Media bias about media bias

Posted: Dec 04, 2002 12:00 AM

After Senator Tom Daschle created a stir by attacking Rush Limbaugh and other conservative voices in the media as somehow responsible for death threats to politicians like himself, his total absence of any evidence made him look ridiculous. However, this charge was followed within days by another attack on the conservative media by former Vice President Al Gore.

Gore named Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Washington Times as being "part and parcel of the Republican Party" and "a fifth column in the media," which apparently is otherwise politically unbiased.

This might be a joke, given the well-documented fact that 90 percent of media journalists vote for Democrats in presidential elections and that four of the top five newspapers in circulation are solidly liberal in their editorials. But Al Gore's ability to say ridiculous things with a straight face -- and without a shred of evidence -- is one of his most effective political talents.

The newspapers with the five highest daily circulations are USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. The only conservative editorial page among them is that of the Wall Street Journal.

But Al Gore projects a wholly different picture. According the former vice president, "something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others."

What Al Gore is objecting to is not simply the fact that some few media outlets express views that differ from the views expressed in the rest of the liberal media. He is claiming that there is a real conspiracy -- apparently with Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes of Fox News humbly taking orders from some Republican Party functionaries. It does boggle the mind.

When Rush Limbaugh replied with the obvious and often-documented fact that the bulk of the media is liberal, suddenly it was he who was accused of having a conspiracy theory. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and CNN News asked Limbaugh if he thinks reporters on the New York Times "have their marching orders" and are not "independent professionals" who "think for themselves."

One of the incredible feats of media journalists is denying that there is media bias by equating it with conspiracy theories. When people share the same bias, they don't need a conspiracy. The harm comes from the fact that most of the public gets to see only that part of reality which has been filtered through the same preconceptions shared by 90 percent of those in the media.

For example, it has been endlessly repeated in the media that the United States has a much higher murder rate than some countries with more restrictive gun control laws. But the media pass over in utter silence the fact that there are other countries, such as Russia, which have more restrictive gun control laws than ours but have far higher murder rates than the United States.

The media have obviously made up their minds that restrictive gun control laws are desirable, which they have every right to do. It is when they try to make up other people's minds by filtering out information to the public that their opinion become a bias in doing their job.

When vicious, sadistic murders are committed by whites against blacks, or straights against gays, that news is trumpeted throughout the media. But when similar atrocities are committed by blacks against whites, or gays against straights (including children), there is again utter silence in most of the media.

Instead of learning that some terrible and vile things have been done by human beings of every race, color, creed, national origin, and sexual orientation -- in countries around the world -- the message of the media is that some groups are victimized by American society. That is media bias, made more insidious by the fact that it is not expressed openly as editorial opinion, but by corrupting the reporting of news.

Anyone listening to Rush Limbaugh knows that what he is saying is his own opinion. But people who listen to the news on ABC, CBS, or NBC may imagine that they are getting the facts, not just those facts which fit the ideology of the media, with the media's spin.