Saturday’s Washington Post included a story dismissing the public for believing the media has a bias, complete with the headline “Public has its own biases about media.” It sounded like a twist on "I Know You Are, But What Am I?" Media reporter Paul Farhi argued studies finding an increased perception of the media favoring “one side” since 1985 are somehow dashed because professors and their studies disagree.
Farhi threw massive doubt on the assertion of bias: “But have the media really become more biased? Or is this a case of perception trumping reality? In fact, there’s little to suggest that over the past few decades news reporting has become more favorable to one party.” Farhi began by citing professor Tim Groseclose as the “strongest case” on the conservative side, then quickly dismissed him:
But that’s not the end of the story. A “meta-analysis” of bias studies — that is, a study of studies — shows something different: When all is said and done, left-leaning reporting is balanced by reporting more favorable to conservatives. “The net effect is zero,” said David D’Alessio, a communications sciences professor at the University of Connecticut at Stamford.
D’Alessio drew his conclusion from reviewing 99 studies of campaign news coverage undertaken over six decades for his newly published work, “Media Bias in Presidential Election Coverage 1948-2008: Evaluation via Formal Measurement.” The research, he says, shows that news reporting tends to point toward the middle, “because that’s where the people are, and that’s where the [advertising] money is. . . . There’s nuance there, but when you add it all and subtract it down, you end up with nothing.”
A liberal who starts out his book by attacking Richard Nixon, D’Alessio's theme is harsher : “Accusations of partisan bias in Presidential election coverage are suspect at best and self-serving at worst. They are generally supported by the methodology of instance confirmation, tainted by the hostile media effect, and based on simplistic visions of how the news media are organized."
Once again, Groseclose is openly and correctly identified as a conservative, and the liberal is presented as merely an academic who can bring facts to shut down media-bias complaints. The story denying liberal bias only underlines liberal bias.
Farhi then lists reasons (or excuses) why the public may be misled into thinking the media's more one-sided, like blogs: "There’s more media and more overtly partisan media outlets, too. The Internet has given rise to champions of the left — Huffington Post, Daily Kos, etc. — as well as more conservative organizations such as Drudge and Free Republic. This means your chance of running into “news” that seems biased has increased exponentially, elevating the impression that 'bias' is pervasive throughout all parts of the media."
Farhi is simply guessing here -- that the public can't distinguish between "news media" and blogs and opinionated prime-time shows on cable. But if he thinks today's "objective" media is trying very hard to keep opinions out of their reporting, he's simply not reading or watching his colleagues.
This story also leaves a misleading impression about the relative age of the media watchdog groups:
Long ago, a few watchdog groups, such as the conservative AIM (Accuracy in Media) and its more liberal counterpart FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), kept an eye on reporters’ work. Nowadays, not just politicians criticize the media for their alleged bias; an entire cottage industry exists to highlight the media’s alleged failings. This includes ideological outfits such as Media Matters for America and the Media Research Center; the satirical “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”; and blogs by the hundreds.
Dear Paul: FAIR was founded in 1986, and the MRC in 1987 (and technically, Brent Bozell's and Brent Baker's MRC was under way at the National Conservative Foundation in 1985). It's at best misleading to pair the MRC on a timeline with Media Matters, which Hillary Clinton helped start in 2004. The MRC, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, deserves to be in a "long ago" sentence.
The Post proves its liberal bias in its story about liberal bias by going to one of the most fervent reality-deniers, Eric Alterman:
All that scrutiny of the press may suggests an inescapable conclusion: There’s something wrong with the news media. All the time.
Journalists have gotten that message, too. “Reporters have heard the criticism from the right so often that they lean over backwards to be fair to them,” said Eric Alterman, a journalist, college professor and the author of the best-selling “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News.”
This preposterous argument completely apes the leftist professor Mark Crispin Miller, who was saying the same thing at the end of the Reagan years. Even here, Farhi cannot describe Alterman with an ideological label, a socialist who writes for The Nation magazine.
Here's the big picture: the liberal media may not be more biased to the left today than it was in the of Reagan's tenure in 1985, but that's not the point. The point is the public is smart/jaded enough to realize now that the liberal media can't pretend not be liberal -- and yet, they keep pretending. Farhi's piece reads like "there's little to the idea we're more biased than we were in 1985 -- and we were denying it, then, too."