What liberal media?

Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media? attempted to rebut charges that American mass media have a left-leaning bias. Conservative pundits dominate talk radio, many liberal outlets carry conservative commentators, market-oriented ideas are ascendant in the think tank world, and, I might add, many bloggers have a libertarian orientation. So Alterman’s response has some punch. Anna Schwarz offers a good review of the book, in Jeffrey Friedman’s on-line The Dissident, you might know Jeff from his editorship of and writings in Critical Review, he is an impressive intellectual polyglot.

Schwarz concedes many of Alterman’s points, but does not believe that Alterman has dismissed the charge of liberal media bias. She writes:

Alterman never comes to grips with the fact that the people who cover the news are overwhelmingly liberal. In 1992, an astonishing 89 percent of Washington correspondents and editors voted for Bill Clinton…Alterman acknowledges midway through the book that there might be some merit to his opponents’ arguments: “the overall flavor of the elite media reporting favors gun control, campaign finance reform, gay rights and the environmental movement,” he writes…These are distinctly liberal stances and this admission, by itself, pokes a gaping hole into Alterman’s argument…

My (partial) take: TV broadcasters need a good story, which leads to an emphasis on visible victims who can be interviewed. Media will neglect unseen opportunity costs. This bias often supports a “left-wing” perspective, but not always out of design. The bias also gives extra attention to crime victims. Members of the public often think crime is worse than it truly is, arguably a “right-wing” bias, crime victims get on the news because they make for good stories. We should not forget that media output is demand-driven, and people do not always want their media to reflect their politics.

My question: It is not obvious that reporters have been especially left-wing throughout the history of the American republic. When and how did this start to change?

See also an excellent earlier post by co-blogger Alex.


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