When the mainstream media is the outlet through which the vast majority of Americans get their information, objectivity is paramount.
It is therefore no surprise that the media is continually facing accusations of displaying partisan political bias. Most notable are the steady stream of conservative allegations that the mainstream media leans heavily toward the liberal end of the spectrum, and to some extent, they are right. It would be foolish to believe that the media is entirely free of political bias, and yet, it is even more absurd to suggest that news outlets are acting through a political agenda to liberalize the American public.
There is no question that different news sources are favored by liberals and conservatives based on the tendencies of the sources themselves. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, many of the mainstream news outlets, such as CNN and NBC, fall slightly left of center, while Fox News is the only mainstream news source on the right end of the spectrum. MSNBC falls further to the left, along with the New York Times; the far right instead consists of the Rush Limbaugh Show, the Sean Hannity Show and the Glen Beck Program. However, while those outlets that are more widely viewed and read make up the left end of the spectrum, this is far from enough evidence to say that there is a deliberate liberal bias.
Instead, it would be more accurate to acknowledge the naturally liberal environment of the mainstream media. In the same way that Hollywood has inherent left-wing tendencies, so too are liberals drawn to the profession of journalism. In fact, according to a Washington Times report, research by Lars Willnat and David Weaver, professors of journalism at Indiana University revealed that 28 percent of journalists state that they are Democrats, while only 7 percent identify as Republicans.
The best explanation for this trend has its roots in the history of the news industry. Muckraking, for example, completely revolutionized journalism at the beginning of the 20th century. Journalists like Ida Tarbell revealed what life was like for workers under the Standard Oil Company, and Jacob Riis brought the miserable living conditions of immigrant tenements under the public eye. These liberal issues gave the industry a more left-leaning purpose, which became even more visible during the Vietnam War, when the media contributed heavily to the anti-war movement. Mainstream news outlets today are merely examples of this form of liberal media in its natural environment – large-scale, sensationalist stories that exhibit a slight lapse in their support for the traditional government, not a liberal agenda prescribed by the Democratic Party.
Conservative media, on the other hand, has always found its roots in a more local environment, traditionally in the form of talk radio. In the Pew Research Center’s report, this is exhibited by the fact that only one the news sources on the right side of the spectrum falls under the definition of mainstream media – Fox News. The majority of the other sources are talk radio programs or television talk shows, such as the Rush Limbaugh Show and the Sean Hannity Show. While these programs are effective outlets for local news or reflections on national and international events, they are simply out of their element when it comes to the instantaneous, large-scale coverage that the mainstream media provides.
It is important to note that these biases are relatively insignificant. Realistically speaking, most bias is found by readers who are influenced by their own biases. According to the Washington Times report, David D’Alessio, a communications sciences professor at the University of Connecticut, conducted a study in which he asked Republicans and Democrats to circle any bias they found in the same newspaper article. Each circled the opposite party’s representation as bias, despite the fact that the presence of both sides of the argument was a clear indicator of journalistic integrity. Hence, the slight liberal tendency of the media does not seem to have much influence over the average viewer and can usually be disregarded.
Of course, there are exceptions. Fox News is known to have a clear ideological agenda behind its broadcasting, but this can be taken for the most part as a reaction to the overall liberal nature of the mainstream media. MSNBC is also a notable exception that seems to have been driven down the same reactive path as Fox News, but at the other end of the political spectrum. However, generally speaking, the tendencies of news outlets are natural occurrences, not strategic efforts to promote a political agenda. By all means, question the accuracy and reliability of any news source for bias and lapses in journalistic integrity – of which there are plenty – but let’s end the mindless witch hunt for the mainstream news sources that promote partisan ideology.
Alex Oliveira is a staff writer for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.