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December 18, 2014

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‘Conservative media bias’ gets no publicity

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Liberal media bias.

So incessant is this complaint from conservatives that the three words string together as one, like Holy Roman Empire. But like the old saw about that infamous regime being neither holy nor Roman nor an empire, liberal media bias is largely a misnomer.

Yes: The opinion media generally skew liberal on social issues related to abortion, gay rights, religion and maybe — maybe — guns. But that’s about the extent of it.

On issues of war and peace, taxes and spending and government regulation, the corporate-owned American media are frequently anything but liberal. Of course, avowedly liberal confines such as the Nation or the American Prospect magazines, left-wing blogs, or the superb MSNBC weekend shows hosted by Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry regularly feature reports or commentaries about American poverty, homelessness, economic inequality, prison conditions, child welfare or domestic violence. But across the nation, mainstream coverage of such issues tends to be spotty.

Why? Because producers know Americans don’t want to have to think about reportage on these national problems. Sordid stories about the Kardashians sell magazines and draw eyes and ears to radio, TV and the Internet far better than do sordid tales of bereft orphans.

Take the supposed problem of political correctness in the media, yet another red (or Red America) herring. The positive portrayals of gay Americans in the news — or in movies, television shows such as “Modern Family” or the clever new Kindle ad where a gay man and a straight woman both mention their husbands — aren’t evidence of a politically correct bias. They’re evidence of profit-correctness by publishers and producers who know gay Americans are consumers, too.

As Eric Alterman has demonstrated in his book “What Liberal Media?” conservative think tanks, which are responsible for much newspaper opinion content, are far better funded than their liberal counterparts. Anyone who thinks the interests of corporate America are muted in our media needs a reality check.

Meanwhile, we almost never hear about conservative media bias. It’s very real.

Last week came news of a pack of conservative pundits, led by Joshua Trevino and including writers for Commentary magazine and the Red State blog, who took nearly $400,000 to advocate on behalf of the government of Malaysia. Keep this in mind next time any of these foreign government water-carriers say liberals are insufficiently patriotic. (At least in the case of the conservative columnist Armstrong Williams, the sources for the payola he took during George W. Bush’s presidency to write favorable columns about national education policy were domestic.)

And how about the cozy relationship between Fox News Channel and top Republican presidential contenders? In recent years, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum have all been on Fox’s revolving-door payroll. There’s nothing illegal or even unethical about this, but it reeks of network-party incest.

Syndicated conservative columnists dominate op-ed pages nationwide. A few years ago, Media Matters for America conducted a survey of American daily papers. MMFA found that 60 percent of papers ran more conservative columnists than liberal columnists and 20 percent ran more liberals than conservatives, with the remaining 20 percent split.

Question: If the U.S. media are so bad, what sort of alternative might conservatives prefer?

I presume no self-respecting, First Amendment-revering American of any ideological stripe wants a state-run or state-censored media like those I’ve seen up close in China, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. If conservative fury with National Public Radio is any indication, a state-funded but independent media such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or the British Broadcasting Corporation would be nearly as unacceptable.

The truth is that the ideal media structure for conservatives is one in which large, profit-oriented and politically powerful corporations own the broadcast and cable television networks, the major newspapers (The Wall Street Journal boasts the nation’s largest circulation) and newspaper chains, and broadcast radio. And that’s exactly what we have in America.

Yet, the “liberal media bias” complaint persists. Conspiracy-minded conservatives should ask themselves: If liberals really owned and ran the media, why isn’t “conservative media bias” the more common term in national politics?

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.

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  1. And Organizing for Action, the revamped and reformed political campaign for President Obama, morphed into a faith based entity with the goal of promoting social and religious freedom for the poor and downtrodden. Starting with $500,000 in personal charitable donations to have an 15 minute audience with the secular moral leader of the country. Right!

    Carmine D

  2. The Las Vegas Sun comes wrapped in Conservative media bias every day.

  3. SgtRock: What are your exact sources for the studies verifying that most reporters are registered Democrats who mainly vote for Democrats?

    Re CarmineD's statement: What does "$500,000 in personal charitable donations" refer to regarding 15 minutes with the President? What charities benefitted?

    Future: What liberal groups own the media groups you referenced?

    PISCES41: What conservative columnists would you recommend for the Sun to publish? The ones they print that I can think of now are George Will (ugg) and David Brooks (yea). The Sun's selection of columnists support their statements with verifiable facts. Their opinions stem from facts. I've noticed that conservative extremists, such as Charles Krathammer, are often mean-spirited, besides often untruthful.

    LastThroes: When I try to reword your last statement, I'm still lost: conservatives sadly think that implying the MSM is anything other than a mass of Marxist liberals, amounts to anti-Jesus insults. What?

  4. Thomas Schaller's last sentence says it all for me. "If liberals really owned and ran the media, why isn't "conservative media bias" the more common term in national politics?

    On the topic of conservative bias and blatant dishonesty: "You didn't build that" is a telling example. Although President Obama's meaning of those words could be unmistakenly verified by the context, that's not what Republicans did. (All you need to do is add the word "alone" to the end of his statement to literally clarify the meaning. As most Republicans will admit NOW, the President was referring to benefits of infrastructure, moral support, "mentoring," etc.)

    However, Republicans made up their own meaning for the President's words in order to claim that he was anti-small business. Charles Krathammer predicted in a 2012 column that Obama's losing of the last election would be attributed to the "build that" statement. The Republican Convention made that statement their theme and boisterous rallying cry.

    Republicans, can you give me a comparable case when Democrats mocked the truth in order to win the Presidency or any other office?

    In the future documented facts will be sufficient.