6.09.2005

interesting take on media bias

This is the first time that I've heard someone propose an explanation as to why both the left and the right tend to impugn the media. It's long, so here's the interesting part:

Brian Dominick: There is no objective "bad" or "good." The problem with bias in media is not that it exists, since it is inherent. A bias that can be called “good” to one reader will be “bad” to another. Maybe I want a pro-corporate bias in the news, because I am a stockholder or an executive. Why shouldn’t I have news with that bias? At the same time, a blue collar worker might wish to see another bias in the news. If I am a Christian conservative, I will probably want to see a conservative, Christian bias in the news. Why shouldn’t I? As for those who don’t already have biases, where are these people?

The problem with bias, instead, is that it is not stated. News media should be up front about their bias, but they almost never are. All news media outlets should list their influences, be they ideological or institutional. It is probably the case that both the Leftist and Rightist critics of news media are right -- and they are saying almost entirely different things. (Mind you, when I say Left I mean left of liberal. You'll almost never hear liberals complaining about the news media because, frankly, it's just about right for them much of the time, with the exceptions of Fox News, The New York post and AM talk radio, which pretty much no one contends are "leftist"or even liberal.)

The Left says there are institutional pressures--mostly having to do with corporate ownership and sponsorship, plus affluent audience bases in order to sell advertisements at higher premiums, etc.--that inexorably push all media in rightward direction. Leftists say the pressure is on corporate media outlets to be pro-capitalism, pro-markets and pro-profits, as well as tailored toward upper middle income brackets and above, or extremely massive popular markets below those brackets. How could they not be?

Reliant as it is on wealthy stockholders, sponsors and underwriters and their markets, how could the media be anything but generally favorable to those interests? Corporations and the government would not sponsor news media hostile to their interests -- they would fire any producers or editors who did not toe a pro-corporate line in the newsroom.

Meanwhile, the Right points out that most journalists are liberals, at least socially, and that is almost certainly true. They keep much media coverage to the left of conservatism, but even if they were so inclined, their owners and sponsors keep them from pushing anywhere to the left of liberalism, which has historically proven unsafe territory for the status quo of any society. That's why on so many stories that have only a modest effect on the corporate bottom line, such as gay rights and abortion, there is often a discernible liberal bias in the mainstream. If these stories aren't threatening to profits and market share, let the reporters have some leeway. Throw them a bone.

This all generally maintains a liberal bias at many institutions -- a bias that can be mislabeled as "leftist" and decried by the far Right -- which just so happens to perfectly serve elite interests. While the media are cow-towing to corporations (largely by being corporations themselves, remember!), conservatives are making largely convincing cases to the public (and using extraordinary funding to do this), that the media are something those critics call "leftist." By proving that the media are in fact largely liberal--as if liberal equals leftist--they convince a great many Americans that the media are too liberal, even fringe. Any leftist who stops to think about the matter would probably agree: the media are too liberal, indeed! Oddly, about half the recognized political spectrum lies to the left of liberal.

What is really strange is how this debate always boils down to the bias of journalists, which puts even decent journalists on the defensive, instead of about the bias of institutions. Corporate conglomerates, unprecedented in their massiveness and social power, are behind the news we consume every day. Yet somehow we manage to get distracted into this debate about whether the journalists themselves are biased?

There's an 800 pound gorilla in the room with the reporter, but we focus on the reporter. Is it really conceivable that these giant corporations are leaving their public interface--their power to influence the public and write history--in the hands of the reporters at the very bottom of the hierarchy? Are we really so naive as to think corporations wouldn't in any way take advantage of the opportunity to use such power in their own interests?









5 comments:

Andrew said...

This article is an example of why the curriculums of institutions of higher learning need to be diversified away from the same tired and discredited Marxism. In order for Brian Dominick to argue that liberal bias is countered by an even more pervasive corporate bias, he must resort to the lazy and discredited marxist argument that those who have capital are conservative.

The Left says there are institutional pressures--mostly having to do with corporate ownership and sponsorship, plus affluent audience bases in order to sell advertisements at higher premiums, etc.--that inexorably push all media in rightward direction. Leftists say the pressure is on corporate media outlets to be pro-capitalism, pro-markets and pro-profits, as well as tailored toward upper middle income brackets and above, or extremely massive popular markets below those brackets. How could they not be?

This claptrap may go unchallenged within the stagnant realm of academia but a cursory examination of available demographics does not show any correlation between political identification and capital ownership. Here’s a Pew study analyzing national political identification:

(http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/242.pdf)

III: Demographics, Lifestyle and News Consumption
…Enterprisers and Liberals – whose political opinions mix no better than oil and water – have a surprising amount of common ground both economically and educationally. These groups are the wealthiest and best educated in the typology. Roughly four-in-ten Enterprisers and Liberals (41% each) have annual household incomes of
at least $75,000.


Furthermore, if one was simply to look at the CEO’s (which are elected by shareholders remember) of the top five us media organizations you’ll see that with exception to Fox and NBC(GE) all are headed by individuals that actively supported the Kerry campaign.

1. Time Warner: Gerald M. Levin = liberal
2. Viacom: Sumner Redstone = liberal
3. Newscorp: Rupert Murdoch = conservative
4. Walt Disney: Michael Eisner = liberal
5. NBC(GE): Bob Wright = conservative

He’re another list of corporate leaders that actively supported Kerry in the last election.
(http://www.sptimes.com/2004/08/05/Business/Business_leaders_for_.shtml)

The argument that corporate news bias favors one side of the political spectrum over the other is simply outdated Marxist ignorance.

little dan said...

Two things. I agree that there is always a bias behind a story. It would have been great for Brian Dominick to have stated his bias some where in the article. (And he may have as the post was just an exerpt.)
Second, I'm glad he made a distinction between 'liberal' and 'leftist'. This is just a speculation on my part, but I doubt those same CEOs would have put money behind a ‘leftist’ candidate such as Kucinich or even Dean instead of Kerry.

Andrew said...

One person’s standard bearer is another person’s wack-job. Many of the CEO’s mentioned above actively supported Kerry – who most would consider at least as “liberal” as Bush is conservative. Just because the vast majority of non-conservative corporate officers fail to publicly support the more radical wing of the party doesn’t diminish their bona fides as liberals. I certainly wouldn’t attempt to argue that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t represent conservative interests because he isn’t actively backing Santorum and Bauer.

It remains remarkable to me the increasing number of euphemisms that one must master to discuss left-of-center individuals. I really would be fascinated to know exactly what distinguishes a liberal from a progressive from a leftist. Is liberal now supposed to be a moderate leftist? It’s really beginning seem like these labels have no more validity than those found on expired bottles of milk in a convenience store repeatedly modified for sale. It’s understandable though. “Sour Milk” is just as unappealing as "uncommitted socialist.”

(Correction for my previous post: CEO’s are not directly elected. Shareholders select the board and then the board hires the corporate officers. I think my original point that corporate officer selection reflects the will of the shareholder is still valid in much the same way the selection of Tony Blair also reflects the will of the will of the British voter through the parliamentary process.)

Joe said...

I think liberal connotes a certain position on "values" issues, while "leftist" connotes an economic orientation. Obviously, these terms are often used interchangeably for convenience sake.

Andrew said...

Actually I didn't know this until I got curious and looked it up but "liberal" is actually the term for the mainstream left. This is the definition for "Progressive":

(http://www.dkosopedia.com/index.php/Progressive)

1. Progressive is a characterization of political belief and practice generally to the left of liberal and to the right of Marxist, yet sharing important overlap with both.

2. Progressive is a political philosophy focused not directly on ideals but on progressing the state of culture toward supporting equity and justice for all.

3. Progressive is a political philosophy of liberalism which argues for incrementalism toward a goal in the spirit of progress over perfection. (see points in talk:)

4. Progressive is a word used by those to the left of Liberal to distinguish their political differences.


So if politics was measured on a some sort of PH scale where Socialism was 0 and unabated capitalism was 14, I guess mainstream liberalism would be around a 5 and progresivism (if thats a word) would be a 2 or a 3.