Todd Manzi

Conservatives don’t have a level playing field because our country suffers from a liberally biased news media. Some people think media bias is not a fact, but merely a debatable opinion. These people are quick to point out that conservatives have venues for their ideas: talk radio, the Internet, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

Looking at the issue from a marketing prospective helps debunk the absurd claim that there is some sort of parity in the media for liberals and conservatives. Consider three target audiences: passionate liberals, passionate conservatives and normal people who vote. Those of us who fall in one of the first two groups, battle for market share of the third group. We want our ideas embraced. We want our candidates elected.

Paradoxically, the primary target audience for those of us passionate about politics is voters who are disengaged from politics. How do you reach this group? How do they form their opinions? Talk radio and the rest of the new media doesn’t reach these people or sway their opinions. The primary audience of talk radio is those of us who are passionate about politics and are committed to a political ideology. We are not normal.

Normal people don’t care as much about politics or liberal versus conservative ideology as they care about sports, hobbies, their jobs, family activities, etc. They are not interested in taking the time to understand issues on a deep level. They want sound bites and headlines. They want to glean information efficiently, form quick opinions and move onto something else more enjoyable. 

The target audience - people who swing elections and influence policy because of their answers to public opinion polls - is reached through the mainstream media. These people spend a few minutes with the newspaper and catch their local news on television. The claim that media bias is not a problem because conservatives now have a voice in the media misses the big picture perspective.

Advertising types make decisions regarding getting their message out based on gross rating points (GRPs). Yes, the total GRPs from talk radio, the Internet and the rest of the conservative media, is huge. In fact, advertisers understand that for products disproportionately purchased by conservatives, they have attractive and efficient advertising opportunities. Although the reach of the conservative media is staggering when looked at on its own, it is tiny when compared to the reach of the mainstream media.

Total all of the GRPs from news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and their hundreds of affiliates across the country. Then add in the circulation of all of the nation’s newspapers and you have a Goliath that makes the audience of the conservative media look like a David. More importantly, the mainstream media reaches the audience that drives policy and swings elections, while the new media is preaching to the choir.

Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann has more influence over public opinion polls than Rush Limbaugh does. Riechmann’s dispatches are printed in tens of millions of newspapers throughout the country and because she covers President Bush, her stories often get television coverage as well. 

Liberally biased Riechmann is pawned off as news, but it is understood that conservatively biased Limbaugh is presenting commentary. When Riechmann packaged Cindy Sheehan sympathetically, and covered President Bush harshly, it made an impact with the primary target audience that influences public opinion polls.  Limbaugh’s excellent commentary on the subject helps those of us who want to dig deep into important stories understand why we have the opinions we do. Limbaugh doesn’t change our opinion as much as he solidifies them. Riechmann, on the other hand, serves it up to those looking for the fast food equivalent of the issues of the day. The opinions of the people she reaches are more easily swayed than the opinions of Limbaugh’s more thoughtful audience.

The new media led by Limbaugh has been a wonderful development for conservatives. None of us would want to go back to the dark ages of the 1980’s. But, just because conservatives have a voice, it doesn’t mean the media is balanced.  Liberal bias in the mainstream media is a huge problem in this country. Like other topics, those of us who take the time, understand the ramifications of media bias.  Those who stay at the surface level of thinking, dismiss media bias as a non-issue.


Todd Manzi

Todd Manzi is a Townhall.com media critic.

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