Putting the 'Liberal Media' in 'Liberal Media'


So, a big new Pew study [PDF] shows that, unlike the general population, which self-describes as liberal/moderate/conservative at a rate of 20/41/33, the national press self-identifies at 34/54/7, representing a significant recent increase in media liberalization (as it were) ? and what is the headline of the report? "Press Going Too Easy on Bush." Lots of interesting data in the report, by the way, and an interesting theory in the accompanying essay:

The survey includes just four questions probing journalists' political attitudes, yet the answers to these questions suggest journalists have in mind something other than a classic big government liberalism and something more along the lines of libertarianism. More journalists said they think it is more important for people to be free to pursue their goals without government interference than it is for government to ensure that no one is in need.

NEXT: Well, See, That's Kinda Part of the Problem

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  1. By liberal, don’t they generally mean “socially liberal,” and aren’t the social issues generally what the Republican right goes apoplectic over (leaving aside foreign policy for a moment)?

  2. Interesting that the two questions about the Internet’s effect on journalism were both negative-tinged. One about whether it increases journalists’ deadline pressure, and another about whether it increases the amount of “misinformation” that gets into news reports. Typical from the bastion-of-journalism types.

  3. Since the options given in the study were liberal, conservative and moderate, what would a libertarian’s reply be?

    I wouldn’t be happy characterizing myself as any of those…I’m neither conservative nor liberal (in the contemporary sense), but my positions on almost everything are quite far from moderate (e.g., eliminate the income tax, end drug prohibiton, virtually open immigration, etc…)

  4. Socially liberal yes, but also liberal on others things (economic policy, foreign policy) just not by so laughable a margin. They may favor free trade in general, for instance, but they also favor strongly graduated taxes and large government intervention to get us out of trouble. I wish they were libertarian, but the data isn’t really there.

  5. The questionnaire is neutral about whether it’s referring to socially or otherwise liberal. Id’s guess that your garden-variety journalist is liberal in terms of “social” issues, homosexuality, affirmative action, and so forth, while more mainstream about personal finance and business-type stuff.

    It would have been nice if the survey would have been more specific, but the industry doesn’t like dealing with that sort of introspection too readily.

  6. I am surprised anyone self identifies as liberal anymore. Clinton showed them the way. Define yourself as the middle no matter what your position. Note that moderates don’t want SOME restrictions on abortion, extremists do.

  7. Although we might easily see the distinction between what is commonly referred to today as “liberal” and classical liberalism, I would assume that the survey was answered with the modern definition of “liberal” in mind. It does show that that paradigm needs to be blown up in favor of something that could include a libertarian point of view, so that other options than “left, right, middle” can be expressed on simple minded surveys.

  8. I’m not so sure self-identification among the press is reliable in the least. If Fox News’s claim to be “fair and balanced” is any indication, then many conservative media outlets are going to self-identify as “moderate”. Given the GOP hold on the government this is not really surprising. Outlets who feel their agenda is not immediately achievable are more likely to identify themselves as outliers, I would wager.

  9. Actually, I’m inclined to think that many journalists that lean left consider themselves moderates, since they live in what is essentially a leftist echo chamber.

    What is clear is that libertarian leanings don’t describe the output of most journalists. “We need more government oversight to blah blah blah . . .” is the typical refrain, to solve whatever problem the journalist thinks we need to hear about.

  10. Except you forgot to mention that in American “liberal” means moderate, “moderate” means conservative and “conservative” means waiting intently for The Rapture.

  11. It never fails–show some hard evidence of liberal media bias, and someone will mention Fox as “proof” that the all media (print, radio, the other 3 networks…) are actually conservative. If Fox disappeared, what would liberals point to then?

  12. Gentlemen! This is easily explained mathematically. The “moderates” in the press simply have their x-axis shifted a few ticks to the left. They think they’re in the center, but they’re actually left. (See this for the mathematical proof of the Lonewacko Theorem.)

  13. So the headline is accurate. Libertarians have been going too easy on Bush.

  14. More than over-liberal, the media seems under-conservative. When the Rapture comes, who will be there to cover it? And who will help me plan for that great day now?

    (Is Jack Van Impe media, religion, or entertainment?)

  15. Media bias complaints are one of the most annoying bits of commentary around. It’s the equivalent of athletes complaining about the refs. Maybe there are fewer conservative journalists because (gasp) conservatives don’t want to be journalists (or for that matter, college professors) as much as liberals do. You know what, I bet that most people working at non-profits are liberals too and most Wall Street bankers and traders are conservative (that I know for a fact). If more conservatives went for jobs in journalism, things would probably shift. Of course that would take initiative instead of meaningless bitching.


  16. P.S. There hasn’t been much of the bitching here, but I’m kinda annoyed after reading this story about 100 times from the right side of the blogosphere.

  17. Mo: When people complain about leftism in the media, I don’t think they’re suggesting that something be done to change that. They just want people to be aware that the media has a leftist bias and consider that when reading the news.

  18. Mo’s self-selection theory makes sense. It also has actual data to back it up, going back to the work of Rothman and the Lichters, notably The Media Elite. They run the Center for Media and Public Affairs: http://www.cmpa.com

    (Sorta like the MRC, without the partisan frothing at the mouth.)


  19. The solution is to get business into the press room.

    Of course, this is exactly the solution that these folks are fighting the hardest against.

    They don’t want “pressure”. They don’t want to have to “perform”. They don’t want anyone telling them what to write or how to write it.

    Such a life they have! We should all be so lucky!

    Instead, the relentless forces of market capitalism and technological change will drive these lazy stupid “journalists” out of the media work-force and replace them with folks who can do their jobs better at lower cost.

    Buh-bye ABC/NBC/CBS, hello .com/.net/.org!

  20. someone will mention Fox as “proof” that the all media (print, radio, the other 3 networks…) are actually conservative.

    Well, I did no such thing, but I’ll make a note not to use Fox in future discussions. I didn’t want you to shut down, I was honestly trying to explain the figures. I think conservatives’ problems when relating to the media is that they see themselves as moderate and therefore anything they disagree with the spin on is liberal bias.

    Thus my (poorly chosen apparently) example of Fox, which is clearly conservative (I’m not trying to imply any judgements on any other media outlet with that statement) and yet presents itself as “balanced”. I think that blindness would explain the weird imbalance of the press numbers–ie conservative journalists see themselves as balancing the mythical liberal bias by telling it like it “is”. Right.

    The press has its shortcomings, and they often result in petty todos over the most pointless of things, but it’s myopia and not bias that’s at fault. The Bush administration’s official line still gets far more credibility in press reports and headlines than it deserves. To trust any administration to tell the truth about its policies and programs is stretching the limits of responsible journalism. With this administration, the press has had plenty of opportunity to relearn that lesson on matters domestically and abroad, and yet we still get headlines in all the mainstream media that give the benefit of the doubt to the administration instead of digging deeper for the reality of the situation.

  21. Wouldn’t “consistently” coming down in favor of a certain political viewpoint suggest media bias?

    No, it would suggest *reporter* bias.

    All people are biased; that’s human nature. But an organization is only “biased” if its membership is consistently biased in one direction, as the news media is.

  22. Dan raises a good point. There are 2 ways often proposed to ward against bias:

    1) An adversarial process, where the media has a variety of reporters with a variety of known and open biases. Even if it isn’t actually adversarial in the literal sense of reporters openly arguing with each other, it’s adversarial in the sense that different ideas are competing in a marketplace.

    The British have this system with a variety of newspapers that all have very open biases.

    2) An ethical process, where each reporter is (allegedly) tasked with striving to keep his or her own biases out of reporting and just stick to the facts. The problem is that this is very difficult. And even if the reporter succeeds at it (I’m not saying they do, I’m just posing a hypothetical), anybody who doesn’t like the truth can always raise questions because the process isn’t transparent. And how could the process of self-discipline be transparent?

    In the US we at least claim to have this system. Reporters at least claim to strive to keep their bias out of reporting. Sure, some people will argue that the biases are obvious, but even the critics (usually) argue that the biases should be removed and reporting should be restored to some pure Platonic ideal.

    I admire the second approach if it works, but I think the first approach is more suited to the real world. My favorite news sources (after the Onion, of course 🙂 are Reason, Salon, and the Economist. All of these sources have very open biases. (Go ahead, moan and gnash your teeth over Salon, but the bias is open and some of the stories are interesting to me.)

  23. Moe is upset about conservatives bitching about the liberal media bias, but for the most part I think that conservatives are pointing out that there is such a bias in the mainstream media. The cause of it is another matter, and I think everyone agrees that self selection is a big part of it.

    What I find interesting (and amusing) is leftists complaining about conservative talk radio, Fox CATV news, Drudge, etc., and the attempts to counter these, in the form of Air America and the Al Gore news network.

    Joe, media bias is almost always in favor of statism. Pointing that out doesn’t mean favoring some other form of bias.

  24. Holding up John Stossel as a figure of respect, and writing favorably of “consistently challeng(ing) the statist meme,” are both statements in support of media bias.

  25. Holding up John Stossel as a figure of respect, and writing favorably of “consistently challeng(ing) the statist meme,” are both statements in support of media bias.

    So if virtually all reporters were Creationists, and covered the news accordingly, and I held up as “a figure of respect” a lone reporter who was familiar with evolutionary theory and repeatedly challenged Creationism, that would be a “statement in support of media bias”?

  26. “Fox, which is clearly conservative…”

    Fox is moderate. It’s just that you haven’t seen moderate media in so long, you have forgotten what it looks like.

  27. More journalists said they think it is more important for people to be free to pursue their goals without government interference than it is for government to ensure that no one is in need.

    So that would explain all the articles I have seen questioning the effectiveness of the regulatory state and the impact of the redistributionist state!

    Seriously, can anyone name a single reporter other than John Stossel who consistently challenges the statist meme? I can’t. The speculation that lots of journos are “libertarian” is just another attempt by statists to slip into sheep’s clothing. First “liberal”, then “moderate”, then “progressive”, . . . . it never ends.

  28. “Jack Van Impe”

    Who knows what he is, but that Rexella really gets me going, man. Seeing her for the first time was a revelation.

  29. “Seriously, can anyone name a single reporter other than John Stossel who consistently challenges the statist meme?’

    Wouldn’t “consistently” coming down in favor of a certain political viewpoint suggest media bias? I don’t think you’re complaining about the existence of media bias, so much as a lack of bias in the direction you’d like.

  30. Stossel doesn’t write news copy for a major daily, or even for the nightly news. He does magazine pieces on a weekly show. If I were a statist, I’d be likely to view him the way I look at Andy Rooney.

    The fact remains that he is an ex-“consumer reporter” who actually learned something about economics over the years, and stopped jerking his knee for more government as the answer to every problem, the way most David Horowitz* clones do.


    * (This guy: http://www.fightback.com/ not
    this guy: http://www.frontpagemag.org )

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