April 05, 2006

Censoring the Left, Not the Right: More Evidence of Right-Wing Bias in the Media

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MoveOn.org is putting out a new spring offensive of ads, gearing up for the November midterm elections. Their new lineup focuses on what appears to me to be an effective thrust: that Republican politicians have been caught red-handed in inappropriate behavior. The ad series (viewable here)accuses four Republican House members (Chocola, R-IN; Drake, R-VA; Johnson, R-CT; and Pryce, R-OH) of taking contributions from Big Energy lobbyists and then voting against the interests of the American people in favor of energy giants. On the MoveOn.org site, each commercial is backed up by citations of contributions received and specific votes on energy bills by the four House members. The commercials then associate the four Republicans with Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, and Jack Abramoff as other Republicans "caught red-handed."

The four ads are without question negative attack ads. But there are no rules against that, and the ads are clearly backed up by evidence. They are, in effect, perfectly justifiable political ads. The associations with DeLay, Cheney, and Abramoff are somewhat indirect, but entirely valid so far as a party association is claimed.

However, two NBC affiliates, one in Ohio and another in Connecticut--where two of the four Republicans are based--are refusing to run the ads. The stations are not yet responding except to say that they consulted with lawyers and they consider themselves responsible for the content of ads presented by "third parties," suggesting that they feel the content of the ads is not accurate. MoveOn responded by claiming that the same stations ran Swift Boat attack ads in 2004 without comment on their deceptiveness, that the implication that the MoveOn ads were inaccurate are unsupported and incorrect, and pointed out that the two affiliates are owned by G.E., a Republican-leaning corporate giant.

While I can't confirm that these stations ran Swift Boat ads, it seems likely, considering the national saturation of the ads. I certainly do not recall hearing of any station refusing to run Swift Boat ads, though there were attempts to block ads for Fahrenheit 9/11, and two radio stations refused to run Media Matters ads criticizing Rush Limbaugh; attempts were also made to block all MoveOn.org ads in 2004, though the effort failed.

The new MoveOn ads are being accepted by 33 other TV stations in the four markets, but that is simply an indication that they are following fairness standards; a refusal to run completely legal and well-sourced opinion ads is just as clearly a sign that the two stations in question are executing political bias inconsistent with fairness standards.

While there are often attempts to block left-leaning ads as exemplified above, when was the last time any you ever heard of media outlets even trying to block right-leaning ads, especially when the facts involved were not in question?

I've posted on this a lot because there's a lot of evidence, visible almost every day, that a conservative bias permeates the media. Fox, of course, is always biased, and strongly so, but then CNN is all too often guilty (examples here, here, here, and here), as well as other outlets (examples here, here, here, and here).

The fact of the matter is, claims of liberal media bias have never been substantiated. They are based upon a single study claiming that 60% of reporters are, in their personal lives, left-leaning. No evidence whatsoever has shown that any personal bias has seeped into the stories these reporters cover. That's it. That's the entire factual basis of the claim that there is a "liberal media." Dan Rather is held up as some sort of liberal icon because of the National Guard story, without mention that Rather was an ardent cheerleader for Bush in the Iraq War and himself admitted that he did not question Bush as much as he felt would have been appropriate. Without mention that Rather also ran with stories about Clinton pushed by Republicans. Or that most other reporters would have run with the Guard story as well--that the sensationalism of such a story was the draw, not the political leanings of it.

The fact also exists that while 60% of reporters may lean left, reporters do not decide the pieces they run with or the overall tone of their stories--this is decided by editors and publishers. And editors and publishers are, by a two-thirds majority, right-leaning. I explore that issue in this post from 2003, and point out that a vast majority of television and radio pundits, who are outspokenly biased, are not just conservative, but strongly so. This study shows that Republican guests are favored on political talk shows. And here I discuss the reasons for claiming that there is a liberal bias in the media even though the bias is clearly conservative. In short, claiming that the media leans left will make outwardly conservative bias appear mainstream.

There's not even any question on the matter. Claims of liberal bias are absurd and unsupported. Evidence of conservative bias are everywhere to be found. Now, am I biased? Hell, yes. But I am backing up what I say with evidence. So is MoveOn.org, with the citations backing up their ads. Bias can make you say unfair things, but if you have evidence that you are right, then bias means nothing. Right is right.

Posted by Luis at April 5, 2006 06:33 PM

Bias can make you say unfair things, but if you have evidence that you are right, then bias means nothing. Right is right.

Well, with the provision that you can't be selective about your evidence. If you cherry pick studies that seem to say what you want while ignoring those that suggest otherwise, then you're not being unbiased.

That said, the whole "the media is biased" thing has always bugged me. It was a tremendously successful move for the Republicans; it led to Fox News being formed and now being the only news source that some people trust.

Yet anyone who's even halfway fair or moderate would easily agree that Fox is the WORST offender when it comes to presenting "fair and balanced" viewpoints.

It's probably too late to easily and effectively combat the "media is biased" idea. To do so will require a massive amount of fighting. It's probably easier to just create a new network that emphasizes itself as being "the Truth".

Air America strikes me as an attempt at that, but since it's already going and hasn't emphasized it (instead, it's unabashedly partisan), it probably won't be able to become the progressive answer to Fox News.

Instead, I think the best way would be for Air America to keep doing what it does- serve as the counterbalance for the Rush Limburger types.

And we need to figure out either a campaign to promote existing media as being honest and truthful (which, by implication, will hose Fox as being lying liars) or we need to start a new news network that is "The Truth" and which goes ahead and does news, Fox-style, but by progressive people.

This runs counter to progressives's mindset, which (as we're more moral people) has distaste for being deceitful and dishonest. The wackos like O'Reilly and the people running Fox News have absolutely zero qualms about calling themselves "fair and balanced" while they're anything but.

Progressives, on the other hand, have personality quirks- like honesty, openness, and a belief in the goodness of people- that make it hard sometimes to win this kind of battle.

Still, it's got to be done, because if nobody fights the good fight, the Bush nitwits of the nation are going to lead us right down the drain.

Seattle, WA

Posted by: Paul at April 6, 2006 05:36 AM