Media Political Bias ~ Time for the Return of Public Funding for Public Broadcasting

Should we be at all surprised that conservatives complain about “liberal” media bias while liberals complain about “conservative” bias on Fox?

opaI’m in the midst of an email debate with my Libertarian son over this media bias issue. He claims that FoxNews is fair and unbiased while all the other news sources are liberally biased. He has based his argument primarily on the fact that more people tune-in to Fox for their news and commentary than any other source. I, of course, disagree. I think that the Fox network is biased to the political right while most of the rest offer more balanced reporting. How- ever, MSNBC, in my opinion, is probably as far to the left as Fox is to the right. An April 22d 2009 Pew Research Center polling of public opinion on criticism of President Obama substantiates this view. But, should we be at all surprised that conservatives complain about “liberal” media bias while liberals complain about “conservative” bias on Fox?

Bias reporting by news media sources in the United States is inevitable, appealing as they do to their market share of the viewing/ reading public. This quote by Bill Moyers of Public Broadcasting fame speaks volumes to this.

“I’m going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee. We have an ideological press that’s interested in the election of Republicans and a mainstream press that’s interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we do not have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people.”

The bottom line Bill Moyers was talking about is, of course, money. People buy and will pay for what confirms their already held biases. So I think Walter Cronkite would have endorsed Moyers’ perspective considering how news reporting has changed since he was in the business and set, along with the old, publicly funded Public Broadcasting System, high standards for honesty and objectivity. But is Fox really fair and unbiased as my son claims, or is it as Bill Moyers has suggested, an agent for Republican National Committee political propaganda?

Consider the following Cable News (only) ratings published by Nielsen for 15 July 2009.

FNC – 1,252,000 viewers
CNN – 720,000 viewers
MSNBC –419,000 viewers
CNBC – 230,000 viewers
HLN – 327,000 viewers

Okay, now let’s do the math. FNC (FoxNews) had 1,252,000 viewers whereas the total for the rest of the cable news group was 1,696,000, a difference of 444,000. Add to that difference the number of others who tuned-in to the broadcast stations, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, et al. However many more were the number of people watching all these other sources of news and comment, oh I don’t know, but for the sake of argument let’s say that they totaled approximately the same number that chose cable news networks other than Fox, those that I believe to be the more moderate to liberal. That means the totalnumber watching other than Fox news programing is maybe 3,392,000. So, 37 percent watched the only right-wing source of news and comment available while 63 percent preferred more liberal reporting. That figure tracks fairly close to the 32 percent who still consider themselves to be Republicans and 68 percent who are Democrats or Independents. Interesting, no?

Yes, as my Libertarian son has pointed out to me, Fox News gets high ratings from Nielson for the numbers of viewers compared to the other news sources. But this is because Republicans, Libertarians and right-leaning independents have nothing else to watch. All the rest of us are dividing our patronage between NBC, CBS, PBS, ABC and the more balanced to liberal cable news networks.

I have provided my son with a media bias report published by Professor Jeff Milyo of the Economics Department of Stanford University, a report the professor claims is scheduled for publication soon in the Economist magazine. Professor Milyo has concluded that there is media bias. No surprise here, right? But his study concludes that only the Fox network is biased to the right. All the rest are more moderate to liberal-leaning. Why? Well, perhaps the truth more often lies somewhere to the left of what Fox reports and most journalists want to get at the truth. You may download a copy of the professor’s report for yourselves at http://ideas.repec.org/p/umc/wpaper/0501.html. True, one can always find a “think tank” report that supports either side of an argument, and there is lots of “opinion” out there. So, perhaps a better measure of a news network might be the number of journalism awards they get. The National Headliner Awards in 2008 went to:

 Best Newscast

First Place: NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
Second Place: CNN – Anderson Cooper 360
Third Place: NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

 Coverage of a Major News Event

First Place: CNN
Second Place: CNN
Third Place: CNN

Continuing Coverage of a Major News Event

First Place: CNN
Second Place: NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
Third Place: CNN

Notice that Fox got none, neither did my favorite, ABC. Maybe that was because Fox is as far to the right as ABC is to the left. Could it be? But if you’re still not convinced, here’s an interesting and entertaining little video about the FoxNews network and biased political reporting during the 2008 national election campaigns.

I watch a lot of CNN at home during the day when school is out for summer break, which drives my wife crazy on the weekends when she is also home. I listen to it via Sirius Radio in my car when my wife is not riding with me. In the evenings, if she is home from work in time, we both like to watch ABC News with Charles Gibson. We really like Charlie. Sunday after church, we always watch This Week with George Stephanopoulos together. But based on the number of awards that Brian Williams gets for his Nightly News program on NBC, perhaps we ought to alter our viewing habits a bit. But I am convinced that restoring public funding for PBS would be in the best interests of a well-informed public.

Please feel free to comment indicating your personal media preference.

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Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 8:49 am  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is your libertarian-leaning son (I’m a registered independent, foreign based expat, btw.. and yes, I voted for Bob Barr). Yet again you’ve misquoted me, taking my (what one might have thought as private friends and family) comments out of context.

    I see libel litigation coming.. OMG, raise taxes!

    I never said Fox News was “un-baised.” Never. Cut me some slack and dish me some dignity here on-line, will ya? By its very nature, all media has bias!

    To correct your quote, I said that [given a choice because I no longer get the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer], I prefer Fox News because I believe it is more fair and “balanced” than the rest of the liberal-leaning news channels. Yes, I’m using FNC’s own slogan. So sue me.

    And yes, I did mention overwhelming support in viewer ratings for Fox News.. in order to further validate that there is another legitimate voice and audience out there (for which you think simply spreads dis-information). It was not to prove an un-biased opinion, mind you.

    The fact is that the latest data indicates Fox News Channel has more total viewers and even more young viewers than both MSNBC and CNN combined. That was my point. It occupies the Top 10 spots on all cable news. That further legitimizes my point.

    I referenced a UCLA study, and I quote, “Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center.” And I also referenced the University of Missouri at Columbia’s resource which concluded that we’d have to watch twice as much of Fox’s ‘Special Report’ as we do both ABC’s ‘World News’ and NBC’s ‘Nightly News,’ in order for things to balance to the so-called center. So both those references help legitimize my argument even further, for better balance.. watch a bit of FNC.

    Perhaps ABC and NBC’s undying love for big government elitism, federally mandated redistribution of wealth, Michael Jackson investigation updates, and our overseas contingency operations, is your preference. Fine. It’s not mine.

    While it is your own free blogosphere to criticize, a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs did actually judge FNC to provide more “fair and balanced” coverage of the 2008 U.S. Presidential race than all three major networks.

    Don’t believe conservative think tanks! They’re all crooks! Raise taxes!

    Finally, I also referenced Pew Research when I first commented on my own general feelings of the press. Below are a number of recent studies, including those from Pew, that I believe still support my long-standing argument that one should always question the liberal news media:

    August 2008: Pew Finds Media Credibility Plummets to All-Time Lows

    August 2008. Rasmussen: ‘55% Say Media Bias Bigger Problem than Campaign Cash’

    July 2008. Rasmussen: Many More See Pro-Obama Than Pro-McCain Bias

    June 2008. Pew: Many Recognize Media’s Pro-Obama Bias, Democrats Prefer CNN

    Feb. 2008. Rasmussen: Only 24% Have Favorable View of NY Times, 44% Unfavorable

    Jan. 2008. Sacred Heart University: Americans Slam News Media on Believability

    Nov. 2007. Harvard’s JFK School: Twice as Many See Media as Too Liberal [than] Too Conservative

    July 2007. Rasmussen Poll: By 2-to-1, Nets Biased to Left; FNC Less Biased

    August 2007. Pew: Most See Media as Liberal, More Trust Military than Media

    Now just for that I’m going to watch 3x as much Fox News Channel this week.

    OMG! They’re corrupting our minds! All these Fox viewers are causing an increase in Co2 levels! Tea Party! Raise taxes! I best go to the emergency room, my gut hurts from laughing at the distorted figures on Fox – and I have no insurance to pay!

  2. For referring to you as my “Libertarian” son with a big L and misquoting you, I apologize. Yes, you did say, “most unbiased,” and “most fair,” while I, with the slip of a few rhetorical keystrokes, dropped the adjective, “most”. I hope that my apology will deter your threatened liable suit (wink, wink, smiley face).

    Perhaps what most upset you was not what I said in my article so much as how I said it. We, after all, are in agreement that there is bias in all sources of news and commentary. We are also in agreement that most, if not all, sources are biased to the left of Fox.

    I responded to another reader who commented on media bias elsewhere on my blog. He suggested that Fox’s heavy conservative bias is justified and necessary to balance the liberal bias of all the other networks. I said, “There is no valid public need for a source of consistently skewed information, whether skewed to the left or to the right. Appealing to the mindsets of people, confirming their biases in pursuit of ratings, creates more and more division — the right from the left — and Americans need more than ever these days to come together as Americans.

    As to why all cable, broadcast and print sources of news and commentary are assessed by Professor Milyo’s study to be moderate (balanced) or liberal-leaning, well, I stand by my opinion that it’s because the truth is found more often somewhere left of what Fox reports. Good journalism is, after all, about seeking the truth and most journalists, I believe, want to be good journalists. As Walter Cronkite, who was the most trusted man in America, once said, “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.” Therefore, I admit to the fact that The World According to Opa is largely Playboy.

  3. Well, what I suggested it that the very leftward bias of the current mainstream media created a need for “the other half of the story” which Fox provides. If the media were objective, there would be no place or need for another news network.

    Kudos to Tommy’s points and references, and to you, Kent, for admitting that most of the media is, let’s say, left of center. My point is that all media, other than opinion/commentary, should be center of the road; objective, if you will.

    It speaks to the innate political orientation of the country that it takes all that leftward leaning media to convince a bit more than half the country that liberalism is right (no pun intended).

    Another very important point is that the sheer crush of “not rightward” media (CNNMSNBCABCCBSPBSNPR vs. Fox) virtually ensures that the more casual viewer will turn on the TV to a left of center broadcast. Is that choice? No. If you don’t get cable, do you have access to Fox News. No. Maybe Fox News Sunday, but nothing else. I know. I don’t have cable. Would more of these viewers watch Fox if given a chance or see it a few times? Indisputably.

    And don’t forget about the newspapers, even though they are steadily and rapidly losing circulation. Most papers are left leaning as well, especially in one paper towns. How is that useful in light of “getting the truth out?”

    If “consistently skewed news” is abolished, then you won’t have any news at all. That is a damn shame.

    And don’t forget that most journalists will admit that they are liberals. Maybe that number is different at Fox. It would be interesting to see.

    Wasn’t Cronkite one of the guys fighting the windmill farm off of Cape Cod? Personal interest trumping environmental correctness? 😉

  4. We can agree to disagree if you like.

    No, sir, I don’t think “news” needs to be skewed one way or the other to be news. Good objective reporting simply reports on what has happend and is happening. Of course, it takes good jouralistic judgment to give appropriate/balanced time to stories of importance. It is when commentary is mixed with reporting that we end up with bias in news coverage. My point is/was that we need less of the “infotainment” as seen (in my opinion) on Fox and MSNBC and more of the objectiveness that I perceive on CNN. But maybe my perception is skewed by looking through my “liberal” lenses.

    My posting contains my theory for why most news media is liberal-leaning.

    Opa

  5. With what do you disagree, specifically?

    I don’t think news should be “skewed” either way, but if telling the other half of a story is skewed, then so be it. I didn’t say it “needed to be skewed” but a compensatory network would be perceived as such by comparison. Omission of facts,

    “Good objective reporting simply reports on what has happend and is happening.” Precisely. I would love to see a return to that.

    By the way, is that the same Bill Moyers that is raking in millions from sales of video etc., created on a publicly funded, nonprofit network? Surely you don’t use Moyers as an objective source?

    “…But his study concludes that only the Fox network is biased to the right. All the rest are more moderate to liberal-leaning. Why? Well, perhaps the truth more often lies somewhere to the left of what Fox reports and most journalists want to get at the truth.”

    Now that is both funny and telling! If journalists wanted to “get at the truth” they would report it. You admit that they do not do so. The fact that you state that Fox reporters don’t want to get at the truth because it does not fit your stated left leaning script. See how easy bias is?

    And with a 24/7 news cycle, at least on cable, where they are working hard to fill that time, there is no need for “journalistic judgment” (where the particular omission of a story can be just as biased as a skewed perspective) to balance the time required to adequately, objectively, and completely cover a story. Network news, obviously not, although we could really cut back on the Michael Jackson reporting.

    Hear, hear to less infotainment!

  6. Regarding the video excerpt, is Fox “pushing a topic” because other media outlets choose to ignore a biased action, or simply reporting? While Kelly was definitely overbearing, Burton didn’t really defend his points too well, and failed to note that the non-Fox media was almost obsequious in its coverage of Obama. If they dissected his life one half as much as they did McCain’s or Palin’s, I might actually know something about Obama. Heck, the coverage of the “anomalies” in his donations is still untouched. Voting abuses in Ohio and New Mexico (to name a few places) were only covered by a college news network web site (http://palestra.net/news/ohio-voting).

    Now why do I hear not one iota of these issues on the “left/center” media?

  7. “With what do I disagree, specifically?” You can go through the dozen or so exchanges we have had for yourself and count the many ways.

    Yes, the same Bill Moyers. You suddenly have a problem with somebody making a money for marketing their craft? PBS doesn’t, realizing as they do that the small honorarium they pay him for his programming contributions don’t come anywhere close to what he’s worth. PBS, by the way, is no longer “publically” funded (meaning they get no funding from our tax dollars other than payment from various government agencies for services. Their funding now comes from a variety of sources – member stations’ dues, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, government agencies as I said, foundations, corporations, and private citizens like me.

    I realize that Moyers is not a right-wing favorite, but just consider his bio borrowed from Wikipedia: “Recipient of the 2006 Lifetime Emmy Award, “Bill Moyers has devoted his lifetime to the exploration of the major issues and ideas of our time and our country, giving television viewers an informed perspective on political and societal concerns,” according to the official announcement, which also noted, “the scope of and quality of his broadcasts have been honored time and again. It is fitting that the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honor him with our highest honor – the Lifetime Achievement Award. He has received well over thirty Emmys and virtually every other major television-journalism prize, including a gold baton from the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, a lifetime Peabody Award, and a George Polk Career Award (his third George Polk Award) for contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, including a doctorate from the American Film Institute.”

    Opa

  8. Sorry you didn’t like the video. I thought it was great. I can’t say that Kelly’s behavior is typical for Fox reporters as I never, ever watch FoxNews. I would just as soon attend a Republican National Convention. But what was more revealing was the evidence it contained to corroborate claims that Fox actually manufactures political controversy for and on behalf of the RNC. Nobody will ever convince me that the tax day Tea Parties were entirely spontaneous gatherings as some of my conservative friends claim.

    Really? You don’t believe that Obama’s past was dissected as much as McCain’s during their campaigns. Get real, Dr. Dinsdale.

    Opa

  9. My point is that Moyers is as biased in his opinions (or more so) than you claim Fox is. I am surprised he didn’t pull the Nobel out from under Gore (or Arafat). Are those awards given by the same leftward leaning media outlets you described earlier? Being the antithesis of Fox doesn’t make him unbiased or correct in his notions.

    The “dissection” of Obama? For starters, I refer you to the issues in my latter post which you summarily dismissed. Maybe you can convince me that they were “spontaneous” bits of corruption. Variety had this tidbit: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117994881.html?categoryid=1064&cs=1 Still waiting for that coverage. You also did not comment on the Palestra.net coverage.

    I honestly don’t know what political outlook Variety has, but the story references the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which claims to be “non partisan, non ideological and non political.”

    Just curious: if you “never, ever watch FoxNews,” how do you come by your assessment of it?

  10. Like I said, I know Moyers is not the darling of the political right. I quote him because I believe his views and his works come closer to the truth than someone the measure of John Stossel. I like John and his style on ABC’s 20/20, but consider him to be a lightweight. It seems obvious to me that ABC keeps him around primarily so they can claim bias balance. George Will… now there’s an example of a contemporary journalist heavyweight. But most journalists, I suspect, aspire to emulate people like Moyers. Afterall, journalism is a “liberal” art (that’s a pun by the way).

    According to the Pew Research Center,
    http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2004/cyb20040524.asp , there are five times as many journalists who are left-leaning than right-leaning. This, to me doesn’t necessarily say they are biased. It just says that they see things as they really are and report what they see.

    I will respond to that which I have time for, sir, and to that to which I chose. Sorry, but sometimes loose patience with your arguments. Let’s put the history of the Presidential campaign behind us.

    I did not say that I have never watched FoxNews. I said, or at least I meant to convey that I do not now watch FoxNews now and never “again” intend to. It may be the only thing playing someday while I’m waiting for my connecting flight, so I might be subjected to it. But, hey — y’ever notice that air terminals all have their monitors tuned to CNN? I wonder why that is…

    Opa

  11. Sorry you are losing patience. I will go “bother” someone else. Thanks for your time.

    Best wishes.

    P.S. I quoted your post (On July 21, 2009 at 5:09 pm Opa Said:) where you said “I can’t say that Kelly’s behavior is typical for Fox reporters as I never, ever watch FoxNews.” That’s what the quotation marks are for. I guess if you can deny that, you can deny anything.

    Give my regards to Tommy.


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