“Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”– joked Stephen Colbert last year at the White House’s annual correspondents dinner
Full disclosure: I am a conservative who finds himself getting more liberal as I get older. But I still remain way too conservative for most die-hard liberals. I am a Christian first, which means that Jesus is my sensei. Every other label must come after that.
I seldom watch TV news. But last night I saw a spot on Fox Newswhile over at a friend’s house. The segment talked about the well-known concept that the media has a liberal media bias. Conservative reporter Bill O’Reilly pointed to a report published last year by researchers from UCLA and the University of Missouri (my Alma mater) that sustained this theory.
Here are a few things that I know about the situtation from my perspective….
- Most people think they are fair and don’t see themselves as biased. This is true for both those on the left and the right.
- Our views seem normal to us.
- The media seems too liberal if someone is a conservative and too right wing if the person is a true liberal.
- Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” can be hard to really define. Everyone has their own view of these descriptions. And that makes it difficult to really answer the question if there is a liberal media bias or not. Maybe a better question should ask about the fairness and accuracy of the media not their political
- Instinctively humans tend to give those who they agree with the benefit of the doubt while people different from them are naturally held to higher levels of scrutiny. This tends to be a defense mechanism to shield us from blame more than it has to do with any other person.
- Stereotypes are information shortcuts that people use to make snap decisions. We are all somewhat biased whether we want to admit it or not.
- Everyone is biased if you have brain wave activity. We can’t help it. That’s part of what makes us human.
- Reporters are people too.
- You can be biased and still be fair. This is the bigger issue. Is the media fair?
- Our labels and show our bias. For example, the term “environmentalist” may not really be accurate. A logger or farm worker and a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) might both describe themselves as nature lovers who want to do the right thing to protect the planet. They each have a different definition for what this looks like. Using the term “environmentalist” to describe someone from NRDC automatically makes the person on the other side of the discussion an “anti-environmentalist.” And that may not be a fair statement. I try to find a more descriptive term like “preservationist” or “naturalist.” It depends on the issue and how both sides measure up.
- As a journalist who graduated from a major journalism program, most of my classmates were left of center. There were a few conservatives like me at Missouri. But we were a minority.
- Many of the journalists that I know don’t think they are really biased. They seem to be deceived about this fact. I recognize my bias and have always owned up to it.
- Even though I am biased, I want to be fair to hear what the others have to say because I can definitely be wrong. This is the best I can do because I believe it is impossible for a rational, thinking person to completely separate themselves from their experiences and biases when reporting on issues. This is because our experiences shape the questions that we ask and who we think to contact.
- Even if many U.S. reporters tend to be more liberal than the average voter, they are still Americans with a pro-western, pro-capitalism mindset. These people might be considered almost the same as a right winger by people in other parts of the world.
- I don’t believe that there is an organized media bias where people sit around and pick favorites. Generally, most true journalists try to be as fair as possible unless they are a columnist or pundit. Their desire to be seen as professional supercedes any political agenda. I simply believe that any real media bias results from human nature not conspiracy.
- Most journalists, especially in Washington, tend to follow the pack. It can be real easy for something repeated frequently enough to be considered true even though it may not be. Most journalists don’t want to follow the pack and try to be individualistic. But this is harder to do than most realize.
- The public’s desire for quick, sound-bite news makes it difficult to report the truth on many issues. The audience/readership simply wouldn’t listen/read long enough to get all the facts. Issues are complex with many variables to consider. And Americans don’t have enough patience for that.
- The Internet is changing journalism is some interesting ways. Now, everybody has a voice and can be a reporter of their view of what the facts are. This has both benefits and drawbacks.
MIZZOU NEWS wrote on its Web site, “Applying a novel approach based on frequently used ratings of the liberal or conservative leaning of politicians, a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia discovered that most mainstream media outlets do exhibit a strong liberal bias.”
This MU professor worked with a colleague from UCLA. According to the researchers, all news outlets examined, except for Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times, received a score to the left of, or more liberal than, the estimated position of the average U.S. voter.
I believe the above research to be mostly true while I would argue that many media outlets are fair despite having a liberal bias. And I certainly don’t believe there is any organized bias other than informal peer pressure and a desire to avoid criticism by the boss.
At the end of the day, you have to filter any information that you get. This is true no matter the source. I believe we will all be held responsible one day for the judgements we make. That is why we shouldn’t care more about who wins American Idol than what is going on in the world.