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The Biggest Problem With Media Bias

No serious person can deny the existence of liberal bias among the MSM.  I have criticized the media's "tag team" approach to covering the President before, noting that the press works almost in tandem with the Obama campaign to advance its arguments and downplay its candidate's mistakes and shortcomings.


Indeed, media bias is nothing new.  It has been demonstrated in studies ranging over at least the last thirty years that the press leans decisively to the left. Just last year, Professor Tim Groseclose -- no conservative -- argued convincingly that media bias typically aids Democrats by 8-10 points in a typical election.

This year, however, it is worse than ever before, as two female commentators I greatly admire, Mona Charen and Jennifer Rubin, both pointed out today.

The problem, as I see it, is that there is no corrective mechanism for the systemic bias we witness in the elite media.  

First, there is no direct profit incentive for the reporters or editors themselves, it seems; although the legacy media is bleeding profusely, no journalistic superstar in the elite media is experiencing a diminution of his/her salary directly as a result of declining market share -- as they would in most regular businesses.  (Indeed, television news has not really ever been expected to be a profit center for the network.)  So far, it seems, the legacy media has been impervious to the kind of market pressures that would force leaders in other businesses to rethink the way they're conducting their business.

Second, the elite press is so overwhelminglly dominated by liberals that there's essentially a pack mentality.  People like former NY Times ombudsman Arthur Brisbane can try to soft-pedal the facts, but basically, legacy media is the victim of massive group-think.  As Brisbane wrote in his final column, he:


see[s] that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

That's the problem in a (gently-worded) nutshell.  The bias is overt, and even more problematic because those who are supposed to remedy it sometimes don't even have a full grasp of the extent of the problem.

And even if there are those who are talented, brave or honest enough to venture outside the box -- people like Brit Hume and Jake Tapper spring to mind -- there aren't enough of them to constitute a critical mass, or to make all the rest have to care.  Prestige, promotions and Pultizer prizes are awarded by such an insular, liberal clique that many journalists don't have to worry about whether their coverage is even brazenly dishonest, so long as it pleases the right people.  (Fox News?  Yes, there's Fox -- but the journalistic in-crowd unfairly dismisses its work as partisan, and its "stars" certainly don't get to sit at the "cool kids" table in the MSM lunchroom. It also lacks the "mainstream" designation awarded to liberal organs like The Times, NBC and the like.)


Finally, a big part of the problem is the press' post-Watergate conception of its mission.  Once, the presumed goal was to report, i.e., relay the facts fairly.  Now, the goal is to crusade, or effect change, or advance some vision of "the good."  Thus, there is a diminished sense that a dereliction of professional duty is occurring if journalists put a thumb on the scales.

It's not clear how the problem will be effectively addressed.  Like the tenured liberals who dominate elite academia, liberals in journalism almost exclusively elevate and promote only those who share their world view.  Fox will continue to cover stories others won't, and there are bloggers, of course.

But in terms of "mainstream" media outlets that largely set the terms of the political conversation in this country, it's not clear to me how the liberal bias problem will be resolved in any way that will promote more even-handed, honest coverage.

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