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.


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

The Sins of Our Fathers, According to Rick Santorum

We have sinned, and in so doing, we have brought this economic mess on ourselves. Thus says a nasty meme pervading American culture.

Now, we certainly bear some blame for electing politicians who allowed fraudsters and plutocrats to corrupt the system, but that’s not what this meme alleges. Instead, we’ve been told, we have changed. Our morals, our values, the way we raise our children, our dying work ethic: These are to blame for our meager inheritance.

You can see it in surveys of older generations. In a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the Silent Generation, born before 1946, told pollsters that they are more honest than younger generations, and Baby Boomers claim that their work ethic, respectfulness, values, and morals separate them from today’s youth.

You can see it in the resilience of Rick Santorum’s campaign for president. The former Senator from Pennsylvania built his political career around family values. In 2008, he attributed this country’s problems to the “corruption of culture, the corruption of manners, the corruption of decency.”

And you can see it in the popularity of Charles Murray’s latest book Coming Apart: The State of White America, which suggests that declining family values are responsible for the economic plight of the working class.

It’s a lie — and a prejudiced one, at that.

It’s true that there are more women in the workforce than ever before and that men now work fewer hours as a result. It’s also true that the divorce rate is higher than it was forty years ago and that more and more children are growing up in households with one parent or cohabitating parents.

But these trends don’t seem to have had a negative effect on childrearing. Mothers still spend 10 hours per week on child care, exactly the same as they did in 1965, and now fathers spend more time — 5 hours, up from 3 — on child care.

Partly as a result, 40 percent of adults believe their family life now is closer than it was when they were growing up; only 14 percent believe it’s less close. Similarly, 51 percent of married adults believe they are closer than their parents were; only 5 percent believe they’re less close.

And, although 95 percent of Americans think the divorce rate has risen over the past 20 years, in fact it has gone down.

That’s not the only number that’s been going down. For the past thirty years, violent crime rates have been plummeting. Teenage birth rates have fallen over 40 percent since the 1950s. Wife beatings and spousal rape are no longer condoned by law enforcement, as they were just a few decades ago. Lynch mobs and other evils of segregation are rapidly becoming a distant memory.

It’s also hard to imagine how older generations can claim that kids don’t have a work ethic when the percent of college students working more than 20 hours per week (46 percent) is higher than it was when they were college-age (39 percent in 1986, for example).

But that’s what happens when you have more bills to pay than ever before. Education costs, like health care costs, have grown faster than the rest of the economy, all the while government assistance has been shrinking. The result has been an explosion of student loans.

And therein lies the rub, for the real difference between old and young, between past and present, is not the state of our values, but rather the state of our economy.

The tax code has become less progressive, regulations less strict, unions less powerful, the safety net less generous, and pensions less secure. Is it any wonder, then, that families have become less reliant on the singular male breadwinner?

In a cruel irony, the very policies advocated by Santorum and Murray have corroded the “family values” they claim to admire. It makes you wonder why people are still listening to them.


This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.