistics. Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg looked at the labeling of a number of political figures and found that liberals received partisan labels more than conservatives.[13] As Nunberg notes, the study was not comprehensive (it only looked at print newspapers), though it does offer more than baseless speculation.

Goldberg also frequently argues that news networks care more about ratings than accuracy (as if you needed someone to tell you that) and that coverage is often biased against the poor and minorities and in favor of white middle-class people. Again, one wonders why this should be construed as "liberal" bias. Perhaps Goldberg has a point about behind-the-scenes newsroom politics, but he fails to prove a systematic bias.

Groseclose and Milyo[edit]

A 2005 study by UCLA political scientist Timothy Groseclose and University of Chicago economist Jeffrey Milyo is often wheeled out as "definitive proof" of the liberal media. Groseclose and Milyo used ratings of Congressmen given by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) to quantify their "liberal quotient." They then took a list of think tanks and advocacy groups and assigned them a liberal quotient based on how many times they were cited by Congressmen with certain ADA ratings. They then compared this to the number of times these organizations were cited by the mainstream media.[14] There are a number of obvious problems with this methodology. One is that some issues aren't germane to "balance." For instance, a citation from the NAACP (rated a liberal organization) on the issue of racism isn't going to be "balanced" by a citation of the Ku Klux Klan. Another is that the Congress at the time of the study was majority Republican, which would affect the baseline and is probably why Fox News and the Washington Times were the only outlets to come out as conservative. A number of other methodological flaws have been pointed out by critics of the paper.[15]

Communications research[edit]

Most scholarly research in communications tends to find that bias in favor of either political party will balance out on the whole. A widely cited meta-analysis of media bias in presidential elections (D'Alessio and Allen) comes to this conclusion.[16] Another study (Watts et al.[17]) suggests that the media's "self-coverage" of bias helps to perpetuate the notion of bias.[18]

Media coverage breakdown by The Atlantic[edit]

In an August 2012 article in The Atlantic, David A. Graham examined mainstream media coverage of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and found that "liberals are getting the short end of the stick."[19] He discovered that Republicans are quoted 44% more than Democrats, negativity towards the President is 17% higher than his GOP counterpart, and that six of the eight popular news outlets featured were more negative towards Obama than Romney. Maybe a study on anti-incumbency in election reporting would be in order?

Epistemic closure[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Epistemic closure

The epistemic closure debate was a bout of blogospheric navel gazing by a number of liberal and conservative pundits from the political wonk-o-verse that discussed the issue of the liberal media, among other things.

As a rhetorical tactic[edit]

"Moonbats" contend that the constant complaining that the media are liberally biased has been useful to the conservative movement as a means of browbeating media outlets into shifting rightward. During the 1992 elections, then head of the Republican National Convention Rich Bond was quoted as saying:

There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media].... If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.[20]

An easily verifiable example of this is "media watchdog" organizations like Brent Bozell's Media Research Center that criticize scientific fact as having a "liberal bias." For example, MRC and its affiliates like NewsBusters often accuse the media of liberal bias when stories about evolution or global warming are run and don't give time to creationism or climate denialism. Thus, the term is often used to sweep inconvenient facts under the rug, as when former First Lady Laura Bush dismissed criticism as simply "liberal media bias."[21]

The term is also used as a selling point, as in "The stories the liberal media doesn't want you to know about!" This is reminiscent of certain conspiratorial slogans like those of Kevin Trudeau, i.e. "The cures they don't want you to know about!"

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. All the President's Men, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  2. "FOX News & Wal-Mart Sponsor National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Convention This Weekend", Americans for "Truth"
  3. Bartlett, "Revenge of the Reality-Based Community", American Conservative 26 November 2012
  5. Many Americans Remain Distrusting of News Media, Gallup
  6. "Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me."
  7. 46% Say Average Reporter is More Liberal Than They Are, Rasmussen Reports
  8. The American Journalist: Politics and Party Affiliation, Pew Research
  9. See also Herman and Chomsky's documentary The Myth of the Liberal Media.
  10. The Perils Of Corporate Media: MSNBC Makes Few Mentions Of Tax Avoidance By Parent Company GE, ThinkProgress
  11. Wikipedia's chapter-by-chapter rundown and FAIR's review.
  12. See a trend here?
  13. On the Bias, UC Berkeley
  14. Groseclose, Tim and Jeff Milyo. "A Measure of Media Bias." The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 120, Number 4, November 2005, pp. 1191-1237. (Full text of an earlier draft is available.)
  15. Reaction to Groseclose and Milyo: Mark Liberman at Language Log and Brendan Nyhan.
  16. D'Alessio, D. and M. Allen. "Media bias in presidential elections: a meta-analysis." Journal of Communication Volume 50, Issue 4, pages 133–156, December 2000. [1]
  17. No, not that Watts.
  18. MD Watts, D Domke, DV Shah, DP Fan. "Elite cues and media bias in presidential campaigns." Communication Research Vol. 26 No. 2 1999, pp. 144-175 [2]
  19. Do the Mainstream Media Have a Conservative Bias?, The Atlantic
  20. Eric Alterman (February 6, 2003). "What Liberal Media?". The Nation.
  21. "Laura Bush On Liberal Media Bias, Obama's Oil Spill Response", excerpt from a 2010 Fox interview.


  1. And, naturally, wingnuts would see conservatively-biased sources as simply being accurate.