Head to Head CHAT: Liberal bias in media

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For this head-to-head, we decided to try out a more chat-like format where we can better address each other’s arguments, directly question each another and hopefully dig deeper into the issue of media bias. I am the opinion editor, Jonathan, and surely if you have read my pieces before, you will know how annoyingly liberal I am. Discussing this issue with me is my friend, fellow writer here at the Collegian and staunch conservative, Austin McCampbell.

Jonathan: The New York Times detailed the declining trust the American public has in its media, and this phenomenon is especially true of American conservatives who now trust almost no one. While my role here is probably to vehemently disagree that the media is left-leaning, I think the paradigm of the “liberal media” is indeed true, and I know my partner surely feels the same way. But even so, the much more interesting question we’ll be focusing on is: Why is that the case?

Austin: While both of us agree that liberal bias exists in the media, I believe the root cause is twofold; it is a result of liberal saturation of news and social media outlets, in addition to the liberal atmosphere colleges endorse where future journalists are taught.

The first aspect of liberal media bias is because of the media itself. News outlets and newspapers are for the most part liberal, and when that’s all anyone sees, then it’s what they tend to accept while shunning the opposing viewpoints of another source. According to a Pew Research poll, 23 out of 32 news outlets are politically left of the average respondent’s beliefs.

Another source I have found is from NewsBusters’ website. (I find it ironic that pointing out a bias tends to be rooted in a bias in and of itself in this instance, but I digress.) The article points out a “Morning Joe” airing on MSNBC in which Joe Scarborough, a host of the show, challenged the show’s other hosts and guests to name a single Republican that has hosted a Sunday show or that has been an anchor of the big three networks (ABC, CBS or NBC as he specifies later) over the past 50 years. By and large, it is true that the vast majority of news outlets are left-leaning.

Secondly, while colleges are good conduits for civil discussion of ideas, many of those in charge of the discussion tend to swing left. The Leadership Institute, a group that advocates conservatism on college campuses, gives an example of this from the University of California-Irvine, where the American flag was banned by the legislative body for being a “weapon of imperialism.” While it is an extreme example, there are other smaller instances of pushing leftist principles on college campuses.

Jonathan: Why do colleges lean left?

Austin: I think that it comes down to the way of thinking. Liberal ideology is more institutional and focused on what’s good for the masses while conservatism places more emphasis on the individual. Being in college gives students the chance to think and participate as part of a collective for the first time, so institutional thinking is much more appealing.

Why do you think bias exists in the media?

Jonathan: Could is be possible that liberals are just smarter?

Should we consider that maybe the reason conservatism finds enemies in scientists and journalists (whose job it is to watch over society) is that facts themselves lean liberal?

Austin: Well I don’t think it’d be considered fair to assume that liberals are smarter based on media consensus. And facts on their own don’t convey bias, but rather in how they are interpreted. Do you have proof for claiming facts have a liberal bias by themselves?

Jonathan: I don’t mean that liberals are smarter based on media consensus, and heck, I don’t really mean that liberals are inherently smarter at all. But I do think it’s an interesting question to at least lead us to talk about the connection between higher education and liberalism. You say that being in college is being part of a collective, and thus lends one to lean toward more institutional thinking — I am not exactly sure what you mean by that, could you explain further?

And though I am absolutely not arguing that liberals are smarter — I sincerely hope no one takes me too seriously — as a liberal I would very much argue instead that we are beholden to fact more often than our ideological counterparts. One very easily observable example, the first that comes to mind, is the issue of climate change.

According to another Pew Research Center study (that’s right, I have one too), 87 percent of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science think climate change is real and largely because of human activity, and a total of 96 percent believe it exists, at the very least. To contrast, Pew also reported that only 15 percent of conservative Republicans think it is real and largely because of human activity, and only a shocking total of 38 percent of the group believe it exists at all.

Ninety-eight percent of scientists know that humans have evolved over time, according to Pew. Sixty-six percent oppose offshore drilling for oil and gas. Eighty-six percent say that your child’s vaccinations should be required.

What I’m ultimately trying to get at here are the root causes behind why liberals end up dominating higher education and why liberals end up in journalism. It’s fine to agree that the media has a liberal bias, but is that necessarily and inherently for sinister reasons? I think not.

Far too often conservatives not only abandon the most knowledgeable people we have — our scientists and teachers — but too often they outright scorn them. When one group tries to tear at both our most-learned and the journalists whose job it is to reveal truth (for opinions can be wrong), it leads me to believe they must be in the wrong more often than not.

Austin: What I meant by thinking as a collective was that college allows new students to interact with new people and ideas and for them to think in more of a big-picture context. This differs quite a bit from the topics discussed over lunch in a high school cafeteria.

While climate change is a good example of how facts can help one side, liberals in your example, the same can be said for statistics that can promote conservative beliefs.

Take climate change again for example. Climate Change Dispatch‘s website is dedicated to providing environmental evidence that climate change is not as apocalyptic as it’s made out to be by the media. For example, they came out with a report, “Our Science-Denier-In-Chief,” claiming that Obama’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline was unfounded. That “the State Department 2014 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement not only concluded that approving the pipeline would not increase greenhouse gas emissions, but would actually reduce emissions relative to the ‘no action’ alternatives.” So why would liberals continue to push for anti-oil measures when state officials are saying otherwise?

Maybe liberals dominate the news industry and higher education because it’s the majority of what is expressed by news outlets that push their own agendas, regardless of conflicting evidence. To me, it seems like liberal bias in the media is a cyclical pattern.

I agree that having a bias is not inherently bad, but not allowing equal representation in the media is where it can become a slippery slope.

Jonathan: Interesting. Interacting with new people, new ideas and new ways of thinking sure sound like good things to me. Shouldn’t we strive for this for all young people? And by your logic that this leads to a liberalized mindset, shouldn’t we strive for that for all young people too?

OK, now I’m just intentionally pestering you.

I agree with you about being able to paint statistics to your own point to a certain degree. It is far too easy to misuse data and cherry pick numbers that suit your argument. The reason I chose to use the above statistics in particular, however, is that I feel they are some of the most unbiased numbers we have — the thoughts of scientists, our society’s experts.

Scientists have an incredible mechanism of community-based self-critique, and their theories must survive lengthy and vigorous challenges to garner credibility. I would argue therefore that their collective opinion cannot be reasonably construed as partisan agenda chasing, but is the purest representation of fact we have yet achieved.

But here’s where I think I split with you. While in a vacuum, yes, equal consideration should absolutely be a pillar of discourse; perhaps instead we would actually be better served by ensuring equally deserved consideration.

What you fear is conservative ideas being suppressed by a partisan and biased media.

What I fear is that accusations of that supposed suppression are being used to prop up bad ideas, under the guise of “equal consideration.” Just because there are two opposing ideas does not always mean that one isn’t more right than the other.

I also think, in summation, that if we are going to argue that the media is disproportionately liberal (which again, we agree that it is) we should dig deeper into why. Does liberalism have inherent ideological and philosophic advantages that lead it to positions of influence like higher education and journalism? Or is it merely a self-fulfilling cycle we’ve stumbled into somewhere along the way?

I’ll give you the last word. Do you have any concluding thoughts on the roots of media bias, its impact on public discourse or possible solutions?

Austin: Absolutely. Opening students’ minds to the world around them is one of the central ideas and benefits of college. While the change in atmosphere can impact students’ ways of thinking, I believe that students need to be taught to consider an individual-centric mindset as well as how to operate within an institutional setting. Show the pros and cons of both and let the students decide which one to advocate.

In regards to bias, it’s unrealistic to think that news will ever be purely objective. There will always be evidence to back liberal and conservative ideologies, so I wouldn’t say there’s more or less data contributing to either side, depending on what issue is up for debate.

That said, I believe bias in the media is a perpetuation of itself, liberal or conservative. Biased news sources influence future news outlets when holding the majority of media output. Right now, liberal sources control most of the output, so that is what to be expected until a shift in narrative. When that might be, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Until then, conservative fists will continue to shake at the media and to blame “the system.” I’m sure the same would be said of liberals if the balance of bias tips the other way.

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Jonathan Greig
Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.
  • Both participants in the above discussion may be misreporting poll data.

    What is supposed to be the source of the claim (Austin) “According to a Pew Research poll, 23 out of 32 news outlets are politically left of the average respondent’s beliefs”?

    And Jonathan appears to have misread the Pew Research poll he cited about Republican attitudes toward global warming. The 32 percent figure he offered was not, according to that poll, the number of Republicans who acknowledge the existence of global warming. It was the percentage who acknowledge solid evidence supporting global warming. That’s a significant difference.

    Good discussion topic. Be careful with those facts.

  • FlynnRiley

    The liberal media bias has been proven to be a fact! So there should be no discussion, check wikileaks!