Media bias in the United States

Media bias in the United States

Media bias in the United States occurs when the media in the United States systematically presents a particular point of view. Claims of media bias in the United States include claims of liberal bias, conservative bias, mainstream bias,[1] and corporate bias.[2] There are a variety of watchdog groups that attempt to find the facts behind both biased reporting and unfounded claims of bias, and research about media bias is a subject of systematic scholarship in a variety of disciplines.[3][4]



[…]insistence on ‘balance’ is totally misleading and leads to utterly spineless reporting with no edge…I am completely exasperated by this approach to the news. The idea seems to be that we go out to report but when it comes time to write we turn our brains off and repeat the spin from both sides. God forbid we should…attempt to fairly assess what we see with our own eyes. “Balanced” is not fair, it’s just an easy way of avoiding real reporting and shirking our responsibility to inform readers.

Ken Silverstein[5]

Before the rise of professional journalism in the early 1900s, and the conception of media ethics, newspapers reflected the opinions of the publisher. Frequently, an area would be served by competing newspapers taking differing and often radical views by modern standards.[6]

In 1728 Benjamin Franklin, writing under the pseudonym "Busy-Body", wrote an article for the American Weekly Mercury advocating the printing of more paper money. He did not mention that his own printing company hoped to get the job of printing the money. It is an indication of the complexity of the issue of bias when it is noted that, even though he stood to profit by printing the money, Franklin also seems to have genuinely believed that printing more money would stimulate trade. As his biographer Walter Isaacson points out, Franklin was never averse to "doing well by doing good".[7]

In 1798, the Congress of the United States passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which prohibited the publication of "false, scandalous, or malicious writing" against the government, and made it a crime to voice any public opposition to any law or presidential act. This act was in effect until 1801.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln accused newspapers in the border states of bias in favor of the Confederate cause, and ordered many newspapers closed.[8]

In the 19th century, many American newspapers made no pretense to lack of bias, openly advocating one or another political party. Big cities would often have competing newspapers supporting various political parties. To some extent this was mitigated by a separation between news and editorial. News reporting was expected to be relatively neutral or at least factual, whereas editorial sections openly relayed the opinion of the publisher. Editorials might also have been accompanied by editorial cartoons, which would frequently lampoon the publisher's opponents.[9]

The advent of the Progressive Era, from the 1890s to the 1920s, was a period of relative reform with a particular journalistic style, while early in the period, some American newspapers engaged in yellow journalism to increase sales. William Randolph Hearst, publisher of several major-market newspapers, for example, deliberately falsified stories of incidents, which may have contributed to the Spanish-American War.

In the years leading up to World War II, politicians who favored the United States entering the war on the German side accused the international media of a pro-Jewish bias, and often asserted that newspapers opposing entry of the United States on the German side were controlled by Jews. They claimed that reports of German mistreatment of Jews were biased and without foundation. Hollywood was said to be a hotbed of Jewish bias, and pro-German politicians in the United States called for Charlie Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator to be banned as an insult to a respected leader.[10]

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, some White Southerners[who?] stated that television was biased against White Southerners and in favor of mixing of the races. In some cases, Southern television stations refused to air programs such as I Spy and Star Trek, because of their racially mixed casts.[11]

During the labor union movement and the civil rights movement, newspapers supporting liberal social reform were accused by conservative newspapers of communist bias.[12][13]

In November 1969, Spiro Agnew, then Vice President under Richard Nixon, made a landmark speech denouncing what he saw as media bias against the Vietnam War. He called those opposed to the war the "nattering nabobs of negativism."[14]

Demographic Polling

Gallup Polls show that most Americans do not have confidence in the mass media. In 2011 a 60% majority saw a media bias, with 47% saying mass media was too liberal, 13% too conservative. Perceived bias was strongest among partisans, with 78% of conservatives reporting bias, 53% of liberals reporting bias and only 46% of moderates reporting bias. Those who view mass media reporting as "just about right" was polled at 36%, in the historic range of Gallup polling.[15][16] According to Gallup, in every year since 2002 more Americans think the media show liberal bias than think the media show conservative bias.[17]

Claims of a liberal bias

A study done by Mark D. Watts et al. found that very little liberal bias occurred during elections in the 80s and 90s, but that public perceptions of bias are associated with media discussion of the issue of news bias.[18]

Liberal bias in the media occurs when liberal ideas have undue influence on the coverage or selection of news stories.

Conservative critics of the media say some bias exists within a wide variety of media channels including network news shows of CBS, ABC, and NBC, cable channels CNN and MSNBC, as well as major newspapers, news-wires, and radio outlets, especially CBS News, Newsweek, and the New York Times.[19] These arguments intensified when it was revealed that the Democratic Party received a total donation of $1,020,816, given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), while the Republican Party received only $142,863 via 193 donations.[20] Both of these figures represent donations made in 2008.

A study cited frequently by critics of a "liberal media bias" in American journalism is The Media Elite, a 1986 book co-authored by political scientists Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda Lichter.[21] They surveyed journalists at national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the broadcast networks. The survey found that most of these journalists were Democratic voters whose attitudes were well to the left of the general public on a variety of topics, including such hot-button social issues as abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights. Then they compared journalists' attitudes to their coverage of controversial issues such as the safety of nuclear power, school busing to promote racial integration, and the energy crisis of the 1970s. The authors concluded that journalists' coverage of controversial issues reflected their own attitudes, and the predominance of political liberals in newsrooms therefore pushed news coverage in a liberal direction. They presented this tilt as a mostly unconscious process of like-minded individuals projecting their shared assumptions onto their interpretations of reality.

In a survey conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1997, 61% of reporters stated that they were members of or shared the beliefs of the Democratic Party. Only 15% say their beliefs were best represented by the Republican Party.[22] This leaves 24% undecided or Independent.

A 2002 study by Jim A. Kuypers of Dartmouth College, Press Bias and Politics, investigated the issue of media bias. In this study of 116 mainstream US papers, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, Kuypers stated that the mainstream press in America tends to favor liberal viewpoints.[23] They claimed that reporters who they thought were expressing moderate or conservative points of view were often labeled as holding a minority point of view.[23] Kuypers said he found liberal bias in reporting a variety of issues including race, welfare reform, environmental protection, and gun control.[23]

A joint study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that viewers believe that liberal media bias can be found in television news by networks such as CNN.[24] These findings concerning a perception of liberal bias in television news – particularly at CNN – are also reported by other sources.[25]

Criticism of claims of liberal bias

However, scholars Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman claim the logic in these conclusions is flawed. They state that comparing the media product to the voting record of the journalists is akin to thinking auto-factory workers design the cars they help produce. Indeed, they claim that the media owners and news makers are the ones with an agenda, and they assert that this agenda is subordinated to corporate interests that they view as often leaning right.[26]

A report "Examining the 'Liberal Media' Claim: Journalists' Views on Politics, Economic Policy and Media Coverage" by David Croteau, from 1998, calls into question the assumption that journalists' views are to the left of center in America. The findings were that journalists were "mostly centrist in their political orientation" and more conservative than the general public on economic issues (with a minority being more progressive than the general public on social issues).[27]

Cited cases


Several authors have written books on liberal bias in the media. Some examples include:

  • John Stossel wrote Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media in 2004 about what he alleged was a liberal bias in the established media.
  • Bernard Goldberg wrote Bias in 2001, in which he claimed CBS, his former employer, had a liberal bias. In 2009, he published A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media.
  • S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda Lichter wrote The Media Elite in 1986, in which journalists' political views and voting record were compared to the general public.
  • Bob Kohn wrote Journalistic Fraud, a criticism of the New York Times.
  • Ann Coulter wrote Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right in 2002, in which she claimed the American television and print news had a widespread liberal bias.
  • Brian C. Anderson wrote South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias.
  • Tim Groseclose wrote Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.

See also John Ziegler (talk show host)

Claims of a conservative bias

Analysis of the coverage of the last few weeks of the 2000 U.S. presidential election by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence In Journalism shows that "Al Gore [got] more negative coverage, but both candidates saw a deluge of negative stories.".[28]

Conservative bias in the media occurs when conservative ideas have undue influence on the coverage or selection of news stories.

Examples of conservative bias include:

  • Capitalist Model: In the United States the media are operated for profit, and are usually funded by advertising. Stories critical of advertisers or their interests may in some cases be underplayed, while stories favorable to advertisers may be given more coverage.[31][Need quotation to verify]
  • Conservative Media Organizations: Certain conservative media outlets such as NewsMax and WorldNetDaily describe themselves as news organizations, but are generally seen as promoting a conservative agenda.[32][33][34]

Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation (the parent of Fox News), self-identifies as a libertarian. Rupert Murdoch has exerted a strong influence over Fox News.[35][36]

In 2008 George W. Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan published a book in which he confessed to regularly and routinely, but unknowingly, passing on lies to the media, following the instructions of his superiors, lies that the media reported as facts. He characterizes the press as, by and large, honest, and intent on telling the truth, but reports that "the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House", especially on the subject of the war in Iraq.[37]

E. J. Dionne, Jr., Op Ed columnist for The Washington Post, writes: "For all the talk of a media love affair with Obama, there is a deep and largely unconscious conservative bias in the media's discussion of policy. The range of acceptable opinion runs from the moderate left to the far right and cuts off more vigorous progressive perspectives."[38]

Criticism of claims of conservative bias

"I challenge anybody to show me an example of bias in Fox News Channel."--Rupert Murdoch (Salon, 3/1/01)

Cited cases

Fox News

According to former Fox News producer Charlie Reina, unlike the AP, CBS, or ABC, Fox News's editorial policy is set from the top down in the form of a daily memo: "frequently, Reina says, it also contains hints, suggestions and directives on how to slant the day's news – invariably, he says, in a way that's consistent with the politics and desires of the Bush administration." [39] Fox News responded by denouncing Reina as a "disgruntled employee" with "an ax to grind."[39][39]

According to the December 18, 2010 issue of The Atlantic, "One alleged news network fed its audience a diet of lies, while contributing financially to the party that benefited from those lies. Those who work for Fox News are not working for a journalistic enterprise. They are working for the communications department of a political party." [40]

Kenneth Tomlinson and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Kenneth Tomlinson, while chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, commissioned a $10,000 government study into Bill Moyers' PBS program, NOW.[41] The results of the study indicated that there was no particular bias on PBS. Mr. Tomlinson chose to reject the results of the study, subsequently reducing time and funding for NOW with Bill Moyers, which many including Tomlinson regarded as a "left-wing" program, and then expanded a show hosted by Fox News correspondent Tucker Carlson. Some board members stated that his actions were politically motivated.[42] Himself a frequent target of claims of bias (in this case, conservative bias), Tomlinson resigned from the CPB board on November 4, 2005. Regarding the claims of a left-wing bias, Bill Moyers asserted in a Broadcast & Cable interview that "If reporting on what's happening to ordinary people thrown overboard by circumstances beyond their control and betrayed by Washington officials is liberalism, I stand convicted."[43]

Many[who?] also point to the rising tide of Talk Radio's popularity as evidence of an underlying conservative bias in the American Press.[citation needed]


Several authors have written books on conservative bias in the media, including:

Bias in foreign policy

In addition to philosophical or economic biases, there are also subject biases, including criticism of media coverage about foreign policy issues as being overly centered in Washington, D.C.. Coverage is variously cited as being: 'Beltway centrism', framed in terms of domestic politics and established policy positions,[46] only following Washington's 'Official Agendas',[47] and mirroring only a 'Washington Consensus'.[48] Regardless of the criticism, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, "No news subject generates more complaints about media objectivity than the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular."[49]

Claims of a Pro-Israel media

Stephen Zunes wrote that "mainstream and conservative Jewish organizations have mobilized considerable lobbying resources, financial contributions from the Jewish community, and citizen pressure on the news media and other forums of public discourse in support of the Israeli government."[50]

According to CUNY professor of journalism, Eric Alterman, debate among Middle East pundits, “is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel”. In 2002, he listed 56 columnists and commentators who can be counted on to support Israel “reflexively and without qualification.” Alterman only identified five pundits who consistently criticize Israeli behavior or endorse pro-Arab positions.[51] Journalists described as pro-Israel by Mearsheimer and Walt include: the New York Times’ William Safire, A.M. Rosenthal, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman (although they say that the latter is sometimes critical of areas of Israel policy); the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer and George Will;[52] and the Los Angeles Times’ Max Boot, Jonah Goldberg and Jonathan Chait.

Claims of an Anti-Israel media

Journalist Michael Massing writes that "Jewish organizations are quick to detect bias in the coverage of the Middle East, and quick to complain about it. That's especially true of late. As The Forward observed in late April [2002], 'rooting out perceived anti-Israel bias in the media has become for many American Jews the most direct and emotional outlet for connecting with the conflict 6,000 miles away.'"[53]

The Forward relates how one individual feels:

"'There's a great frustration that American Jews want to do something,' said Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. 'In 1947, some number would have enlisted in the Haganah,' he said, referring to the pre-state Jewish armed force. 'There was a special American brigade. Nowadays you can't do that. The battle here is the hasbarah war,' Youdovin said, using a Hebrew term for public relations. 'We're winning, but we're very much concerned about the bad stuff.'"[54]

Indicative of the diversity of opinion is a 2003 Boston Globe profile of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America media watchdog group in which Mark Jurkowitz observes: "To its supporters, CAMERA is figuratively – and perhaps literally – doing God's work, battling insidious anti-Israeli bias in the media. But its detractors see CAMERA as a myopic and vindictive special interest group trying to muscle its views into media coverage."[55]

A former spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said that as a result of this lobbying of the media: “Of course, a lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists, editors, and politicians are going to think twice about criticizing Israel if they know they are going to get thousands of angry calls in a matter of hours. The Jewish lobby is good at orchestrating pressure.”[56]

Claims of racial bias

Political activist and one time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray black people as "less intelligent than we are."[57]

The IQ Controversy, the Media and Public Policy, a book published by Stanley Rothman and Mark Snyderman, claimed to document bias in media coverage of scientific findings regarding intelligence quotient and race.

Research has shown that African Americans are over-represented in news reports on crime, and within those stories, they are more likely to be shown as the perpetrators of the crime than as the persons reacting to or suffering from it. This is true even when crime statistics indicate otherwise.[58]

Conversely, multiple commentators and newspaper articles have cited examples of the national media undereporting interracial hate crimes when they involve white victims as compared to when they involve black victims.[59][60][61]

Claimed effects of profit motive

Pro-government and power bias

The pressure to create a stable, profitable business invariably distorts the kinds of news items reported, as well as the manner and emphasis in which they are reported, according to Professors Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

In their book, Chomsky and Herman say that the pro-power bias occurs not as a result of conscious design but simply as a consequence of market selection: those businesses who favor profits over news quality survive, while those that present a more accurate picture of the world tend to become marginalized. They also say that several filters, such as the drive for advertising revenue and the dependency of mass media news outlets upon major sources of news, particularly the government, work to create a "propaganda model" of the mainstream media. To minimize the possibilities of lost revenue, therefore, outlets will tend to report news in a tone more favorable to the government and giving unfavorable news about the government less emphasis. The book and related works by the authors provide numerous examples of what they see as bias in the leading US media, most prominently in the New York Times.[citation needed]


Academics such as McKay, Jamieson, and Hudson[citation needed] have described private U.S. media outlets as profit-driven. For the private media, profits are dependent on viewing figures, regardless of whether the viewers found the programs adequate or outstanding. The strong profit-making incentive of the American media leads them to seek a simplified format and uncontroversial position which will be adequate for the largest possible audience. The market mechanism only rewards numbers of viewers, not how informed the viewers were, how good the analysis was, or how impressed they were.

According to some, the profit-driven quest for high numbers of viewers, rather than high quality for viewers, has resulted in a slide from serious news and analysis to entertainment, sometimes called infotainment:

"Imitating the rhythm of sports reports, exciting live coverage of major political crises and foreign wars was now available for viewers in the safety of their own homes. By the late-1980s, this combination of information and entertainment in news programmes was known as infotainment." [Barbrook, Media Freedom, (London, Pluto Press, 1995) part 14]


Kathleen Hall Jamieson claims that most television news stories are made to fit into one of five categories:[62]

  • Appearance versus reality
  • Little guys versus big guys
  • Good versus evil
  • Efficiency versus inefficiency
  • Unique and bizarre events versus ordinary events.

In these five categories, Jamieson sees a tendency towards an unrealistic black/white mentality, in which the media simplifies the world into comfortingly easily understood opposites. She says the media provides an over-simplified skeleton of information which is more easily commercialized.

Coverage of electoral politics

In the 19th century, many American newspapers made no pretense to lack of bias, openly advocating one or another political party. Big cities would often have competing newspapers supporting various political parties. To some extent this was mitigated by a separation between news and editorial. News reporting was expected to be relatively neutral or at least factual, whereas editorial was openly the opinion of the publisher. Editorials might also be accompanied by an editorial cartoon, which would frequently lampoon the publisher's opponents.[9]

In an editorial for The American Conservative, Pat Buchanan wrote that reporting by "the liberal media establishment" on the Watergate scandal "played a central role in bringing down a president." Richard Nixon later complained, "I gave them a sword and they ran it right through me."[63] Nixon's Vice-President Spiro Agnew attacked the media in a series of speeches—two of the most famous having been written by White House aides William Safire and Buchanan himself—as "elitist" and "liberal."[63] However, the media had also strongly criticized his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, for his handling of the Vietnam War, which culminated in him not seeking a second term.[64]

In 2004, Steve Ansolabehere, Rebecca Lessem and Jim Snyder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed the political orientation of endorsements by U.S. newspapers. They found an upward trend in the average propensity to endorse a candidate, and in particular an incumbent one. There were also some changes in the average ideological slant of endorsements: while in the 1940s and in the 1950s there was a clear advantage to Republican candidates, this advantage continuously eroded in subsequent decades, to the extent that in the 1990s the authors found a slight Democratic lead in the average endorsement choice.[65]

Riccardo Puglisi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looks at the editorial choices of the New York Times from 1946 to 1997.[66] He finds that the Times displays Democratic partisanship, with some watchdog aspects. This is the case, because during presidential campaigns the Times systematically gives more coverage to Democratic topics of civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare, but only when the incumbent president is a Republican. These topics are classified as Democratic ones, because Gallup polls show that on average U.S. citizens think that Democratic candidates would be better at handling problems related to them. According to Puglisi, in the post-1960 period the Times displays a more symmetric type of watchdog behavior, just because during presidential campaigns it also gives more coverage to the typically Republican issue of Defense when the incumbent President is a Democrat, and less so when the incumbent is a Republican.

John Lott and Kevin Hassett of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute studied the coverage of economic news by looking at a panel of 389 U.S. newspapers from 1991 to 2004, and at a subsample of the two ten newspapers and the Associated Press from 1985 to 2004.[67] For each release of official data about a set of economic indicators, the authors analyze how newspapers decide to report on them, as reflected by the tone of the related headlines. The idea is to check whether newspapers display partisan bias, by giving more positive or negative coverage to the same economic figure, as a function of the political affiliation of the incumbent President. Controlling for the economic data being released, the authors find that there are between 9.6 and 14.7% fewer positive stories when the incumbent President is a Republican.

According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal watchdog group, Democratic candidate John Edwards was falsely maligned and was not given coverage commensurate with his standing in presidential campaign coverage because his message questioned corporate power.[68]

A poll of likely 2008 United States presidential election voters released on March 14, 2007 by Zogby International reports that 83 percent of those surveyed believe that there is a bias in the media, with 64 percent of respondents of the opinion that this bias favors liberals and 28 percent of respondents believing that this bias is conservative.[69] In August 2008 the Washington Post ombudsman wrote that the Post had published almost three times as many page 1 stories about Barack Obama than it had about John McCain since Obama won the Democratic party nomination that June.[70] In September 2008 a Rasmussen poll found that 68 percent of voters believed that "most reporters try to help the candidate they want to win." Forty-nine (49) percent of respondents stated that the reporters were helping Barack Obama to get elected, while only 14 percent said the same regarding John McCain. A further 51 percent said that the press was actively "trying to hurt" Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin with negative coverage.[71] In October 2008, The Washington Post media correspondent Howard Kurtz reported that Sarah Palin was again on the cover of Newsweek, "but with the most biased campaign headline I've ever seen."[72]

After the election was over, the Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell reviewed the Post's coverage and concluded that it was tilted in favor of Obama.[73] "The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts." Over the course of the campaign, the Post printed 594 "issues stories" and 1,295 "horse-race stories." There were more positive opinion pieces on Obama than McCain (32 to 13) and more negative pieces about McCain than Obama (58 to 32). Overall, more news stories were dedicated to Obama than McCain. Howell said that the results of her survey were comparable to those reported by the Project for Excellence in Journalism for the national media. (That report, issued on October 22, 2008, found that "coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable," with 57% of the stories issued after the conventions being negative and only 14% being positive. For the same period, 36% of the stories on Obama were positive, 35% were neutral or mixed, and 29% were negative.[74][75]) While rating the Post's biographical stories as generally quite good, she concluded that "Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager."[73]

Various critics, particularly Hudson, have shown concern at the link between the news media reporting and what they see as the trivialised nature of American elections. Hudson [76] argues that America’s news media elections damage the democratic process. He argues that elections are centered on candidates, whose advancement depends on funds, personality and sound-bites, rather than serious political discussion or policies offered by parties. His argument is that it is on the media which Americans are dependent for information about politics (this is of course true almost by definition) and that they are therefore greatly influenced by the way the media report, which concentrates on short sound-bites, gaffes by candidates, and scandals. The reporting of elections avoids complex issues or issues which are time-consuming to explain. Of course, important political issues are generally both complex and time-consuming to explain, so are avoided.

Hudson blames this style of media coverage, at least partly, for trivialised elections:

"The bites of information voters receive from both print and electronic media are simply insufficient for constructive political discourse... candidates for office have adjusted their style of campaigning in response to this tabloid style of media coverage... modern campaigns are exercises in image manipulation... Elections decided on sound bites, negative campaign commercials, and sensationalised exposure of personal character flaws provide no meaningful direction for government".[77]

Coverage of Iraq War

A study found that in the lead up to the Iraq War, most sources were overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion.

Suggestions of insufficiently critical media coverage

In 2003, a study released by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting stated the network news disproportionately focused on pro-war sources and left out many anti-war sources. According to the study, 64% of total sources were in favor of the Iraq War while total anti-war sources made up 10% of the media (only 3% of US sources were anti-war). The study stated that "viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1."[78]

In February 2004, a study was released by the liberal national media watchdog group FAIR. According to the study, which took place during October 2003, current or former government or military officials accounted for 76 percent of all 319 sources for news stories about Iraq which aired on network news channels.[79]

On March 23, 2006, the US designated the Hezbollah affiliated media, Al-Nour Radio and Al-Manar TV station, as "terrorist entities" through legislative language as well as support of a letter to President Bush signed by 51 senators.[80]

Suggestions of overly critical media coverage

Some critics believe that, on the contrary, the American media have been too critical of U.S. forces. Rick Mullen, a former journalist, Vietnam veteran, and U.S. Marine Corps reserve officer, has suggested that American media coverage has been unfair, and has failed to send a message adequately supportive of U.S. forces. Mullen calls for a lesser reporting of transgressions by US forces (condemning "American media pouncing on every transgression"), and a more extensive reporting of US forces' positive actions, which Mullen feels are inadequately reported (condemning the media for "ignoring the legions of good and noble deeds by US and coalition forces"). Mullen compares critical media reports to the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

"I have got used to our American media pouncing on every transgression by U.S. Forces while ignoring the legions of good and noble deeds performed by U.S. and coalition forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan... This sort of thing is akin to the evening news focusing on the few bad things that happen in Los Angeles or London and ignoring the millions of good news items each day... I am sure that you are aware that it is not the enemy's objective to defeat us on the battlefield but to defeat our national will to prevail. That battle is fought in the living rooms of America and England and the medium used is the TV news and newspapers. The enemy is not stupid. As on 9/11, they plan to use our "systems" against us, the news media being the most important "system" in their pursuit to break our national will." [Rick Mullen, Letter to The Times, June 5, 2006] [81]

Bias in entertainment media

The Doonesbury comic strip, a topical daily cartoon, has often been accused of liberal bias. In 2004 a conservative letter writing campaign was successful in convincing Continental Features, a company that prints many Sunday comics sections, to refuse to print the strip, causing Doonesbury to disappear from the Sunday comics in 38 newspapers. Of the 38, only one editor, Troy Turner, executive editor of the Anniston Star in Alabama, continued to run the Sunday Doonesbury, albeit necessarily in black and white.

Doonesbury is not the first cartoon to blur the distinction between the comics and editorial cartoons. Li'l Abner by Al Capp routinely parodied Southern Democrats through the character of Senator Jack S. Phogbound ("Ain't no Jack S. like OUR Jack S!). Pogo by Walt Kelly caricaturized a wide range of political figures including Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, Robert F. Kennedy, and Eugene McCarthy. Little Orphan Annie espoused a strong anti-union pro-business stance in the story "Eonite" from 1935, where union agitators destroy a business that would have benefited the entire human race.[82]

Modern comic strips routinely take political stands. Mallard Fillmore by Bruce Tinsley and Prickly City by Scott Stantis are both proudly conservative in their views. In addition to Doonesbury, Non Sequitur often promotes liberal views and Opus also promotes political views, though those views are often somewhat blurred.


Studies done by FAIR show the majority of media citations come from conservative and centrist sources.

A 2000 meta-analysis of research in 59 quantitative studies of media bias in American presidential campaigns from 1948 through 1996 found that media bias tends to cancel out, leaving little or no net bias. The authors conclude "It is clear that the major source of bias charges is the individual perceptions of media consumers and, in particular, media consumers of a particularly ideological bent."[83]

Self-described as "the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly,[84] a study by political scientists Tim Groseclose of UCLA and Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri at Columbia. The study's stated purpose was to document the range of bias among news outlets.[85] The research concluded that of the major 20 news outlets studied "18 scored left of the average U.S. voter, with CBS Evening News, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal, while only the Fox News "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter." The study also identified the Drudge Report as "left of center". In this study, "left" and "liberal" are treated as synonyms, and are identified with think tanks cited by Congressional members of the Democratic Party, while "right" is identified with think tanks cited by Congressional members of the Republican Party. The report also states, however, that the news media show a remarkable degree of centrism, since all but one of the outlets studied are, from an ideological point of view, between the average Democrat and average Republican in Congress.

The study met with criticism from many outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,[86] and Media Matters.[87] Criticisms included:

  • Different lengths of time studied per media (CBS News was studied for 12 years while the Wall Street Journal was studied for four months).
  • Lack of context in quoting sources (sources quoted were automatically assumed to be supporting the article)
  • Lack of balance in sources (Liberal sources such as the NAACP didn't have conservative or counter sources that could add balance)
  • Flawed political positions of sources (Sources such as the NRA and RAND corporation were considered "liberal" while sources such as the American Civil Liberties Union were "conservative".)

Mark Liberman, a professor of Computer Science and the Director of Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania, has pointed out a number of statistical flaws in this study.[88][89] According to Professor Liberman, the model chosen leads to "very implausible psychological claims, for which no evidence is presented." He concludes by saying that "many if not most of the complaints directed against G&M (Groseclose and Milyo) are motivated in part by ideological disagreement – just as much of the praise for their work is motivated by ideological agreement. It would be nice if there were a less politically fraught body of data on which such modeling exercises could be explored."[88]

A 1998 study from FAIR found that journalists are "mostly centrist in their political orientation";[90] 30% considered themselves to the left on social issues compared to 9% on the right, while 11% considered themselves to the left on economic issues compared to 19% on the right. The report explained that since journalists considered themselves to be centrists, "perhaps this is why an earlier survey found that they tended to vote for Bill Clinton in large numbers." FAIR uses this study to support the claim that media bias is propagated down from the management, and that individual journalists are relatively neutral in their work.

Additional information

According to Reporters Without Borders the media in the United States lost a great deal of freedom between the 2004 and 2006 indices, citing the Judith Miller case and similar cases and laws restricting the confidentiality of sources as the main factors.[91] They also cite the fact that reporters who question the American "war on terror" are sometimes regarded as suspicious.[92] They rank the United States as 53rd out of 168 countries in freedom of the press, comparable to Japan and Uruguay, but below all but one European Union country (Poland) and below most OECD countries (countries that accept democracy and free markets). In the 2008 ranking, the United States moved up to 36, between Taiwan and Macedonia, but still far below its ranking in the late 20th Century as a world leader in having a free and unbiased press.

According to Noam Chomsky, American commercial media encourage controversy within a narrow range of opinion, in order to give the impression of open debate, but do not report on news that falls outside that range.[93]

According to David Niven, of Ohio State University, research shows that American media show bias on only two issues, race and gender equality.[94]

Accusers of liberal or conservative bias alike typically ignore the dictionary meanings of those words (as do modern political parties). In fact, in the current political discourse, the words seem to have meaning that shifts depending on point of view. The Oxford American Dictionary defines "liberal" in the political sense as "favoring democratic reform and individual liberty" and "conservative" in the political sense as "favoring private enterprise and freedom from government control".[95]

Watchdog groups

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a self-described progressive media watch group, has argued that accusations of liberal media bias are part of a conservative strategy, noting an article in the August 20, 1992 Washington Post, in which Republican party chair Rich Bond compared journalists to referees in a sporting match. "If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack next time."[96] Media Matters for America, another self-described progressive media watch group, dedicates itself to "monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."[97]

Conservative organizations Accuracy In Media and Media Research Center support the claim that the media has a liberal bias, and are dedicated to publicizing the issue. The Media Research Center, for example, was founded with the specific intention to "prove ... that liberal bias in the media does exist and undermines traditional American values".[98][99]

Groups such as FactCheck argue that the media frequently gets the facts wrong because they frequently rely upon biased sources of information.[100] This includes using information provided to them from both parties.

A news blog called After the Press is specifically tasked with national news gathering on media bias and inaccuracy, [9]

See also

Organizations monitoring bias





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  1. Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News is one of those who argues against any significant liberal bias. Reviewer John Moe sums up Alterman's views:
    "The conservatives in the newspapers, television, talk radio, and the Republican party are lying about liberal bias and repeating the same lies long enough that they've taken on a patina of truth. Further, the perception of such a bias has cowed many media outlets into presenting more conservative opinions to counterbalance a bias, which does not, in fact, exist." ISBN 0-465-00176-9
  2. Media Imperialism is a critical theory regarding the perceived effects of globalization on the world's media. It is closely tied to the similar theory of cultural imperialism.
    "As multinational media conglomerates grow larger and more powerful many believe that it will become increasingly difficult for small, local media outlets to survive. A new type of imperialism will thus occur, making many nations subsidiary to the media products of some of the most powerful countries or companies. Significant writers and thinkers in this area include Ben Bagdikian, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and Robert McChesney."
  3. A UCLA political scientist released a peer-reviewed study which concluded that, in general, "almost all major media outlets tilt to the left." [10] Self-described by UCLA as "the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them", it used a somewhat complicated pattern to figure out the political center of the electorate and based the positions of the media on that center. As the first peer-reviewed study to use this particular measure of political position, the study's claims have been contested due to some of its methodogy. [11]
    "Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. And a few outlets, including the New York Times and CBS Evening News, were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than the center. These findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample." [12]


External links

Claims of conservative bias
Claims of liberal bias

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