Media Bias

I've been sitting here trying to think of how I can explain the significance of media bias -- and what bias itself really is. I think a lot of people misunderstand its meaning. In fact the only reason I understand it as well as I do is because I've been on the receiving end of media bias. And once you understand how it works, once you accept its reality, your entire perspective on the news changes. And you're much more selective about how you get your news.

Plain ole' bias -- not liberal or conservative, just bias -- is inevitable in life. All of us affect others by the manner and speech we use. However, some people are far more affected than others by what they hear and can't be objective. Some people want to hear what they want to hear in order to rationalize their own views; others are able to adapt to new information more easily. Most people -- no matter which way they lean politically -- agree that people shouldn't be biased. The problem is recognizing it. Many people don't even realize they are biased.

This is the main point of Bernard Goldberg's book, Bias -- which is about liberal bias in the media. Most of the mainsteam media do not believe they're biased, nor can we claim their bias is purposeful. That is, those who comprise mainstream media -- which include all the major television networks, large publishing houses, and the magazine industry -- are not knowingly pulling the wool over your eyes. The problem is actually worse than that. It's their arrogance. Arrogance is the reason why these folks can't see their bias -- because they truly, honestly believe their views are the correct and only way to view the world. The right way. The good way. The moral way. This is the theme of Goldberg's book.

Bias isn't only found in the media; it also plagues our college campuses and public schools. Just like most journalists on network television, the vast majority of college professors are liberal. By their own description, 72% of those teaching at American colleges and universities are liberal and 15% are conservative. The disparity is even more pronounced at the elite schools (Harvard, Princeton, etc.), where 87% are liberal and 13% are conservative.

Now you might think, So what? You can't control which way people lean when they take these jobs. This is true, of course; but here's the problem. The people who take these positions are enormously influential. Their careers are different from others in that they have a responsibility to not let their bias show. Let me give you an example.

When I was in college at Boston Univerity (a typical bastion of liberal groupthink), I had a class in which students were responsible for teaching the class on a particular subject. (We were studying to be teachers.) One of my classmates, a male, "taught" the class something pertaining to American history -- I can't remember the subject, but it was controversial -- and he was so effective because by the end of his spiel I had no idea what he personally thought about the subject. I remember being frustrated because I wanted to know what his opinion was, but I never got it. And I recall thinking this is what it means to be educated: to hear the facts -- and then make up your own mind.

When you're in a position of power -- as teachers, professors, Hollywood stars, and journalists are -- you have an added dose of responsibility not to influence America to your way of thinking. When you do, you succeed in having negative influence over people who are too lazy to do their own research. Which brings me back to yesterday's post.

Generally speaking, strong-minded liberals get their information from the biased sources I mentioned above. They read Time magazine; they watch CBS, NBC, and ABC; they watch The View; the watch late-night television; and they read their city's newspaper. They don't get their news from talk radio (unless it's NPR), The Wall Street Journal, or reputable Internet sites. Consequently, all the news they receive is coming from the mouths of liberals -- liberals who feel no shame in showing their bias. (Think ABC news anchor George Stephanopoulos being moved to tears at the Inauguration.)

Now here's the confusing part. When liberals hear this argument, the response is, "Well, conservatives get their information from conservative sources, so what's the difference?" There's a big difference, actually. I agree that it's possible to be conservative and biased -- if you listen exclusively to Rush Limbaugh, for example -- but the opposite of liberal bias in the media isn't conservative bias. News anchors are supposed to report the news. That's it. Their opinion is of no consequence -- so if they have strong opinions and can't hide them the way my former classmate did, they shouldn't enter the field of journalism. As for Rush, Sean, and Laura, it is not their job to report the news objectively. They do report information you would never hear on the six o'clock news -- which is why it's good to listen to them -- but they're supposed to give their opinion. That's what a commentator does.

Commentators and news anchors do not have the same job, so it is our job to understand the difference when we choose how we're going to get the news. If I turn on Sean Hannity I don't expect to get hard news with no angle. When I read a newspaper, I do. The problem is that 99% of all newspapers are biased, which is why my husband and I only read The Wall Street Journal. When I read a magazine, it's going to be a magazine most people haven't heard of -- b/c all the major magazines are biased. And if I listen to 97.1 radio (known to be "conservative"), I always offset it with NPR. As for the Internet, all you need is the Drudge Report. It's so comprehensive, offering newspapers and columnists that lean both right and left, that you're bound to have to do your own thinking.

In the end, the point is this. Liberal bias exists everywhere you look today -- television, movies, magazines, the publishing industry, college campuses, and public education -- and it's so insidious people don't realize its effect. It's like what I describe about early motherhood in my mommy blog: At first you're shocked, then you gradually conform to the new idea (because what choice do you have?) and then you forget about it entirely. After a while you don't even see it. You must open your eyes, and you must read and listen to the right stuff. Only then can you form an honest opinion. I highly recommend Bill O'Reilly. And if you believe he's biased, I would challenge you to prove it. Most people who claim O'Reilly is biased have never even listened to him. They either hate his arrogance and can't get past it, or they don't want to find out he may not be biased.

Then they'd have to listen to him.

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