Is the news media too biased to do its job? The last time we talked about bias in the news was in 2011, and what I got out of it was that the exact nature and extent of bias is hard to pin down. Unfairness can be a crime of commission or omission and either deliberate or unconscious. Some of it is not explicitly political or ideological, but results from prejudices of class, culture, religiosity (or lack of it), or the pursuit of ratings or profit. Worse, most journalists and their bosses adhere to an unrealistic cult of neutrality – the “view from nowhere” – to use the parlance of my favorite (read) media analyst. So, bias in the mainstream news media (MSM, as the bloggers say) is hard to see and measure and seldom acknowledged. Yet, we all claim to see it all the time!
I’ve got a lot of good links this week, some of which I have not studied in detail yet. So, as a first approximation, I think a good way to structure our meeting would be to take each part of our question in turn.
- What is the “news media” these days?
- What is “bias?” How do we know it’s there, whether it’s deliberate or unconscious, and its causes?
- What constitutes the MSM “doing its job?” Is it to be balanced ideologically? To investigate and inform us of the truth? To please its audiences and sponsors? Etc.
I’m being a little vague on details here since I have not done much research yet. By Monday night I’ll be able to make some brief remarks framing the issue, then we can talk.
- My opening question Monday night will be: Using one or two sentences, what is the news media’s job; i.e., its appropriate role in society?
Criticisms of the MSM’s Biases –
- Falsely poses as neutral: Journalists refuse to acknowledge their own biases. And insist of the “view from nowhere.” Recommended
- Permits only a very narrow range of perspectives. Recommended.
- Makes Americans believe we are more polarized than we really are.
- [link fixed] Partisanship, which makes partisan viewers more extreme and alienates regular people from politics. Recommended.
- [link fixed] “Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: The actual Ideology of the American Press.” A classic explanation of the media’s bias problem and a must-read.
- Issues: The media’s right/left bias varies by issue; e.g., global warming coverage favors conservatives and abortion coverage favors the progressive POV and language framing.
- OTOH: Journalists’ tilt left in political affiliation: 50% independents, 28% Democrats, and 7% (!!) Republican.
- OTOH: The MSM is owned by just a handful of gigantic corporations.
In (partial) defense of the News Media –
- People distrust the media for many reasons, not just bias. Recommended.
- These criticisms get cause and effect backwards. Political bias in the news happens in response to what audiences want to hear, not from the character traits of reporters, editors, or owners. Recommended
- Even though there is plenty of bias in the news media, it does not consistently favor either side.
- Besides, more and more of us get our news on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and other social media sites and the Internet weakens the authority of the press.
Next Week: Assessing Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency.