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 Myths Debunked:
The Liberal Media



The media do not have a liberal bias.  Conservatives even admit it, when they're being honest.

The Most Biased Name in News, Seth Ackerman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, August 2001

“Years ago, Republican party chair Rich Bond explained that conservatives' frequent denunciations of ‘liberal bias’ in the media were part of ‘a strategy’ (Washington Post, 8/20/92). Comparing journalists to referees in a sports match, Bond explained: ‘If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is “work the refs.” Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack next time.’”

The Liberal Media, RIP, Eric Alterman, The Nation, March 13, 2000

“Bill Kristol, perhaps the most honest and intelligent conservative in Washington (excluding, of course, that funny, friendly, charming McCain fellow). ‘The press isn't quite as biased and liberal. They're actually conservative sometimes,’ Kristol said recently on CNN. If Chris missed that one, he might have come across a similar admission by Kristol offered up in the spring of 1995. ‘I admit it,’ Kristol told The New Yorker. ‘The whole idea of the 'liberal media' was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.’”

Spinning Populism In American News Media, Norman Solomon, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, undated

“‘The truth is, I've gotten fairer, more comprehensive coverage of my ideas than I ever imagined I would receive,’ [Patrick] Buchanan acknowledged in March 1996. He added: ‘I've gotten balanced coverage and broad coverage -- all we could have asked.’”

The Nation

What Liberal Media?

by Eric Alterman

Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match--either in size, ferocity or commitment--for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.

In a careful 1999 study published in the academic journal Communications Research, four scholars examined the use of the "liberal media" argument and discovered a fourfold increase in the number of Americans telling pollsters that they discerned a liberal bias in their news. But a review of the media's actual ideological content, collected and coded over a twelve-year period, offered no corroboration whatever for this view. The obvious conclusion: News consumers were responding to "increasing news coverage of liberal bias media claims, which have been increasingly emanating from Republican Party candidates and officials."

The right is working the refs. And it's working. Much of the public believes a useful but unsupportable myth about the so-called liberal media, and the media themselves have been cowed by conservatives into repeating their nonsensical nostrums virtually nonstop...

What the studies show

Who's On the News?: Study shows network news sources skew white, male & elite, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 2002:

“A study of ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News in the year 2001 shows that 92 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male and, where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.”

Label Whores, Geoffrey Nunberg, The American Prospect, May 6, 2002:

“[T]here was a discrepancy in the frequency of labeling, but not in the way [Bernard] Goldberg [author of Bias] -- or for that matter, I -- assumed. On the contrary, the average liberal legislator has a better than 30 percent greater likelihood of being given a political label than the average conservative does. The press describes [Barney] Frank as a liberal two-and-a-half times as frequently as it describes [Dick] Armey as a conservative. It labels [Barbara] Boxer almost twice as often as it labels [Trent] Lott, and labels [Paul] Wellstone more often than [Jesse] Helms.”

Media Mythology: Is the Press Liberal?, Robert Parry,, 1997:

“When the Freedom Forum studied the relationship between the Washington news media and Congress, the press foundation tossed in what it considered a throwaway question to the reporters: How had they voted in 1992?…

“Of the 130 respondents, 89 percent said they had voted for Bill Clinton. Only seven percent had supported George Bush…

“To try to clear up this mystery, we contacted Kenneth Dautrich of the Roper Center, the polling firm that handled the Freedom Forum's data…

“The Freedom Forum survey gave much greater weight to the voting choices of reporters from small publications who have next to no influence in the nation's capital. These work-a-day reporters rarely, if ever, appear on TV and their stories concentrate on the hum-drum actions of local members of Congress, not on national affairs.

“It may be interesting that a large percentage of modestly paid reporters from small- to mid-sized dailies favored Clinton over Bush. But there is little evidence that those presidential preferences translated into soft media treatment of Clinton or into especially tough handling of Bush or the GOP congressional majority.”

Examining the "Liberal Media" Claim, David Croteau, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Sociology and Anthropology, (archived at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), June 1998:

“The findings include:
·  On select issues from corporate power and trade to Social Security and Medicare to health care and taxes, journalists are actually more conservative than the general public.
·  Journalists are mostly centrist in their political orientation.
·  The minority of journalists who do not identify with the ‘center’ are more likely to identify with the ‘right’ when it comes to economic issues and to identify with the ‘left’ when it comes to social issues.”

The reality

Price of the 'Liberal Media' Myth, Robert Parry,, January 1, 2003

“[T]he larger fallacy of the liberal media’ argument is the idea that reporters and mid-level editors set the editorial agenda at their news organizations. In reality, most journalists have about as much say over what is presented by newspapers and TV news programs as factory workers and foremen have over what a factory manufactures...

News organizations are hierarchical institutions often run by strong-willed men who insist that their editorial vision be dominant within their news companies. Some concessions are made to the broader professional standards of journalism, such as the principles of objectivity and fairness.

But media owners historically have enforced their political views and other preferences by installing senior editors whose careers depend on delivering a news product that fits with the owner’s prejudices. Mid-level editors and reporters who stray too far from the prescribed path can expect to be demoted or fired. Editorial employees intuitively understand the career risks of going beyond the boundaries.

These limitations were true a century ago when William Randolph Hearst famously studied every day’s paper from his publishing empire looking for signs of leftist attitudes among his staff. And it is still true in the days of Rupert Murdoch, Jack Welch and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.”

The Rightward Press, E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, December 6, 2002

It took conservatives a lot of hard and steady work to push the media rightward. It dishonors that work to continue to presume that -- except for a few liberal columnists -- there is any such thing as the big liberal media. The media world now includes (1) talk radio, (2) cable television and (3) the traditional news sources (newspapers, newsmagazines and the old broadcast networks). Two of these three major institutions tilt well to the right, and the third is under constant pressure to avoid even the pale hint of liberalism. These institutions, in turn, influence the burgeoning world of online news and commentary.

Big media pushes news to the far right, San Francisco Examiner, undated:

“The biggest lie fed the American people by conservative pundits is that the United States is dominated by the ‘liberal media.’ As if Rupert Murdoch, Michael Eisner, General Electric, Time-Warner AOL and Viacom are owned and operated by liberals.

“Not only are these folks ultra-conservatives, but the people they hire to voice their opinions are so far to the right, they give independent journalism a dirty name. No, my friends, the corporate media is in the hands of right-wing kooks parading as moderates and pushing the political envelope further and further to the right.”

The Phantom Liberal Media, Jack F.K. Bungart, Vallejo Times-Herald, January 5, 2002:

“If there is in fact a liberal media, it sure has been taking a lot of time off.

“Where was it during the Clinton years? Long before Monica, the press went after the Democratic, supposedly liberal president with a vengeance that took even longtime Washington observers -- many of them Republican -- by surprise.

“Where was it during Clinton's alleged runway haircut fiasco early in his first term? Or the supposed destruction of the White House by departing Clinton staffers? Both stories, widely reported as fact, have since been convincingly rebuked.

“Where was it during Campaign 2000 [see below], after which two separate -- and non-partisan -- study groups determined that George W. Bush, not Al Gore, received the more glowing, less critical headlines and coverage?

“Where was it when Gore was mocked mercilessly for supposedly claiming to have invented the Internet? Or be the subject of ‘Love Story’? Neither actually happened, but hoo boy, the Beast knows good copy when it sees it.

“Where was it during the Condit feeding frenzy, when one look at a 24-hour cable channel made it look like -- lack of any real evidence be damned -- the Democratic congressman would be indicted any second on murder charges?

“Where was it during the lazy, dismissive coverage of the follow-up to the Florida recount, which attempted to tidily wrap up what was as murky a mess as ever?

“How odd it is that the whine against the so-called liberal media seems to always come from the same ever-expanding conservative media that buries presidents before inauguration day, acts as if the art of politicians blocking legislation only happens on one side of the aisle and loosely throws around murder accusations as if they're passes during touch football games.”

Mr. Bush Catches a Washington Break, John F. Harris, Washington Post, May 6, 2001:

“Are the national news media soft on Bush? The instinctive response of any reporter is to deny it. But my rebuttals lately have been wobbly. The truth is, this new president has done things with relative impunity that would have been huge uproars if they had occurred under Clinton. Take it from someone who made a living writing about those uproars.”

How The '90s Boom Was And Wasn't Covered, Michael Dolny,, July 23, 2002:

“If anything, watching Wall Street’s ongoing meltdown and our shrinking net worth should help us recognize that the glaring bias in news, especially on economic issues, is a conservative one that allowed the current financial crisis to simmer below the surface until it boiled over into its current chaos.

“Both print and broadcast media have practiced in recent years an uncritical, if not reflexive, cheerleading of CEOs, mergers and acquisitions, the latest earnings, and deregulation. That hardly amounts to a liberal bias. This conservative, pro-corporate propagandizing has been the dominant tone for some time, although the still-unfolding corporate accounting scandals have cracked this veneer…

Maybe conservative propagandists such as Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg should start complaining about a liberal public instead of a liberal media.

Some research on the 2000 election:

Confirmation that the media reported more on tactics than on issues in the 2000 presidential campaign

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST? A Content Study of Early Press Coverage of the 2000 Presidential Campaign, Project for Excellence in Journalism

Confirmation that the media reported more favorably on George Bush than Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election

CNN Crossfire

Are Conservative Groups Setting the Agenda for Everyone's News?

Aired November 27, 2002 - 19:00   ET

BEGALA: Let me get to this point that Bernie raised as well, which is how -- and Gore made this point in the interview, which was in the "New York Observer" that came out today -- how then this right wing critique, starting in places like Limbaugh and at the lard butt sort of end of things with Limbaugh, then kind of seeps its way into the mainstream? And let me show you the proof. This is the point that Bernie was making.

We had our -- my assistant, Josh Cowan (ph), who is a brilliant young man, look up on Lexus Nexus, comparing the mainstream media's coverage of Bush and Gore on a variety of issues. Let me give you a few statistics.

There were exactly 704 stories in the campaign about this flap of Gore inventing the Internet. There were only 13 stories about Bush failing to show up for his National Guard duty for a year. There were well over 1,000 stories -- Nexus stopped at 1,000 -- about Gore and the Buddhist temple. Only 12 about Bush being accused of insider trading at Harken Energy. There were 347 about Al Gore wearing earth tones, but only 10 about the fact that Dick Cheney did business with Iran and Iraq and Libya…

The Last Lap: How the Press Covered the Final Stages of the Presidential Campaign, Project for Excellence in Journalism

GORE MEDIA COVERAGE -- PLAYING HARDBALL, Jane Hall, Columbia Journalism Review

A Sustained G.O.P. Push to Mock Gore's Image, Alison Mitchell, The New York Times  

The Media Is the Mess, Robert Parry,  

Easily provable lies about Al Gore that most mainstream media reporters repeated over and over again as though they were true

Al Gore v. the Media,

Truth Be Told, Washington Post

Gore's too-willing executioners,

Gore In Context (Google cache, archived at

Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times on Gore and on Bush

Katharine Seelye continued her nonsense right through the campaign's final weekend, Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler

When Seelye spent a week reporting on Bush, that "cynicism" cleared up real fast, Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler

Puff piece disguised as a news article:
President Is on Vacation, Mostly Not Taking It Easy, Katharine Q. Seelye, The New York Times

Rick Berke of The New York Times on Gore

Berke embellished some tales and he beat on Gore’s mom, Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler

Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post on Gore

Ceci Connolly keeps milking those Gore farm chores--for quite a bit more than they’re worth, Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler

Conducting "random" interviews with town hall survivors, Ceci Connolly got across favorite points, Bob Somerby, The Daily Howler

Confirmation that Tim Russert used Bush campaign opposition research material against Al Gore

This May Be a Pre-Mortem of the 2000 Campaign, Time

Confirmation that Jack Welch influenced and favored Tim Russert, and that he chewed out Claire Shipman for being too easy on Gore

THE WELCH-RUSSERT CONNECTION, Media Whores Online (scroll down)

Wrongdoing by George Bush that was hardly covered, if at all

Bush Questions,

Political leanings of media moguls

What Are the Politics of Network Bosses?, Jim Naureckas, Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR)

GE’s political influence

General Electric and Corporate Political Influence, GE Workers United

GE’s illegal activities

Felons On The Air: Does GE's Ownership of NBC Violate the Law?, Sam Husseini, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

GE Misdeeds,    

The Case Against GE, Multinational Monitor (almost the entire July/August issue was devoted to GE wrongdoing)

Jack Welch in the newsroom on election night

NAMES & FACES, Washington Post

NBC in jam over election coverage, Pamela McClintock, Variety (Interesting date on this article—September 11, 2001)

Congressman Talks on NBC, Welch, Yahoo! News, Associated Press

Andrew Lack’s refusal to turn over tapes of Jack Welch in the newsroom on election night

Henry Waxman’s letter to Robert Wright, Henry Waxman

Lack: Videotape Fuss Is Finished, Ted Hearn, TVinsight 

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Last changed: December 13, 2009