A new poll from the Pew Research Center has raised again the issue of liberal bias in the media. A growing body of academic research at top universities supports it. Unfortunately, those in the major media still don't get it and are unlikely to change their behavior, resulting in further declines in ratings and circulation.
Liberal bias is a tiresome subject, I know. We have been hearing about it for at least 30 years. Although those who work in the media continue to deny it, they are having a harder and harder time explaining why so many viewers, readers and listeners believe it.
This is the point of the Pew study. Whatever the media think about themselves, there is simply no denying that a high percentage of Americans perceive a liberal bias. The credibility of every single major media outlet has fallen sharply among conservatives and Republicans, while falling much less among liberals and Democrats.
This has affected viewing habits. Conservatives have drifted away from those outlets they perceive as most biased, which has contributed heavily to an overall decline in viewership. Among all Americans, those who watch the evening network news regularly have fallen from 60 percent in 1993 to just 34 percent today. Among Republicans, 15 percent or less report watching the evening news on ABC, CBS or NBC.
One consequence is that conservatives are gravitating toward those outlets that are perceived as being less biased toward them. These include Fox News, talk radio and the Internet. Ironically, academic studies view these not as conservative, but as objective. Apparently, the effect of having a rightward tilt only has the effect of moving "conservative" outlets to the middle, owing to the extreme left-wing bias of the dominant media.
An interesting study in this regard was recently done by Tim Grosedose of UCLA and Jeff Milyo of the University of Chicago. They devised a method of measuring press bias based on the way members of Congress cite various think tanks. By looking at their rating on a liberal/conservative scale based on votes, they were able to determine which think tanks were viewed as conservative or liberal. They then looked at how often these think tanks were cited in the media.
The conclusion of the Groseclose-Milyo study is unambiguous. "Our results show a very significant liberal bias," they report. Interestingly, they found that the Internet's Drudge Report and "Special Report" on Fox News were the two outlets closest to the true center of the political spectrum, despite being widely viewed as conservative.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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