Skip to comments.Spot the Difference [Lying Media Dissected in WSJ]
Posted on 11/12/2003 5:36:44 AM PST by Pharmboy
The release of former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg's book, "Bias," first prompted our examination of the degree to which the news media deviate from objective coverage. Mr. Goldberg wrote of how, during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, Peter Jennings consistently labeled Republican loyalists as "conservatives" or "very determined conservatives." Meanwhile, the ABC News anchor did not refer to Democratic loyalists as "liberals," treating Mr. Clinton's allies, instead, as mainstream lawmakers. So we asked ourselves, was the media's tendency to label particular senators isolated to the Clinton impeachment trial? Or is there a more pernicious generality? After a study of New York Times and Washington Post articles published between 1990 and 2002, we conclude that the problem is endemic.
We examined every Times and Post article that contained references to a senator. Specifically, we set out to reveal the treatment of the 10 most liberal and 10 most conservative senators from each congressional session. We used the Poole-Rosenthal ratings -- developed by the University of Houston's Keith Poole to illustrate a senator's ideological extremity -- to determine which senators to study. Using a reliable news database, we deployed a constant search term to uncover when news writers labeled senators conservative or liberal. For five successive congressional sessions during this time period, we documented when Times and Post reporters directly labeled Republican loyalists "conservatives" and Democratic loyalists "liberals" in their news stories. (We excluded editorials.)
The first finding of our study is consistent with the results found for media stories on institutions such as corporations, Congress or universities, namely, that most of the time the story is straightforward -- as in "senators X, Y, and Z visited the European Union Parliament." However, when there were policy issues at stake we found that conservative senators earn "conservative" labels from Times reporters more often than liberal senators receive "liberal" labels.
For instance, during the 102nd Congress, the Times labeled liberal senators as "liberal" in 3.87% of the stories in which they were mentioned. In contrast, the 10 most conservative senators were identified as "conservative" in 9.03% of the stories in which they were mentioned, nearly three times the rate for liberal senators. Over the course of six congressional sessions, the labeling of conservative senators in the Washington Post and New York Times occurred at a rate of two, three, four and even five times as often as that of liberal senators (see chart nearby). It appears clear that the news media assumes that conservative ideology needs to be identified more often than liberal ideology does.
Classification of United States senators as liberals or conservatives
New York Times Washington Post
Congress % Lib % Con % Lib % Con
102nd 3.87 9.03 2.04 6.00
103rd 3.18 10.80 2.48 7.31
104th 3.08 8.03 1.90 5.40
105th 5.54 11.95 2.13 6.28
106th 3.71 12.73 2.28 5.52
107th 4.43 6.67 3.68 7.21
Sources: David Brady and Jonathan Ma
The disparity in reporting was not limited to numbers. Times reporters often inject comments that present liberals in a more favorable light than conservatives. For instance, during the 102nd Congress, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa was described in Times stories as "a kindred liberal Democrat from Iowa," a "respected Midwestern liberal," and "a good old-fashioned liberal." Fellow Democrat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts received neutral, if not benign, identification: "a liberal spokesman," and "the party's old-school liberal." In contrast, Times reporters presented conservative senators as belligerent and extreme. During the 102nd Congress, Sen. Jesse Helms was labeled as "the most unyielding conservative," "the unyielding conservative Republican," "the contentious conservative," and "the Republican arch-conservative." During this time period, Times reporters made a point to specifically identify Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Sen. Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire as "very conservative," and Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma as "one of the most conservative elected officials in America."
We have detected a pattern of editorialized commentary throughout the decade. Liberal senators were granted near-immunity from any disparaging remarks regarding their ideological position: Sen. Harkin is "a liberal intellectual"; Sen. Barbara Boxer of California is "a reliably outspoken liberal"; Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois is "a respected Midwestern liberal"; Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York is "difficult to categorize politically"; Sen. Kennedy is "a liberal icon" and "liberal abortion rights stalwart"; and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey is a man whose "politics are liberal to moderate."
While references to liberal senators in the Times evoke a brave defense of the liberal platform (key words: icon and stalwart), the newspaper portrays conservatives as cantankerous lawmakers seeking to push their agenda down America's throat. Descriptions of conservative senators include "unyielding," "hard-line" and "firebrand." A taste of Times quotes on conservatives during the period of 1990-2000: Sen. Nickles is "a fierce conservative" and "a rock-ribbed conservative"; Sen. Helms is "perhaps the most tenacious and quarrelsome conservative in the Senate, and with his "right-wing isolationist ideology" he is the "best-known mischief maker." Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is "a Republican hard-liner"; Sen. Robert C. Smith is "a granite-hard Republican conservative"; Sen. Gramm takes "aggressively conservative stands" and has "touched on many red-meat conservative topics," as "the highly partisan conservative Texan"; Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas is "hard-core conservative," "considerably more conservative . . . less pragmatic," "hard-line conservative . . . one of Newt Gingrich's foot soldiers," and "a hard-charging conservative"; Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas is "a staunch conservative"; and Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho is "an arch-conservative."
This labeling pattern was not limited to the Times. Liberal and conservative senators also received different treatment from the Washington Post. Distinctly liberal senators were described as bipartisan lawmakers and iconic leaders of a noble cause. In the 107th Congress, Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland was described as "one of the more liberal senators but [with] a record of working with Republicans." Sen. Harkin was bathed in bipartisan light: "a prairie populist with a generally liberal record, although he's made a few detours to more conservative positions demanded by his Iowa constituents." Of Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, the Post said: "Though a liberal at heart, she is more pragmatic than ideological." Other liberals were lionized or cast in soft focus: "Sen. Kennedy is a hero to liberals and a major irritant to conservatives, plus an old-style liberal appeal to conscience"; Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota "was one of the few unabashed liberals left on Capitol Hill and an ebullient liberal"; Sen. Moynihan was "a liberal public intellectual."
In contrast, the Post portrayed conservative senators unflatteringly. Republican loyalists were often labeled as hostile and out of the mainstream. In the 107th Congress, Senators Gramm and Nickles were dismissed as a "conservative Texan" and "conservative Oklahoman" respectively. Post reporters regarded Sen. Smith as an idiosyncratic conservative, militantly conservative, and a conservative man in a conservative suit from the conservative state of New Hampshire. Other Republicans were characterized as antagonists: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is "a hard-line GOP conservative"; Sen. Kyl is "a combative conservative"; Sen. Helms is "a cantankerous, deeply conservative chairman," "a Clinton-bashing conservative," "the crusty senator from North Carolina," "the longtime keeper of the conservative flame," and "a conservative curmudgeon."
Our preliminary results for other papers -- USA Today, the San Diego Union Tribune, the Los Angeles Times -- reveal similar patterns to those described above. The major exception is The Wall Street Journal and even here the labeling of conservatives to liberals is a little less than 2 to 1. The effect of these findings on senators' re-election, fund raising and careers is little understood, but the relationship is complicated. However, one can conclude fairly from this survey that conservative senators, consistently portrayed as spoilers, are ill-served by the political reporting in two of the leading general-interest newspapers of the United States. Liberals, on the other hand, get a free pass. If this is not bias, pray what is?
Mr. Brady is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of political science at Stanford, where Mr. Ma is a senior in economics.
FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. NOT FOR COMMERCIAL USE. COPYRIGHT THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
[Sorry--but I could not get the table to read as easily as I would have liked--but you can still get the point]
It is building toward a tsunami aginst the media elites.
I think I'm under-represented!
I hope the WSJ considers this post an ad for their fine journalism and they increase their subscription base from Freepers.
Certainly it is necessary, but IMHO not sufficient.
After you have seen enough evidence to satisfy you that there is "bias in the media," the question naturally follows, "What is to be done?" And that question cries out for an analysis of, "Why does 'bias in the media' exist?"
I reached that stage twenty years ago. I started this thread two years ago to get people to challenge my thinking on the issue to help me clarify my opinion on the matter. I am far more interested in clarifying why the problem exists, and what remedies can prudently be attempted, than any other topic which is frequently discussed.
Unfortunately, the people generally have access to broadcast but not always to cable. The effect is strong--and it is not an accident but an effect of government censorship.
Seriously, I don't know that there is anything that can or should be done about the inequities in major US newspapers. Some papers are going to be conservative and some liberal, just as in the past some were Democrat, some Whig. The Washington Post has the legal right to represent the Imperialist, Stalinist, Trotskyite, Nazi, or left-liberal viewpoint. If we start restricting their ability to print whatever stupidity they wish, the next time they get into power--and they will get into power again--they will have the legal firepower to restrict ours.
What I find interesting and disturbing is that the liberal bias sells. You'll notice that the Washington Times, which is a fine newspaper offering a satisfying accumulation of right-wing columnists and news stories written from the right-wing perspective, can't compete with the Washington Post. Even many conservatives I know read the Post and not the Times. The Times could not survive economically if it didn't have financial backing. Its subscription rates are low and its ad pages a joke.
The fact is that cities, where major US newspaper pick up their subscribers and generate ad revenues, are located in cities, are bastions of Democratic strength. If there's a way to combat this demographic I can't think of it.
I agree that bias in the broadcast media is a much more serious issue, particularly in taxpayer funded sources like NPR. But I am at a loss to know how to alter or regulate this. As long as journalism schools keep graduating lefties and the American public keeps buying their work, left-wing bias is going to be a problem.
Easy, when a democratic government has the power to control property, all it takes to control the marketplace is to manipulate public opinion. Control of communications media to consolidate political forces becomes the means to control the factors of production and the key to the control of wealth.
There's a reason they call it, "our democracy."
This is why so many of these media outlets are conglomerately owned. Like Walmart, they can accept losses in this area when the business is bolstered elsewhere. The news is a tool to them, not a business. If they really cared about ratings and viewership, they would learn something from FNC.
If they are not willing to do something to correct this, they will deserve the disgust and ridicule they receive from the American people.
Too bad most of them aren't bright enough to know how much they are being laughed at.
Speaking of casualities in Iraq, as a former Marine I like to make this comparison. More Marines and Navy personnel died in the first hour on Iwo Jima during WWII then have been KIA in Gulf War I (Desert Storm) and the the Irag conflict to date. This includes all branches of the U.S. military and coalition forces in both conflicts.
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