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In the Tank: A Statistical Analysis of Media Bias By: John Perazzo
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 31, 2008


During the 2008 presidential election, even center-left observers have noted the unmistakable bias of the prestige news media toward Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party in general. As we shall reveal, the bias of the media is pervasive, ideologically motivated, and quantifiable: that is, it has been admitted, measured, and analyzed in statistical terms. Those results reveal a media doggedly out-of-touch with the political center and tilted decidedly leftward.

 

One of the most striking aspects of the current presidential campaign is the news media’s assault on Sarah Palin. The Republican vice presidential candidate has been portrayed as a ditzy know-nothing; a Christian fanatic who uses her office to vengefully carry out personal vendettas and who may even have faked her motherhood of her son Trig. From the media coverage of Palin, readers and viewers would never know that she effectively ran an important state, or that she had the highest voter-approval ratings of any governor in the U.S.

But the double standards of the media in their election coverage are as striking as their bias. Scant attention has been paid to the litany of idiocies that have flowed from the tongue of Palin’s vice-presidential opponent, Joe Biden. Some lowlights include the following:

 

a)  Biden exhorted a wheelchair-bound state senator at a Missouri campaign rally to stand up and take a bow;

b)  He told interviewer Katie Couric that in times of crisis, it was incumbent upon the U.S president “to demonstrate that he or she knows what they are talking about,” in the tradition of President FDR, whom he said “got on the television” to allay Americans’ fears “when the stock market crashed” in 1929. Of course, Herbert Hoover was president at the time (FDR would not take office until early 1933), and TV would not be introduced to the public until 1939;

c)  At a pair of October fundraisers, Biden advised supporters to “gird your loins” because, within six months after Barack Obama’s inauguration, an adversary somewhere in the world would undoubtedly manufacture a “crisis” in order to “test” the young president “like they did John Kennedy”;

d)  During his debate with Sarah Palin, Biden stated authoritatively: “Vice President Cheney…doesn’t realize that Article One of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the executive – he works in the executive branch. He should understand that.” But in fact, Article One of the Constitution defines the role of the legislative branch of government, not the executive branch; and

e)  At a recent campaign appearance, Biden said that John McCain’s “last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number-1 job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack [Obama] says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S.”

 

None of these gaffes are important. But neither is Gov. Palin’s wardrobe. And unlike her new clothes, Biden’s slips – like the reporting of his infamous plagiarism of a speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock in his abortive 1988 presidential run, a plagiarism so thorough that it resembled identity theft – received little mention in the mainstream media.

To understand why this is so, we need only to look at the
many major studies of the media which have been conducted over the past three decades. These studies have pointed, with remarkable consistency, to a single, unmistakable, overriding reality: The professionals who constitute America’s mainstream news media – the reporters, editors, anchors, publishers, correspondents, bureau chiefs, and executives at the nation’s major newspapers, magazines, radio networks, and television networks – are leftists and Democrats in far greater numbers than they are conservatives or Republicans. These studies have of course excluded commentators, editorialists, and opinion columnists – all of whom make it quite clear that they are giving their opinions and analyses of the news as they view it. Rather, the focus of the research has been on those individuals whose ostensible duty is to impartially and comprehensively present the various relevant facts and perspectives – and to leave the task of analyzing the information to the readers, listeners, and viewers.

But the American news media no longer serve this function. Instead they have been transformed – by virtue of the one-sided, passionately partisan worldview shared by editors and reporters alike – into mouthpieces of the political Left. And their biases are all the more insidious because they present themselves as unbiased reporters. Those biases have been in place for several decades, but have never been more pronounced than they are in this election cycle.

A useful way of understanding the news media’s political and ideological makeup is to examine what the professionals in that field believe about a wide array of social, ethical, and political issues. Let us look at some of the major findings of the research exploring those beliefs:[1]

  • Between 90 and 97 percent of news media professionals have consistently deemed themselves pro-choice on the matter of abortion. More than half of the respondents said that abortion should be legal under any and all circumstances, including the late-term procedure commonly known as Partial Birth Abortion, where the abortionist punctures a living baby’s skull and suctions out its brain before the infant’s head passes from the birth canal. Only 4 percent of journalists said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.[2]
  • Fully 81 percent of news media professionals favor affirmative action in business and academia.[3]
  • More than half of respondents said that adultery could be acceptable under certain circumstances; only 15 percent said it was always wrong.[4]
  • Between 67 and 76 percent were opposed to prayer being permitted in public schools.[5]
  • Some 71 percent agreed that the “government should work to ensure that everyone has a job.”[6]
  • 75 percent agreed that the “government should work to reduce the income gap between rich and poor.”[7]
  • 56 percent said that the United States exploited the nations of the Third World.[8]
  • Three-fourths disagreed with the notion that the West, on balance, had been helpful to the Third World.[9]
  • 57 percent said that America’s disproportionate consumption of the world’s natural resources was “immoral.”[10]
  • Nearly half agreed that “the very structure of our society causes people to feel alienated.”[11]
  • Only 30 percent agreed that “private enterprise is fair to workers.”[12]
  • Between 6 and 8 percent attended religious services regularly, a tiny fraction of the corresponding rate for the public at large.[13]
  • 78 percent said the use of torture was rarely or never justified in dealing with suspected terrorists.[14]
  • In the 1980s, 84 percent of journalists supported the nuclear freeze movement, which would have frozen military superiority in place for the Soviets; 80 percent opposed increased defense spending by the United States; and three-fourths opposed U.S. aid to the Contras, who were fighting the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.[15]
  • In 1996, 59 percent of journalists dismissed the Republican Party’s 1994 Contract with America as “an election-year campaign ploy,” while only 3 percent considered it “a serious reform proposal.”[16]


It is equally fascinating to examine the degree to which members of the news media have supported Democrat or liberal/Left candidates and causes, both at the ballot box and with their checkbooks:

  • In 1964, 94 percent of media professionals voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater.[17]
  • In 1968, 86 percent voted for Democrat Hubert Humphrey over Republican Richard Nixon.[18]
  • In 1972, 81 percent voted for Democrat George McGovern over the incumbent Nixon.[19]
  • In 1976, 81 percent voted for Democrat Jimmy Carter over Republican Gerald Ford.[20]
  • In 1980, twice as many cast their ballots for Carter rather than Republican Ronald Reagan.[21]
  • In 1984, 58 percent supported Democrat Walter Mondale, whom Reagan defeated in the biggest landslide in presidential election history.[22]
  • In 1988, White House correspondents from various major newspapers, television networks, magazines, and news services supported Democrat Michael Dukakis over Republican George H.W. Bush by a ratio of 12-to-1.[23]
  • In 1992, those same correspondents supported Democrat Bill Clinton over the incumbent Bush by a ratio of 9 to 2.[24]
  • Among Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, the disparity was 89 percent vs. 7 percent, in Clinton’s favor.[25]
  • All told, White House correspondents during the late ’80s and early ’90s voted for Democrats at 7 times the rate at which they voted for Republicans.[26]
  • In a 2004, poll of campaign journalists, those based outside of Washington, D.C., supported Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush by a ratio of 3-to-1. Those based inside the Beltway favored Kerry by a 12-to-1 ratio.[27]
  • In a 2004 nationwide poll of 300 newspaper and television journalists, 52 percent supported Kerry, while 19 percent supported Bush.[28]
  • In a 2008 survey of 144 journalists nationwide, journalists were 8 times likelier to make campaign contributions to Democrats than to Republicans.[29]
  • A 2008 Investors Business Daily study put the campaign donation ratio at 11.5-to-1, in favor of Democrats. In terms of total dollars given, the ratio was 15-to-1.[30]


These numbers are nothing short of astonishing. It is exceedingly rare to find, even in the most heavily partisan voting districts in the United States, such pronounced imbalances in terms of votes cast or dollars earmarked for one party or the other. As the longtime CBS News reporter (and author of the 2002 book Bias) Bernard Goldberg puts it: “They love diversity in the newsroom. That’s what they say, anyway. They love diversity of color, diversity of gender, diversity of sexual orientation. But God forbid someone in their diverse newsroom has a diverse view about how the news ought to be presented.”[31] Goldberg adds, “[I]f long ago we came to the conclusion that newsrooms with too many white men were a bad idea because all we got was the white male perspective, then why isn’t it just as bad to have so many liberals dominating the culture of the newsroom?”[32]

The figures cited above are entirely consistent with how news media professionals identify themselves in terms of their political party affiliations and ideological leanings:

  • In a 1988 survey of business reporters, 54 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 9 percent as Republicans.[33]
  • In a 1992 poll of journalists working for newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, 44 percent called themselves Democrats, 16 percent Republicans.[34]
  • In a 1996 poll of 1,037 reporters at 61 newspapers, 61 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans.[35]
  • In a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, media professionals were nearly 7 times likelier to call themselves Democrats rather than Republicans.[36]


We see precisely the same ratios in studies where news people are asked rate themselves on the left-to-right political spectrum.

  • In a 1981 study of 240 journalists nationwide, 65 percent identified themselves as liberals, 17 percent as conservatives.[37]
  • In a 1983 study of news reporters, executives, and staffers, 32 percent identified themselves as liberals, 11 percent as conservatives.[38]
  • In a 1992 study of more than 1,400 journalists, 44 percent identified themselves as liberals, 22 percent as conservatives.[39]
  • In a 1996 study of Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, 61 percent identified themselves as liberals, 9 percent as conservatives.[40]
  • In a 1996 study of 1,037 journalists, the respondents identified themselves as liberals 4 times more frequently than as conservatives. Among journalists working for newspapers with circulations exceeding 50,000, the ratio of liberals to conservatives was 5.4 to 1.[41]
  • In a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation study of media professionals, the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives was 4.2 to 1.[42]
  • In a 2004 Pew Research Center study of journalists and media executives, the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives was 4.9 to 1.[43]
  • In a 2005 University of Connecticut study of 300 journalists, the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 2.8 to 1.[44]
  • In a 2005 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll of nearly 700 journalists, the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 3.4 to 1.[45]
  • In a 2007 Pew Research Center study of journalists and news executives, the ratio was 4 liberals for each conservative.[46]


When the media report on various issues, they invariably interview, quote, or cite the positions of think tanks and policy groups whose views they deem authoritative, or at least worthy of consideration. If left-wing bias were pervasive, we would expect to find that America’s leading media outlets cited, with disproportionate frequency, the reports, publications, and statements issued by think tanks and policy groups whose political leanings were left-of-center.

 

And indeed we find precisely that.

 

The most comprehensive investigation of this subject, completed in 2004, found that such outlets cited the views of liberal/leftist organizations at fully 3 times the rate of conservative groups.[47]

In 1990, a similar landmark study had been conducted examining the political leanings of the individuals, rather than the organizations, who were most often cited or quoted as experts on various topics in the news. It was found that on the subject of welfare and related issues, liberal experts were quoted 75 percent of the time, conservatives 22 percent. On consumer issues, the liberal-conservative ratio was 63 percent to 22 percent. On environmental issues, the ratio was 79 percent to 18 percent. And regarding nuclear energy, the ratio was 77 percent to 20 percent.[48]

Bias in the news media manifests itself most powerfully not in the form of outright, intentional lies. Instances like former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair’s premeditated fabrications and plagiarisms are rare. Rather, media bias is most often a function of what reporters choose not to tell their audience; i.e., the facts they purposely omit so as to avoid contradicting the political narrative they wish to advance. As Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo put it: “[F]or every sin of commission…we believe that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sins of omission – cases where a journalist chose facts or stories that only one side of the political spectrum is likely to mention.”

By no means is such activity the result of an organized campaign or conspiracy. Bernard Goldberg explains:
“No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.”[49]

And why does it come so naturally? According to Goldberg: “A lot of newspeople…got into journalism in the first place so they could change the world and make it a better place,” and to use their position as reporters as a platform from which to “sho[w] compassion,” which “makes us feel good about ourselves.”[50]

Expanding upon this point, Goldberg quotes researcher Robert Lichter of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, who said, “Increasingly, journalists see themselves as society’s designated saviors,”[51] whose mission is to “awaken the national conscience and force public action.”[52] Or as ABC News anchor Peter Jennings admitted to the Boston Globe in July 2001: “Those of us who went into journalism in the ’50s or ’60s, it was sort of a liberal thing to do. Save the world.”[53]

Bernard Goldberg asks some vitally important questions about the degree to which media bias affects the content and the tenor of the news Americans receive. The answers are self-evident:

 

Do we really think that if the media elites…were overwhelmingly social conservatives instead of liberals…that the evening newscasts would fundamentally be the same? Sure, they’d still cover tornadoes and plane crashes pretty much the same way, but do we really think they’d cover abortion and affirmative action and gay rights the same way? Or would their conservatism, reinforced by their surroundings, their friends and neighbors…influence how they see the world and how they report the news?[54]

 

Had Sarah Palin, rather than Joe Biden, made any of the previously cited gaffes, errors, or dire predictions, the news media would have depicted her – even more thoroughly than they already have – as an incompetent moron, a ticking time-bomb, and everything else in between. This is to say nothing of how the late-night TV comics, who have had a field day poking fun at Palin and McCain, would have reacted. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs actually counted the number of jokes which Jay Leno and David Letterman told about the four major candidates during the five weeks immediately following McCain’s announcement that Palin would be his running mate. The totals: 180 jokes about Palin and 106 about McCain, compared to 16 jokes about Biden and 26 about Obama.[55]

Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about the distortion our media have unleashed on the American public and the disabling impact it has on national discourse.


 

[1] Summaries and analyses of most of the research cited in this article can be accessed from the Media Research Center, which does an outstanding job of documenting media bias and its many ramifications.

[2] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1981 survey of 240 journalists at top media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS; Los Angeles Times 1985 survey of 2,700 journalists at 621 American newspapers; Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1986 study of the media’s attitudes and their influence on society, as published in the National Federation for Decency’s Journal; Indiana University journalism professors David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit’s 1992 survey of 1,410 newspaper, magazine, television, and radio journalists; Stanley Rothman and Amy Black’s 1995 study of the media elite.

[3] Los Angeles Times 1985 survey of 2,700 journalists at 621 American newspapers, Op. cit.

[4] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1981 survey of 240 journalists at top media outlets, Op. cit.; Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1986 study, Op. cit.

[5] Los Angeles Times 1985 survey of 2,700 journalists at 621 American newspapers; Journalist and Financial Reporting’s 1988 poll of 151 business reporters from 30 major publications.

[6] Stanley Rothman and Amy Black’s 1995 study of the media elite.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1981 survey of 240 journalists at top media outlets, Op. cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1986 study of the media’s attitudes and their influence on society, Op. cit.; David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit’s 1992 survey of 1,410 journalists, Op. cit.; Annenberg Public Policy Center and Annenberg Foundation Trust’s 2005 survey of 673 journalists from newspapers, television, magazines, radio, and Internet; Pew Research Center’s 2008 survey of 222 journalists and news executives.

[14] Pew Research Center / Council on Foreign Relations 2005 study of 72 top journalists.

[15] Los Angeles Times 1985 survey of 2,700 journalists at 621 American newspapers, Op. cit.

[16] 1996 Freedom Forum survey of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents by Chicago Tribune writer Elaine Povich, titled “Partners and Adversaries: The Contentious Connection Between Congress and the Media.”

[17] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1981 survey of 240 journalists at top media outlets, Op. cit.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] California State University survey of reporters from the 50 largest U.S. newspapers.

[22] Los Angeles Times 1985 survey of 2,700 journalists at 621 American newspapers, Op. cit.

[23] U.S. News & World Report writer Kenneth Walsh’s 1995 study of 28 White House correspondents.

[24] Ibid.

[25] 1996 Freedom Forum survey of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, Op. cit.

[26] U.S. News & World Report writer Kenneth Walsh’s 1995 study of 28 White House correspondents, Op. cit.

[27] New York Times columnist John Tierney’s 2004 survey of 153 campaign journalists covering the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

[28] University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy’s 2005 survey of 300 television and newspaper journalists nationwide.

[29] MSNBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman’s study of the campaign contributions of 144 journalists.

[30] William Tate’s July 2008 report in Investor’s Business Daily.

[31] Bernard Goldberg, Bias (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002), p. 32.

[32] Ibid., p. 121.

[33] Journalist and Financial Reporting’s 1988 poll of 151 business reporters, Op. cit.

[34] David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit’s 1992 survey of 1,410 journalists, Op. cit.

[35] American Society of Newspaper editors 1996 survey of 1,037 reporters at 61 newspapers of all sizes nationwide.

[36] Kaiser Family Foundation 1996 poll of 301 “media professionals,” 300 “policymakers,” and 1,206 members of the general public.

[37] Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman’s 1986 study of the media’s attitudes and their influence on society, Op. cit.

[38] David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit’s 1982-83 study of more than 1,000 reporters, executives, and staffers nationwide.

[39] David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit’s 1992 survey of 1,410 journalists, Op. cit.

[40] 1996 Freedom Forum survey of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, Op. cit.

[41] American Society of Newspaper editors 1996 survey, Op. cit.

[42] Kaiser Family Foundation 1996 poll of 301 “media professionals,” 300 “policymakers,” and 1,206 members of the general public, Op. cit.

[43] Pew Research Center 2004 poll of 547 journalists and media executives, including 247 at national-level media outlets.

[44] University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy’s 2005 survey of 300 television and newspaper journalists nationwide, Op. cit.

[45] Annenberg Public Policy Center and Annenberg Foundation Trust’s 2005 survey of 673 journalists, Op. cit.

[46] Pew Research Center’s 2007 survey of 222 journalists and news executives at national outlets.

[47] Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo, “A Measure of Media Bias,” 2004.

[48] Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda Lichter, The Media Elite: America’s New Power Brokers (New York: Hastings House, 1990).

[49] Bernard Goldberg, Bias, p. 13.

[50] Ibid., p. 68.

[51] Ibid., p. 69.

[52] Ibid., p. 71.

[53] Ibid., p. 213.

[54] Ibid., pp. 119-120.

[55] Jennifer Lawinski, “Late-Night Comics Skewer Republicans 7-to-1, Study Finds,” Fox News (October 16, 2008).


John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com



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