Conservative Bias in the Liberal Media

Perception of liberal bias in the media has grown in the last several years. According to a September 2003 Gallup Poll 45% of the American public thinks the news media is too liberal while only 14 % think it’s too conservative. This perception doesn’t accurately reflect reality. Some of the mainstream news media is clearly liberal. The New York Times is a fine example. For instance, an article in May titled “Darwin-Free Fun For Creationists,” clearly took a mocking tone toward the religious dinosaur theme park it described. Furthermore, the Times war coverage has far less hawkish and far more skeptical than most other news outlets. The bias, though, is subtle and sophisticated. A liberal perspective is endorsed through article placement and strategic writing. Support for the liberal position is never stated overtly, but is sometimes implied. A reader can therefore read the Times and still come away with conservative interpretation of the news. By comparison, the position of New York’s other newspaper, The Post, is never subtle. The paper’s war reporting has been at least pro-war and at most jingoistic (i.e. using the rhetorical language of the Bush administration in articles and Iraq headlines that read like action movie slogans). To the Post’s credit I don’t think it makes much of a claim to non-partisanship.
A somewhat similar situation exists in cable news networks. CNN is considered by most to be centrist, while Fox, the news station that laughably claims to be “fair and balanced”, is staunchly on the right. A recent Maureen Dowd article claims that eighty percent of Fox News viewers believed: W.M.D. had been found, that Al Qaeda and Iraq were tied, or that the world had approved of U.S. intervention in Iraq. Misconception among viewers of other networks was significantly lower.
The situation in radio is no different. NPR catches a lot of slack for its supposed liberal bias. Admittedly many of the stations hosts are openly liberal off the air. However, their work on radio displays a genuine effort to balance left with right in order to facilitate probing and insightful discussion. In his nightly show On Point Tom Ashbrook works as a moderator, not a pundit, when he bridges conversation between commentators and callers on both sides of the issues. Here in Massachusetts the other major talk radio station is 96.9 FM Talk. With a few notable exemptions the station’s personality lineup is a list of far right rabble-rousers. From 1 PM to 1 AM it features Bill O’Reilly, Jay Severin, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity. Each of these caustic conservatives uses their time to deliver liberal bashing monologues and answer calls from listeners who either agree completely or occasionally offer an opposing opinion, which is crushed by the belligerent host. Whatever you may think of NPR, it cannot be argued that 96.9’s Bill O’Reilly and NPR’s Teri Gross, whose shows air simultaneously, provide an equal right/left balance.
My point, finally, is not that the media is too conservative or too liberal, or that conservative bias exists in greater quantity than liberal bias. The point is that they both exist throughout the media and to unequivocally call the news too liberal is to ignore the fierce conservatism that has an equal, if not greater, presence in the press.

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