One of the most persistent fallacies in media culture is that there is a leftward bias in the “Mainstream” Conventional Media. That mantra is sung from every sector ranging from the expected misinformers like Bill O’Reilly to the button down suites of CNN. It has never been true, and is even unreasonable on its face. Why are so many people ready to accept the nonsense that giant, conservative corporations like Time Warner (CNN) or General Electric (NBC) are thick with liberals?
The Los Angeles Times has now published a story on a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University that confirms that the liberal bias myth is just that. The CMPA conducted a study that was more than the shallow query as to the quantity of coverage or whether viewers and reporters were considered to be liberal or conservative. They did a content analysis to assess what was actually being broadcast. They found that…
“…ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign.”
The content breakdown revealed that 28% of the on-air statements about Obama were positive and 72% were negative. Compare that to McCain for whom 43% of the statements were positive and only 57% negative.
This is consistent with previous studies that measure content. The Project for Excellence in Journalism did a study that showed that, while there was more time spent on Democrats, it was time spent mostly disparaging them:
“…nearly two-thirds of the election coverage (61%) was specifically about candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. This was nearly three times those that focused on Republican candidates (24%). Another 13% dealt with both parties. […] conservative talkers, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage were the most Democratic focused of all – 75% of their time … and only 13% focused mainly on Republicans.”
So while there was more “coverage” of Democrats, that extra focus really only translates into more time bashing them. It was conservative programs that were the most heavily weighted toward coverage of Democratic candidates, and they weren’t saying nice things.
It’s good to see some authoritative reporting on the disparity of ideologies in the news, but the Times author, James Rainey, found himself unable to resist propagating another myth about the media propensity for bias:
“Such pronouncements, sorry to say, tend to be wrong since they describe a monolithic media that no longer exists. Information today cascades from countless outlets and channels, from the Huffington Post to Politico.com to CBS News and beyond.”
Indeed there are more sources for news than in the past, but most of them are still owned by, or otherwise affiliated with, the Monolithic Media Rainey says no longer exists. The truth is that most Americans still get the majority of their news from five multinational coprorations with conflicts of interest bulging from their seams. Until that issue is examined and resolved, the remaining myths will continue to be spread and believed.