L. Brent Bozell III is founder and president of the Media Research Center (mediaresearch.org), the openly conservative media watchdog organization that has been documenting and challenging liberal bias in the mainstream news media since 1987. I talked to the nationally syndicated op-ed columnist March 21 by telephone from his offices in Washington, where he was preparing for MRC’s 20th birthday gala.
Q: What is the mission of the Media Research Center?
A: It is to document, expose and neutralize the liberal media.
Q: And the main outposts of the liberal media are?
A: Historically, it has been the Big Three networks by virtue of their audiences. And though their audiences have been cut in half in the last 10 years, they still remain strong. But this term "the liberal news media" has morphed into many other things. It is now in the Internet. It is newspapers -- prominently so. It's the wire services. It's the news magazines. So there is a vast left-wing conspiracy out there.
Q: What is your working definition of "media bias"?
A: I've always believed that every reporter is biased. Every human being who hasn't been lobotomized is biased. The problem isn't bias. The problem is not acknowledging the bias that you have. The problem with most liberals in the media is that they make no effort whatsoever to keep their biases in check.
Q: How do you prove to a skeptic that the mainstream media is biased in a liberal way? What's some of the ammunition you use?
A: Countless surveys (laughs). National surveys -- not just of the public but of the media themselves, where they acknowledge the bias they have. I simply invite anyone to turn on the television any day of the week or to pick up the front page of The New York Times or The Washington Post. The bias is there and it's screaming, because the left has become unhinged in the last few years and liberals in the press are making no effort whatsoever to restrain themselves.
Q: When you say bias, are you talking about the personal bias of the journalist, or the bias in the way a story is presented, or whether a story is even covered at all -- or all of those?
A: Biases can be found in many ways. It begins with the story selection -- what is news? That's a subjective call. It is the direction that the news story takes. It is the lead. It is the opening paragraph. It is the conclusion. It is the people interviewed. It is the parts of the interviews of the people who you interviewed. It's the editing process. The bias can be found in many, many different ways.
Q: A bias is a problem when it is in news, right, not editorials?
A: Yeah. Take The Wall Street Journal. You'll find more news in the editorial section and more editorials in the news section. There is a place for everything in a newspaper. One's opinions ought to go on the op-ed pages, not on the front pages. But liberals in the press don't know that distinction.
Q: This is not a question of you being a social or fiscal conservative who is unhappy because your point of view is outnumbered or isn't being emphasized?
A: The last thing I want is a conservative bias in the news media. It would be the same problem. What you want is the search for truth. What you want is reporters to strive for the Holy Grail of journalism -- which is objectivity. You want them to incorporate balance. You want them to be fair. But most importantly, you want them to be accurate.
Q: Why are most mainstream outlets liberal?
A: There are three natural habitats for liberalism in American society: academia, the arts and the news media. In all three fields they can use their talents to make a better world as they see it.
Q: And they try.
A: Well, they're driven by it. So many of them are elitists -- to the point of arrogance. They really do believe that the world is filled with little people and they are the purveyors of truth. They see themselves as having not just the right but a responsibility to promote that truth as they see it through those three branches.
Q: Is not liberal media bias far less of a problem today than it was in 1987 when you got started, with all the new choices in TV channels, Web sites and magazines, plus talk radio, which most people acknowledge is tilted to the conservative side?
A: Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that there has been this grand Diaspora of information with new technologies, particularly with talk shows and the Internet. The bad news is twofold. One is that although the consumer can receive information in many different ways, what is almost always the case is that when a conservative offers his position, he is a commentator delivering commentary on the news; liberals, advancing their agendas, continue to call themselves reporters and insist that they are giving objective truth. There’s a huge difference. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that while their overall influence certainly has been reduced … in the last three or four years, liberals have gone off the deep end. The shrill, harsh and hard left-wing agenda that they are promoting in the news media.
Q: Any names come to mind?
A: I’m asked that question all the time (laughs). If you point to one or two you are doing an injustice, because there are so many others (laughs). The same thing is true for the networks. “Which one is the worst network?” Well, it depends which week it is.
Q: What do you think of YouTube? It's a totally open platform that anyone can put anything up on. We just saw the Hillary Clinton spoof on the 1984 Apple commercial make news.
A: Well, good news and bad news. The good news of the Internet is the ability for so much more information to get to the public that doesn't have to go through the filter of CBS News. The bad news is that it is a playground for mischief for those who want to promote things that are not true. We’re starting to see that. Just look at Wikipedia. It’s a perfect example of this. It is a new online encyclopedia, yet anybody can put anything on there they want to -- and there are people lying there with abandon.
Q: With all that specialized media out there now, does the mainstream media have a greater responsibility to offer either ideological diversity or to be fairer or more neutral in their approaches?
A: I don’t think so. I think they’ve always had that responsibility. Isn’t it interesting that no one calls himself a “reporter” anymore? Everyone’s a “journalist.” A reporter’s job is to report the news -- period -- and nothing more. That’s why they don’t call themselves reporters. They don’t want to do just that.
Q: What should a newspaper or TV network do to avoid bias?
A: The first thing is to be honest with yourself and recognize your own biases. We all have them. Then the second thing is to do what you need to do to offset that bias by incorporating other voices and to recuse yourself from the coverage of a story if you can't help but advance a certain position.
Q: Which is more biased, CNN or Fox?
A: If you were to add up the names of every on-air personality on Fox News who is a self-identified liberal Democrat, you will find more liberal Democrats on Fox News than you will find conservatives on every other network combined.
Q: Have any major media outlets made a conscious effort to balance their news or opinion coverage to at least try to balance their news and opinion?
A: Yes. Fox News. And Fox News is obsessive about this. Beyond Fox, from time to time you will see a network try that -- CNN, MSNBC. And yet they just seem ultimately to gravitate back to their old ways.
Q: In Canada, the National Post did a 10- or 12-part series on global warming “deniers” or skeptics -- who are these guys? What do they say, etc.? I haven’t seen any American magazine or paper approach this in such a way. You don’t have to say they are right or wrong. It’s just basic journalism -- here they are and here’s what they say.
A: But that’s my point. There is only one truth where global warming is concerned, if you believe the American news media. That is that it exists, that man caused it, and that only Al Gore can fix it.
Q: What would you like to see The New York Times do to become less unfair and unbalanced?
A: Go out of business. Given that they’ve lost $800 million, they are on their way to pleasing me.