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Harvard-PEJ study proves media bias, essentially accuses Old Media of fraud. Why aren’t Old Media leaders defending themselves? 11/2/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Bias.

In most industries, if a new study came out proving a company had made false claims about their product that harmed the public, we know exactly what would happen. The company would immediately seek public exposure to defend itself vigorously, or announce they were investigating the charges, or apologize profusely while proclaiming that such a thing would never happen again. Yet, Investors Business Daily reports that newspapers and network TV news have been caught making false claims about their objectivity, prompting — nothing — no news industry reaction at all. A joint survey by two institutions revered by journalists, Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, proved that newspaper and network TV coverage of the current presidential race has been overwhelmingly sympathetic to Democrats and hostile to Republicans. In newspapers, the ratio of positive to negative stories about Democrats was more than 5-to-1, while for Republicans negative stories outnumbered positive ones by 50%. On network evening news, twice as many stories about Democrats were positive, while twice as many stories about Republicans were negative. Democrats also get more coverage overall.

The fact that not a single one of these news enterprises has stepped forward to defend its behavior, announce an investigation, or apologize speaks ill of their leadership, who can justifiably be accused of either lack of courage, lack of integrity, or both. Lack of courage, because they might fear business losses from admitting to the public that they have been misleading them about the quality of their news product. Lack of integrity, because they allow this deceit to continue and fail to insist that their newsrooms report on corruption within their own industry as they would on others. Journalism as a discipline has a crisis of leadership and it is contributing to its demise.


1. Ydobon - 11/2/07

Check out that big fat zero for PBS.

Small Dead Animals has a great related link in their Not Waiting for the Asteroid series.

2. Abegail Adams - 11/2/07

From the study you’re siting that “proves” bias – “Overall, Democrats also have received more positive coverage than Republicans (35% of stories vs. 26%), while Republicans received more negative coverage
than Democrats (35% vs. 26%). For both parties, a plurality of stories, 39%, were neutral or balanced.

Most of that difference in tone, however, can be attributed to the friendly coverage of Obama (47% positive) and the critical coverage of McCain (just 12%
positive.) When those two candidates are removed from the field, the tone of coverage for the two parties is virtually identical.

Most of McCain’s negative coverage has come from conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Reverend James Dobson and that drug addict on AM radio called Limbaugh.

3. Steve Boriss - 11/3/07

Abegail, Thanks for writing. There have been so many studies demonstrating media bias, I believe the issue was settled long ago – this one just happens to involve the two institutions that arguably are the most respected by journalists. Here is a good summary of the evidence for bias, and while it appears on a conservative site, all of the sources they cite are respected by journalists. Here is a column by the NY Times Public Editor admitting that his paper is liberal. And as I’ve said in earlier posts, for journalists not to accept that mainstream news is biased is to think that the two-thirds of the public that believe it is must be stupid, paranoid, uninformed, or delusional. My experience is that most journalists would benefit from studying the differences between left and right political ideology so they can recognize bias in their own work.

4. david - 11/6/07

Abegail, Steve forgot to mention you are not part of his target audience. His intention is not to investigate or enlighten, but to perpetuate and whine. You are wasting keystrokes.

5. Steve Boriss - 11/6/07

David, Actually, Abegail is very much within my target audience. I’d like to see a lot more folks defending what journalism has become. It’s a healthy debate that the country has needed for awhile.

6. Vera - 11/6/07

Speaking of healthy debates, Steve – I noticed that The Daily Howler and Media Matters for America are missing from your blogroll. Those folks know fully well what journalism has become…you should give them a try.

7. Steve Boriss - 11/6/07

Vera, Thanks for the suggestion. But I consider those sites to be political and partisan from the left, just as sites like Newsbusters are political and partisan from the right. It won’t be easy in every case, but I’m trying to keep the discussion about ideas and not candidates, and about ideologies only to the extent that it impacts news.

8. david - 11/6/07

Steve, cite an example of conservative bias in a mainstream media outlet.

9. Craig McGill - 1/2/08

steve, I thought that elsewhere you had suggested that news outlets have a bias to attract readers but here you are suggesting it’s a bad thing – contradiction?

10. Steve Boriss - 1/2/08

Craig, Bias is a good thing, and will be an important basis for competition. But pretending that you are unbiased/objective, then being proven wrong means you have been accused of making a false claim. They should defend themselves. If mainstream U.S. news outlets today admitted that they were center-left and continued to operate as they do now, I would be fine with that. I do not have this concern with London papers, whose bias is evident, and I believe they are less insistent that they are objective. The BBC, however, does make false claims that it is objective.

11. Mike - 5/20/08

Hi Steve,

Have just found your blog via PJM, where I’ve had a few articles published. Good stuff. I actually think it’s a testament to the power of conservative ideas that the Republicans ever manage to get a sniff of power, let alone hold the White House for long stretches and intermittently hold majorities in the Congress. Take the bias out of the media and academia and the left/progressives would never get close to holding power in the US, although a moderate Democratic party would still do okay.

12. Jim Carls - 7/27/08

I’m not going to argue with the need for media outlets to admit when bias colors their news (Fox News being the most needful of all). However, the problems with interpreting this and other studies as showing a “liberal” bias in the media are many:

1) Some conservatives may believe that non-negative coverage of certain issues (such as matter-of-fact coverage of gay marriage) is in and of itself proof of a liberal bias (I’m not necessarily suggesting this occurred in the Harvard study).

2) At the same time that these studies appear, I believe that it becoming more universally recognized that the news business has been more thoroughly corrupted by corporate profit accounting than ever before, so the more appropriate first explanation for “bias” is whether the reporting attracts news consumers.

3) If you allow for certain universal problems with politics, such as the incidence of simple personal graft and the tendency to BS everyone in sight to ensure reelection, you are still left with a set of particular kinds of situations that

a) nicely satisfy #2 above, but

b) are more common among politicians who:

…take extremely prominent positions on moral wedge issues then get caught violating those positions,

…represent business interests that profit from public ignorance about negative sides effects of those businesses,

…appear to be part of not just personal graft but a network of corporate cronies who bring completely amoral attitudes into their dealings, or

… are apparently violating the most basic principles of civil rights.

Do these studies include a control for “number of positive or negative stories available”? Without that, they are meaningless, because much of the “bias” implied by a high proportion of negative coverage about Republicans can be simply explained by the traditional abundance of source material.


13. name - 9/1/08


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