Three Dirty Little Words: Liberal Media Bias

“Are any of you voting for Mitt Romney?” host Jimmy Kimmel asked the audience at the Emmy’s last month. “Okay,” he said after listening to the smattering of applause, “there’s forty Republicans and the rest: godless, liberal homosexuals.”

“Being a Republican in Hollywood,” he joked, “is like being a Chick-fil-A sandwich on the snack table at Glee.”

I work in Hollywood. So I’ve seen my fair share of “liberal bias.” And I’m here to tell you that there is no liberal bias in the American media.

Oh sure, some news outlets are more liberal than others. Everyone knows that MSNBC is the channel for Democrats and Fox News is the channel for Republicans. And everyone knows that the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is more conservative than that of the New York Times. But it is flat-out untrue that the media as a whole leans to the left.

I mention this because Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president, recently accused the media of trying to swing the election in his opponents’ favor.

All evidence to the contrary. This summer, the Pew Research Center examined the news reports of 50 major news outlets and found that 72 percent of the references to Barack Obama were negative, compared to 71 percent of the references to Mitt Romney. Similarly, statistical wunderkind Nate Silver examined the historical record and found that presidential election “polls have no…history of partisan bias.”

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent any time studying the subject. Experts have combed through the archives looking for all sorts of bias. The Journal of Communication collected the results of 59 published research papers on media bias, and they came to three clear conclusions: In newspapers, there is no bias. In network television, there is a tiny — and I mean tiny — liberal bias. And in magazines, there is — wait for it — a conservative bias!

But you don’t have to read the Journal of Communication to figure that out. Just look around you. As media reporter David Carr pointed out earlier this week, the bestselling newspaper in America is the famously conservative Wall Street Journal, the most popular cable news channel is Fox News, and three of the top five radio broadcasters are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage — and those guys make Mitt Romney look like Lyndon Johnson.

Moreover, every major news outlet is owned by a massive multinational corporation. Gannett owns the USA Today. Time Warner owns CNN. Comcast and General Electric own NBC and MSNBC. Walt Disney owns ABC. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and CBS are all listed on the New York Stock Exchange — and the majority shareholder of CBS is the billionaire Sumner Redstone.

Where do you think the sympathies of these mega-rich capitalists lie? Do you really think they’d let their news outlets dismantle the free market system that’s made them so wealthy?

And so what if they did? Is a “liberal bias” inherently wrong? Instead of asking whether a news outlet is conservative or liberal, shouldn’t we be asking if they’re right? Shouldn’t we demand, above all else, that the media tell us the truth? And what law of nature says that the truth is always nonpartisan?

It’s a fact that tax cuts for the rich haven’t increased economic growth. It’s a fact that the Earth is warming because of carbon emissions from manmade objects. It’s a fact that Palestine is a humanitarian disaster because Israel is blockading critical exports and imports.

And we’re supposed to sugarcoat these facts because they don’t fit into some people’s agendas?

The economist Paul Krugman has a famous saying: “If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ‘Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.'”

And who comes up with these “sides” anyway?

In Europe, “conservatives” recoil at the idea of a government failing to allocate affordable health insurance to all its citizens. In America, rightwinger Glenn Beck gets a primetime slot on television, but a real leftist like Noam Chomsky is taboo.

Who’s the liberal equivalent of Glenn Beck? Rachel Maddow? Come on. This is a woman who said she’s “in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.”

When was the last time you heard an American politician say that the government should give a job to every unemployed person who is willing and able to work? How many media pundits endorse tax rates above 50 percent or the abolition of nuclear weapons? Forty years ago, some of our most famous leaders were advocating exactly these solutions. Now, they’re fringe ideas at best.

Every time someone says “conservative” or “liberal,” I’m reminded of a line from the movie Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

My point here isn’t that we should change the system or that we should embrace leftist ideology. All I’m saying is, this is a ridiculous debate, and we must stop having it because it’s distracting us from the real issues in a very important election.

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An abbreviated version of this op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Quote of the Day: Noam Chomsky

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster. Despite the piteous laments, the United States remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight…

— Noam Chomsky (MIT)

Best of the Month: March 2010

10. What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous? — Robert A. Pape, Lindsey O’Rourke, & Jenna McDermit, Lady Gaga vs. the Occupation — Thomas Hegghammer, and Hating Us for our Degeneracy — Daniel Larison
9. Study: Two-Thirds of Boys in Afghan Jails Are Brutalized — Gareth Porter, Iraqi Children’s Growth Stunted by War — BBC News, Night Raids Belie McChrystal’s New Image — Gareth Porter, and Gen. McChrystal: We’ve Shot “an Amazing Number of People” Who Were Not Threats — Justin Elliott
8. Taking Sides — John Mearsheimer and Top Ten Reasons East Jerusalem Does Not Belong to Jewish-Israelis — Juan Cole
7. 10 Questions for Finance Reformers — Barry Ritholtz and The Lone Star Secret — Alyssa Katz
6. Cultural Change Is Key to Bank Reform — Justin Fox, Greeks, Romans, and Financial Reform — Paul Krugman, and The Source of Global Trade Imbalances — Johanna Mollerstrom
5. As Things Get Worse in Pakistan, the Optimism Continues to Soar — Robert Fisk, Pakistan to America: What Have You Done for Us Lately? — Arif Rafiq, Into the Terrifying World of Pakistan’s “Disappeared” — Robert Fisk, and Don’t Forget India — Nikolas K. Gvosdev
4. The Arab Tomorrow — David B. Ottaway, Once Again, a Nation Walks Through Fire to Give the West Its “Democracy” — Robert Fisk, The Oil Curse — Christopher Dickey, The Political Resource Curse — Fernanda Brollo, Tommaso Nannicini, Roberto Perotti, & Guido Tabellini, and The Political Limits to Globalization — Daron Acemoglu & Pierre Yared
3. Fiscal Policies in “Normal” and “Abnormal” Recessions — Paul De Grauwe
2. How to Combat Modern Slavery — Kevin Bales
1. “The Evil Scourge of Terrorism”: Reality, Construction, Remedy — Noam Chomsky and A Curious History of the CIA — Jane Mayer
BONUS: Setting Congress’s Sights on Next Target — Anthony W. Orlando

Best of the Week: March 21-27, 2010

We’re experimenting with a “Top 15” instead of a “Top 10” list for our “Best of the Week” series. Email me or post your comment below to let us know whether this version is better or worse. We hope the longer list will deliver something for everyone, but we don’t want to overwhelm you! — AWO

15. The Gold Bubble — Rick Bookstaber
14. Think Really Different — Daniel Lyons
13. The Criminal Flaw in Obama’s Immigration Vision — Seth Wessler
12. Iraq’s Moment of Truth — Marc Lynch, How Much Do They Hate Maliki? — Michael Wahid Hanna, and Iraq: National Unity Government or Return to Sectarianism? — Juan Cole
11. Drone Wars, Without Any Rules — Dan Froomkin and How Inclusion Cools Islamist Hotheads — Saif Shahin
10. The Curious Triumph of RomneyCare — J. Bradford DeLong2017 — Matthew Yglesias, A Long View on Health Insurance — Catherine New, and The Individual Health Insurance Mandate and Taxes — Howard Gleckman
9. Obama’s “New” Trade Policy: What Happened to Multilateralism? — Kevin Gallagher
8. Bagram Prison in Afghanistan May Become the New Guantánamo — Michael Evans and Washington Keeps a Lock on Detainees — Gareth Porter
7. New England, Mid-Atlantic States Show How Pollution Pricing Works — Sean Pool
6. Science Can Answer Moral Questions — Sam Harris and Sam Harris on Science and Morality — Russell Blackford
5. What Happens When Congress Fails to Do Its Job? — Ezra Klein
4. Civil War Certain as “Afghan National Army” Now Over 60% Tajik — Craig Murray and Listen to the Arabs — Parag Khanna
3. Taking Sides — John Mearsheimer and Top Ten Reasons East Jerusalem Does Not Belong to Jewish-Israelis — Juan Cole
2. Cultural Change Is Key to Bank Reform — Justin Fox, Greeks, Romans, and Financial Reform — Paul Krugman, and The Source of Global Trade Imbalances — Johanna Mollerstrom
1. “The Evil Scourge of Terrorism”: Reality, Construction, Remedy — Noam Chomsky and A Curious History of the C.I.A. — Jane Mayer
BONUS: Think Globally — Steven Strogatz

Best of the Month: November 2009

10. Why They Hate Us (I): Lessons from Civil War Reconstruction — Stephen M. Walt
9. The Hospital That Could Cure Health Care — Jerry Adler & Jeneen Interlandi and Shopping Around for the Best Prices in Medical Care — Walecia Konrad
8. Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel — Lawrence Wright
7. A Failure To Explain Financial Benefits of Health Care Reform — Thomas F. Schaller and Health Care Rationing, American-Style — Uwe E. Reinhardt
6. A Milestone in the Health Care Journey — Ronald Brownstein
5. A Crime of Shadows — Mark Bowden
4. The Cost of Not Enacting Health Care Reform — Linda J. Bilmes & Rosemarie Day
3. US Was ‘Hell Bent’ on Iraq War, UK Envoy Says — David Stringer and UK Hearing Reveals US Pondered Iraq Invasion in Early 2001 — Maya Schenwar and Leaked UK Documents Detail Iraq War Chaos — David Stringer
2. If Health Care Is Going to Change, Dr. Brent James’s Ideas Will Change It — David Leonhardt
1. Human Rights in the New Millennium — Noam Chomsky
BONUS:  Banks Too Big?: Government Has Failed To Do Its Job — Anthony W. Orlando