Bias in the News Media from Pew Research
Stephen Colbert had it right, “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”
Rachel Madow went one better. “Facts have a liberal bias.” Bias, in this sense, means “preference”. Madow infers that a liberal bias is an ethical, honest, and preferable position.
Bias, as defined by Pew Research, can also mean “prejudicial opinions.”
I was surprised by the 2012-13 Pew survey about bias in the news media. Fox News did not come in last place for content and first place for bias. How could that be? As Pew’s survey of cable news networks indicated, CNN coverage was most balanced, next came Fox and far last came MSNBC. Contrary to Fox’s long time bragging, they were not first in “fair and balanced” reporting. Well, I knew that.
My liberal bias had me convinced that Fox News was by far, the most biased cable news outlet. It seemed to me that Fox newscasters were always in synch, used the same stories, same phrases, and even the same words, as if they received identical marching orders each morning. Their scripts seemed to demand they under report positive stories about Obama and liberal successes. And then, they seemed to over report Conservative success and ignore Republican blunders; at least, that’s what I thought.
You might ask, what makes me an expert? Nothing, except a very annoying habit I have. I watch all three news cable channels every night and force my wife to find another TV, or she forces me to find another TV. I hate to watch commercials, it’s time wasted. So when one comes on I immediately switch cannels. If I find something of interest, I watch that for a while even if it is a conservative attack on a liberal cause or politician. My wife refuses to watch Fox News due to what she considers its bias reporting. I, on the other hand, want to watch everything even if it tees me off.
With such puny credentials, I hardly know how to reply to the negative findings by the esteemed Pew survey about my favorite channels MSNBC and CNN. How could I have been so wrong? Must I admit that Fox News was fairer and less bias than MSNBC? Was Fox, the big time bias network, actually better than my favorite cable station, I felt sick.
For the last several days I have given this conundrum much thought and have come up with what I think, is a reasonable answer, or answers. Domestic and world events happen independently of American politics unless they are actually events about American politics. After news happens, each network news manager labels it conservative, neutral, or liberal and then decides on which they will report on and how much airtime to give the item. We know, all the networks have a bias and are controlled by biased managers and owners. Common sense tells us that even if viewers cannot find balanced news on any single channel, they can easily balance their news by switching channels as I always do. I recommend it.
A graphic way of rating all news outlets is to rank all news stories by whether they might favor left (liberal) or right (conservative) philosophies. And then, rank all news outlets in positions according to how much coverage they gave each news story. PBS would occupy a neutral position in the middle surtrounded by NBC, CBS and ABC. On their moderate left would sit MSNBC and CNN; on the extreme right, all by its lonesome, would sit Fox News.
Imagine someone from another planet is watching cable news several days after Obama’s victory. All the channels are bashing the Republicans for screwing up so badly and praising the Democrats for running a stunning campaign. The news on those days might be 100% in favor or Democrats and 100% critical of Republicans. This alien might suppose that all the networks are pro Democrat/liberal and anti Republican/conservative, but of course they are not, they were only reflecting the news as it was.
Imagine this alien statistician has a chart listing all the human rights issues of 2012-13, such as, access to abortions, birth control availability, voting rights, deportation of aliens, gay rights issues, etc. He (it) then analyzes how each cable news network reported them. He (it) finds that Fox News interviewed ten times as many anti civil rights personalities and expressed ten times as many negative editorial opinions about these civil rights issues than the other networks. He (it) finds that CNN and especially MSNBC not only interviewed more pro civil rights advocates than Fox, they also aired more editorial opinions than Fox supporting these civil rights issues. In addition our alien noticed that those interviewed on Fox tended to misrepresent the truth frequently without correction or comment by Fox interviewers. Interviewers on the other channels were skeptical of those who misrepresented the truth and they editorialized against those who lied or took contradictory stances on issues. But not Fox. Its newscasters seldom challenged misrepresentations and lies. At least, that is my impression.
What opinions might our alien have concerning the balance and fairness of the three cable news channels? Did he (it), as Pew Research did, come to the conclusion that Fox News was more fair and balanced than MSNBC? Would He (it) conclude that the Rachel Madow Show was biased because it did not interview those with Conservative viewpoints? (Actually Conservatives and radical politicians boycott the Madow Show.) Would our alien notice that Fox News casters were unified on all issues, that all news casters had Conservative philosophies? Would our alien know that Fox hired the occasional token Liberal as a target, to be laughed at and ridiculed. Would our alien notice that MSNBC and CNN routinely hired and allowed Republican/Conservative voices to speak their minds concerning the above social issues? Would our alien record that Republican voices were always welcomed and treated with personal respect and politeness although the on-air debates were heated? Would our alien record the arrogance, self-righteousness, and rudeness of O’Reilly, Hannity, and other Fox pundits? Would our alien record the number of Pinocchio’s awarded to Fox pundits?
A recent world public opinion poll of American voters, managed by the university of Maryland, had startling results. Fox news viewers, it turns out, are significantly more dis-informed than those who got their news from other sources. The survey showed that greater exposure to fox news increases the misinformation of viewers. Previous studies from NBC and the Wall Street Journal confirmed these accusations. A few examples follow.
91% believed stimulus legislation lost jobs
72% believed the health reform law increased the deficit.
72% believed the economy is getting worse.
60% believed there is no climate change.
40% believe income tax has increased.
63% believed stimulus legislation did not include tax cuts.
63% believed President Obama is not American.
When confronted with the above poll results, Fox News vice President attacked the University of Maryland as being unreliable because it was the top party school in the nation. He claimed, “Its study cannot be taken seriously.” The truth of the matter is different: Unfortunately, University of Maryland is only 19th on the list of America’s Top Party Schools, but is taking steps to improve its ranking. And, more importantly, University of Maryland is ranked among the best North Eastern Universities.
On Fox News, Obama has been accused of falsifying his birth certificate, being a closeted atheist, a communist, a Nazi, an Arab, and a Muslim. Fox News has a policy of not correcting such statements and providing opportunities for Obama bashers to disseminate their lies. What other cable news provides opportunity for Ann Coulter to spew her hateful lies about Democrats and Obama? No other cable News will tolerate her.
I can only conclude that obviating and misrepresenting social justice issues and news events is tantamount to committing crimes against society. Freedom of the press allows such misconduct to continue, but the general public should be made aware of the consequential dangers it faces. The average American should be able to discriminate between deceptive journalism and accurate and socially sensitive journalism. Unfortunately, average Americans are uninformed and frankly uninterested in such issues. The recent Pew Research confuses the public by casting doubts about the integrity and quality of MSNBC, and CNN cable newscasts. True, all cable news networks are bias to some extent, but Fox News leads the pack in appealing to emotion and false interpretations of the news.
Right and wrong, truth and falseness depends upon one’s perspective, and whose ox is being gored. If our alien had an understanding of social issues and their importance to the success of a society, he (it) would have no trouble in concluding Fox News represents a greater danger to its viewers than other cable news outlets, by intentionally and consistently misrepresenting facts.