Thursday, May 12, 2005

Media Bias

According to right-wingers, the media MUST have liberal bias because (ready?) they use the word "conservative" more than they use the word "liberal."

I'm not kidding. They actually said that.

From Media Matters:

MRC studies that "prove" media's "liberal bias" collapse under scrutiny

Two recent "studies" by the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, shine a bright light on the questionable techniques and absurd assumptions that guide the MRC's attempts to "prove" its claim that "liberal bias" is rampant in the U.S. news media. Looking through a funhouse mirror that renders everything -- even the facts themselves -- as manifestations of insidious bias, the MRC had no trouble finding what it was looking for.

MRC research director Rich Noyes summarized a May 9 "study," titled "Extreme Conservatives vs. Unlabeled Liberals," as follows:

In the six months since November's elections, network reporters have zeroed in on "conservatives" -- especially "religious conservatives" -- as an energized and unwelcome force in American politics. As TV told it, George W. Bush won re-election because of strong support from "social conservatives" and would pack the courts with "conservative" judges. It was "conservatives" who pushed Terri Schiavo's right-to-life case, and "conservatives" like Tom DeLay and John Bolton were embroiled in controversy.

It's true conservatives have been making a lot of headlines, but even as the networks painted the right side of the spectrum as ideological, and even a tad fanatical, reporters rarely used ideological terms to define liberals. Since Election Day, network reporters branded politicians or groups as "conservative" 395 times, compared to 59 "liberal" labels, a greater than six-to-one disparity.

The basic premise of this "study" -- that if there are more mentions of the word "conservative" than the word "liberal" in a given period, then the news must be "biased" against conservatives -- is so ridiculous that a fourth-grader could pierce its logic.

If precisely the same number of actual conservatives and liberals had been discussed in the news, and conservatives had been identified as such while liberals hadn't, the MRC might have a legitimate gripe (though even this criticism would presume, as the MRC seems to, that "conservative" and "liberal" are inherently derogatory terms). But the real reason there are more mentions of "conservatives" than "liberals" is obvious: there has been more news about conservatives. In the wake of the Republican electoral victories, conservatives both in and out of government are wielding influence and getting more attention. One can't help suspecting that if the results of the MRC's Nexis searches had turned out the opposite of what they did, the MRC would be alleging that the greater repetitions of the word "liberal" showed that conservatives were outnumbered in the media.

Indeed, as Media Matters for America has documented, the news media have granted conservatives more opportunities than liberals to speak in a wide variety of network news forums. On NBC, Meet the Press consistently features imbalanced panels that favor conservatives; interviews on the Today show in April featured three times as many conservatives as liberals; and 19 Chris Matthews Show panels skewed right in 2004, while only 7 skewed left. In the 15 weeks following the 2004 presidential election, the CBS Evening News featured 65 clips of Democratic officials or commentators representing progressive organizations and 83 clips of Republican officials or commentators representing conservative organizations, not including President Bush; and on January 19, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer acknowledged that CBS' Face the Nation hosted more Republican than Democrat guests since the presidential election. Media Matters has noted imbalances in cable news coverage of political events as well, including the 2004 presidential debates and the inauguration.

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