Politics & Policy

Are The Media Liberal?

Bozell v. Alterman

I will admit I don’t have great hopes for convincing NRO readers to see the error of their ways. After all, this is only 500 words. You people are too smart to change your minds about a bedrock belief over just 500 words. For that to happen, I’m afraid, you’d have to buy the book. Do it HERE, if only to give your blood pressure a shot in the arm.

But of course we all know that quite a few of you are too smart to believe that silly nonsense about the media being “liberal.” I’m here on this site to tell you guys the jig is up. It’s time to come clean. You’ve milked this cow long enough and she done died. Here’s how I put it in the book: (And for you Goldberg/Coulter fans, those little numbers are called “footnotes.” They allow other people to check your work.)

While some conservatives actually believe their own grumbles, the really smart ones don’t. They know mau-mauing the other side is a just a good way to get their ideas across — or perhaps prevent the other side from getting a fair hearing for theirs. On occasion, honest conservatives admit this. Rich Bond, then the chair of the Republican Party complained during the 1992 election, “I think we know who the media want to win this election — and I don’t think it’s George Bush.1 The very same Rich Bond also noted during the very same election, however, “There is some strategy to it [bashing the ‘liberal’ media]. . . . If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.”2 Bond is hardly alone. That the so-called liberal media [hereafter “SCLM”], were biased against the administration of Ronald Reagan is an article of faith among Republicans. Yet James Baker, perhaps the most media savvy of them, owned up to the fact that any such complaint was decidedly misplaced. “There were days and times and events we might have had some complaints [but] on balance I don’t think we had anything to complain about,” he explained to one writer.”3 Patrick Buchanan, among the most conservative pundits and presidential candidates in Republican history, found that he could not identify any allegedly liberal bias against him during his presidential candidacies. “I’ve gotten balanced coverage, and broad coverage — all we could have asked. For heaven sakes, we kid about the ‘liberal media,’ but every Republican on earth does that,”4 the aspiring American ayatollah cheerfully confessed during the 1996 campaign. And even William Kristol, without a doubt the most influential Republican/neoconservative publicist in America today has come clean on this issue. “I admit it,” he told a reporter. “The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.”5 Nevertheless Kristol apparently feels no compunction about exploiting and reinforcing ignorant prejudices of his own constituency. In a 2001 subscription pitch to conservative potential subscribers of his Rupert Murdoch-funded magazine, Kristol complained, “The trouble with politics and political coverage today is that there’s too much liberal bias…. There’s too much tilt toward the left-wing agenda. Too much apology for liberal policy failures. Too much pandering to liberal candidates and causes.”6 (It’s a wonder he left out “Too much hypocrisy.”)

Over to you, Brent. I’d love to hear how you explain the above….

— Eric Alterman is author of the new book What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News.

1 See David Domke, Mark D. Watts, Dhavan C. Shah, and David. P Fan, “The Politics of Conservative Elites and the ‘Liberal Media’ Argument,” Journal of Communication, Autumn, 1999, 46.

2 Washington Post, August, 20, 1992, C1

3 Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: the Press and the Reagan Presidency (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988) 4.

4 In an interview with the Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1996

5 The New Yorker, May 22, 1995.

6 The author received this subscription mailing in June 2001.

These are fascinating times for polemical debate. Are we right to invade Iraq? Will tax cuts weaken or strengthen the economy? On these and so many other issues a conservative can enjoy energetic discourse with the political left.

Just don’t ask a liberal if there is a liberal bias in the national news media. In answer to that question you’ll continue to hear what conservatives have been hearing for decades. No matter how many times the obvious is proven, and no matter how many ways that evidence is documented, the response from the liberal elites is always the same.


For decades conservatives have charged that a liberal bias dominated the press; at every turn the liberals in the press have denied it. But when irrefutable evidence is presented — say, a national survey of the Washington-based media commissioned by the Gannett media organization showing that in 1992, by 89-7 percent, they voted for Bill Clinton over George Bush; that by 50-14 percent they see themselves as Democrats over Republicans; and that while 61 percent describe themselves as liberal, only two percent dare call themselves “conservative” — how do they respond? OK, they concede, we may be philosophically liberal, but it doesn’t prove our philosophy affects our performance. But how can such an overwhelming bias not affect the work product? Noise.

The Media Research Center has produced dozens of scientific studies, often examining tens of thousands of stories at a time, proving the liberal bias dominating the news media. Not once has a single study ever been refuted, or any of the hundreds of thousands of data been disputed. Much in the same vein that Saddam denies the existence of his weapons of mass destruction, the liberal media simply deny the evidence proving their bias. And if pressed they’ll fall to the next line of defense: it speaks to a general bias, but doesn’t prove anyone’s specific bias. More noise.

What, exactly, is a liberal denying when he denies a liberal bias in the media? Most journalists continue to promote the mythology that bias is nonexistent in the news business, an amazing proposition given that it is impossible not to be biased. What is news? What is the day’s top news story? What is to be the lead? Who is to be cited? What ought to be the conclusion? These and so many others are the daily questions a reporter faces, and every single one demands a subjective, biased response. So why do so many journalists deny the obvious? First and foremost, because they really do believe their liberalism is mainstream.

But wait! Stop the presses! Extra! Extra! Bias has been found! After all these years suddenly these same journalists are finding that a conservative bias — yes, indeedy, a conservative bias dominates the press because the Fox News Channel and Rush Limbaugh control the world, or something.

Assuming Fox were as conservative as liberals charge — and it’s an assumption I am not willing to make — it would now be one against CBS, NBC, ABC, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, and on and on and on. Some conservative dominance. What about Rush and the seemingly endless list of conservatives in the media today, men and women like Cal Thomas, Bob Novak, Michael Reagan, Laura Ingraham, and the like? All have two things in common: All openly, cheerfully acknowledge their biases; and all are commentators. Not a one is a member of the “news” media.

But if you’re on the other side of the political fence the rules are very different. If you’re a liberal, you’re objective. And if you are promoting an agenda, you’re a reporter.

Making noise.

— L. Brent Bozell III is president of the Media Research Center.



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