Should we be at all surprised that conservatives complain about “liberal” media bias while liberals complain about “conservative” bias on Fox?
I’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 NewscastFirst 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 EventFirst Place: CNN Second Place: CNN Third Place: CNN
Continuing Coverage of a Major News EventFirst 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.