Discussions of media bias are a sort of political Rorschach test – what you see depends on what you already believe. Despite this, I think the evidence is consistent on a few points.
1. Journalists tend to be more liberal than the average American. A recent Pew poll confirms previous studies of journalists. In this study, journalists did not describe themselves as liberal (which previous studies did find to be very common) but their attitudes tended to be very liberal. For example, 51% of Americans thought homosexuality should be accepted, while 88% of journalists in the national media thought so.
2. Very few journalists describe themselves as conservative. In the same Pew poll, 33% of Americans described themselves as conservative while 7% of journalists said they were conservative. Previous studies have found that journalists overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, except during the 1950’s – probably because Eisenhower was the most liberal of recent GOP presidents, when compared to the competition.
3. Analysis of American news consistently shows biases. In the 1990’s, for example, numerous studies found that it was relatively rare for ex-GOP leader Newt Gingrich to get positive press coverage. I found it interesting that one study found Bob Dole’s coverage was about 50% positive/50% negative. I wonder what it was about the future Viagra spokesman that made him lovable by the media?
Those who see the media as dominated by conservatives probably focus on Rush Limbaugh, the Fox network and some other high profile conservatives. They could also justly point out that media is big business, and owners probably favor legislation that benefits them (a la Rupert Murdoch), even though some media entrepreneurs such as Ted Turner are quite liberal.
So here’s my analysis of media bias: the journalism profession, on the average, is quite liberal and they also believe in the ethic of objective reporting. This creates a situation where much reporting is probably informed by liberal values, but presented in a “manner of fact” way. As a result, there are a lot of angry conservative readers and viewers who are flustered by this type of reporting.
Since the whole journalism profession is pretty much liberal, it’s probably hard for more conservative owners to impose their will on the newsroom – although they try quite hard sometimes. The end result – an untapped market of conservative viewers that can be catered to by the likes of Limbaugh and the Fox network. The Al Frankens of the world probably focus on the high-profile conservatives (like Rush) and ignore the average news reporter, while the Limbaugh’s obsess over the New York Times – a model for much of the journalism profession – and ignore successful niche players such as Fox.