Friday, September 30, 2011

Thoughts on the "liberal media"

Think about it, folks:

If the media were really a "liberal media"--i.e. in the tank for liberal policies and politicians, would we really be hearing about in the media how liberal the media were?  After all, where do we hear that the media is liberal?  From the media! 

If the media were truly liberal, and trying to promote a liberal agenda--they'd be blathering instead about what a bunch of right wingers they are; and how reality is actually to the left of what the media says.  In other words, they would be trying to shift the Overton window to the left.

But instead, the media goes on and on about how liberal they are, which means that someone is trying to move the Overton window to the right.

So is the media really "liberal"?

The DHT reports.  You decide.


  1. Scotty, I think you're approaching the question as someone who cares about policy outcomes, and therefore assuming that people's internal belief structures can be determined by analyzing the outcomes of their actions.

    The professional media, which are composed overwhelmingly of people whose politics and perspectives sit to the left of center, don't care primarily about outcomes. They care about telling compelling stories. As a result, they don't engage in the sort of strategic thinking you describe.

    This doesn't, however, mean that they're unbiased. When they go looking for stories, their judgment about what is and isn't "compelling" is informed by their personal worldviews.

    I think this explains what I (as a left-leaning media professional) perceive to be a modestly left-leaning tendency in most professional media.

  2. I had a lengthy response for you, but Firefox just ate it. :(

    Probably the shorter response is better. There's a strong form of the "liberal media" claim, namely that the bulk of the mainstream media is in the tank for the left. This is, of course, hogwash--I can't think of any major national news outlets these days, particularly those with wide national audiences, which only praises liberals and attacks conservatives, particularly in news coverage. (20 years ago, maybe). I can think of numerous ones which essentially shill for the political right; FOX being the obvious example. Even on the networks which try and present even-handed news coverage, the opinion coverage frequently leans right. MSNBC is the only major network which includes openly liberal hosts, but it sees fit to balance these with the likes of Patrick J. Buchanan--and isn't at all afraid to fire liberal hosts which cross the line.

    The weak forms of the liberal media claim--such as "more reporters are liberals", are fairly easy to defend, but don't really drive any firm conclusions about the coverage. If a team of reporters are liberal but his editor and publishers are not; what happens?

    I certainly agree that the modern news media is sensationalistic, narrative-seeking, and frequently prone to false equivalences. It's long been that way in some sense--for most journals, viewers and readers have long been the product (and advertisers the customer); but today it's even moreso.

    But the notion that conservatives are somehow not getting a fair shake from the mainstream media is absurd.

  3. I'd agree with each of these points.

    I didn't mean to imply that because there are liberals in newsrooms, therefore coverage slants leftward. Instead, I mean to posit that from my perspective, coverage slants slightly toward leftward narratives, and to put forward my explanation for why this happens. You may disagree with my basic assumption.

    I also think it's totally appropriate for professional media to prioritize compelling stories over boring but important ones. Maybe that's a debate for another day.

  4. Michael, I don't think it's the reporters and such you need to be looking at. My guess is that it's an attitude that starts up top and works its way down into the newsroom.

  5. When viewed from a far right perspective, news coverage slants left. When views from a far left perspective, news coverage slants right.

    The difficulty in talking about the same thing from a "center-right" and "center-left" perspective inside the US and our media bubble is placing those positions. Since there is a tendency in the media to give more credence and coverage to the actual extreme right than the actual extreme left in civil society, the "center" of the range that is visible in the media is the center-right of civil society.

    And of course, the bias is stronger in economic matters than in social conservatism vs social liberalism, so people in the media who are socially liberal and economically center-right can easily imagine themselves to be to the left of center on both social and economic dimensions.


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