Glenn Reynolds has an interesting piece on why the media is no longer representative of the American people. I think he hits exactly the right notes on this. Despite all the cries that there’s only a “so-called” liberal media, even Eric Alterman admits that the media is liberal on social issues like abortion, gun rights, homosexuality, and religion – which makes one wonder, after all that is there anything left to be “conservative” about.
Whenever you have a group of people who all came from similar backgrounds, were all exposed to the same theories, and who all are actively pushed into accepting a similar worldview, it’s not particularly surprising that you’ll get a media that’s heavily slanted towards that worldview. Those who argue that the media doesn’t carry a bias have to somehow argue that a field where over 90% of participants are staunch liberal Democrats would not lead to an environment where conservatism is generally frowned upon. Such an argument doesn’t even pass the smell test. In fact, the signs of groupthink apply almost perfectly to the media. The media displays an illusion of invulnerability, a belief in their own inherent morality, collective rationalizations of their bias, they stereotype conservatives as an outsiide group, the self-censor information that is contrary to their worldview, they foster an illusion of unanimity in their reporting, and they’ve been known to put direct pressure on those who dissent from the status quo. By every yardstick, the media is one of the prime examples of Janis’ theories on groupthink one could find.
The media, especially on the national level, is a cloistered and insulated group. If it doesn’t appear on the AP newswires, it doesn’t happen to them. If a Republican or conservative group does something, there must be a bad angle to the story. If a liberal group does something, it’s automatically assumed to be good. The system of bias is pervasive – while the news may be largely corporate-owned, there are few examples where corporate interference skews the news – if anything, there’s a demonstrable preference for bashing corporations for “poisoning the air”, “harming children”, etc. There’s an equal preference for government solutions for all problems, from more regulation to new government programs. From the reporters working the field to the editors ultimately responsible for the decision to print a story you have a group of people whose political worldviews are almost entirely homogenous – and this bias shows in the reporting that comes out of news agencies like The New York Times and CNN.
This isn’t to say that this bias is all-consuming. If John Kerry were caught in a meaty sex scandal the media would pick up on it (although not after a great deal of vacillation) – after all, sex sells more papers and gets more ratings. Liberals love to use the Clinton scandals as “proof” that the media really isn’t liberal, which ignores the fact that the media tried to avoid the story as much as it could in the early days of the scandal, and only flogged it when it was good for ratings, while still providing a certain amount of pro-Clinton spin. The Clinton scandals were not the rule, but the exception, and the treatment of Clinton in 1996 and on other issues was highly preferential.
The media has never had a larger disconnect from the people than they currently do now. The media continues to believe that we’re simply in a repeat of the 1970’s in which the media lost a war for America and brought down a President. Every reporter seems to want to believe they’re the next Woodward and Bernstein, brave investigators speaking truth to power. However, in this quest to truly make the media an unelected and politically homogenous branch of government the result has been Jayson Blair, the Hutton Inquest, and falling ratings. The reason for this is simple: this isn’t the 1970s anymore. We were attacked first – and because of the Internet the media no longer has a monopoly on the dissemination of information. What we’re seeing now is a struggle between what the media thinks it is and what it has actually become, and until the media starts fostering a true ideological openness this situation is unlikely to change.