What media bias?

SundayShowGuests201312.30.13I was reading through the comments on this article and couldn’t help but notice the number of them that alluded to the presence of bias in the newspaper. This one, by “Mr. Jefferson” really caught my eye:

Around 85 percent of those who work in the news media identify themselves as Democrats.

Really? Where in the heck did that come from? I Googled the phrase and found it repeated here, but without any support for the comment. I think it may have come from here:

Indeed, in 1982, 85 percent of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism students identified themselves as liberal, versus 11 percent conservative” (Lichter, Rothman, and Lichter 1986: 48)

So one school’s students over thirty years ago identified themselves as liberals, ergo the entirety of the news media identifies as Democrats. Got it.

Except one small problem: The graph attached to this post shows something totally different. Those who appeared on the Sunday talk shows in 2013 were overwhelmingly Republican.

Perhaps even more than that, though, was the implication that the publisher of the newspaper – you know, the person who makes the business decisions – somehow proves the publication’s bias in favor of Democrats. First of all, business folks understand one thing: green. Making money is what drives business people, and you certainly don’t make money by alienating customers. Second, the business side of the business has little to do with newspaper content.

PilotInfoPilotEdInfoPage 2 of each newspaper shows who is in charge of that. This came from today’s paper – note the absence of the name of the publisher. In fact, the only place you will find the publisher’s name is on the editorial page, which is a very small portion of the paper. I often see comments that make it clear that a lot of folks don’t get that there is a wall between the news side of the newspaper and the business (editorial/opinion) side of the paper. Perhaps it is because television “news” has no such wall and is, in fact, nothing but opinion, that people have a hard time believing it, but it is true.  In fact, earlier this week, the announcement that Time, Inc. will be spun off without such a wall is creating some consternation.

To combat these negative forces, Time Inc. will abandon the traditional separation between its newsroom and business sides, a move that has caused angst among its journalists. Now, the newsroom staffs at Time Inc.’s magazines will report to the business executives. Such a structure, once verboten at journalistic institutions, is seen as necessary to create revenue opportunities and stem the tide of declining subscription and advertising sales.

The Virginian-Pilot ain’t Time, Inc.

How strong is that wall? I can attest that it is pretty strong. I was contacted by a reporter from the paper who was writing an article about taxes. He had gone through the normal process of contacting ODU, who put him in touch we me, since I teach tax. The reporter had no idea who I was, even though I write a weekly column there. He told me he doesn’t read the opinion pages – not at all. I doubt he’s alone.

Watching too much opinion TV has a way of warping the senses as to the truth. Give me the newspaper any day. (Even if the editor is a conservative.)

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5 thoughts on “What media bias?

  1. What media bias? The bias that covers up corruption and incompetence because their reporters lack integrity and don’t want to lose access.

    Then of course there is the ignorance bias where the reporters know so little about about what they write that they don’t realize how counter-factual and counterproductive, in terms of educating the public, their articles are.

    Also can’t forget the political correctness bias where a person’s, race, gender, and/or religion has a direct relation to whether and how the story is covered. Like a blog post you had last year; a large group of people shows up without a reservation at a restaurant and gets asked to leave after getting rowdy and the story is about race and not how stupid it is to expect a large group to be promptly seated without a reservation. Or the Trayvon Martin case where Zimmerman, who was Hispanic, magically turned into a white man to fit a larger narrative.

    1. The bias of power over the powerless is always present, but that’s neither a liberal nor conservative bias.

      Perhaps the biggest bias is not ignorance or PC, but that in favor of attracting readers. That’s why we have all of these websites doing the same thing: lists and graphs, as if that is reporting. It’s not. It’s why we have screaming headlines – accurate or not. That’s not reporting, either.

      I still argue that the Pilot does not lean left or right. The editorial page may, but the newspaper as a whole? Absolutely not.

      1. “The bias of power over the powerless is always present, but that’s neither a liberal nor conservative bias.”

        Hell yes.

        (Sidebar for Mr. Shapiro: contrary to the common lay-person’s Anglo-centric blanket interpretations of otherness, it is entirely possible to be both racially white and ethnically Hispanic concurrently in the absence of any sort of wizardry or witchcraft.)

        1. I do demographic analysis professionally, I know the difference. Most media organizations follow the AP Stylebook when it comes to identifying and discussing race and ethnicity and the way they treated Zimmerman was in no way equal to how any other individual of a similar ethnic/racial background would be treated in a similar crime story.

          1. Well, I shouldn’t have said similar, because in a similar story most news organizations would still opt for the racial sensationalism in order to gin up ratings. However, if say a male Hispanic gang member with one white parent kills a male black gang member with one white parent and is on the run then the media will report the police looking for an “Hispanic Male” and not a “white Male” , “half-white male” or “half-Hispanic male” just because he’s half white. And if for some reason they mention the victim’s race, then he will be a “black male” and not a “half-black male” or a “half-white male.”

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