"Media bias" (was: confederacy of dunces*)

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From: Matt Jensen (mattj@newsblip.com)
Date: Tue Nov 28 2000 - 17:10:41 PST

On Tue, 28 Nov 2000, Bill Stoddard wrote:

> I enjoy listening to NPR on my way to work every morning but am
> frustrated by the bias. ...

Sure, you'll hear a different set of stories on NPR than you will on
FoxNews, MSNBC, or CNN. Let me ask you this: what percentage of what's
put out by all U.S. news sources and absorbed by the public do you think
follows a bias like the one you say you hear in NPR?

Since I just read a Slate article about FoxNews, which is widely said to
exhibit a bias to the right[1], I thought it would be interesting to
compare the reach of NPR versus FoxNews.

It appears that NPR can reach a potential audience of 15 million
people[2], and FoxNews can reach a potential audience of 54 million
households[1]. Of course, only a fraction of them actually watch/listen
each week. I can't find any cable Neilsen ratings newer than April, but
the Slate article says that FoxNews actually surpassed CNN in ratings in
October(!), for the first time, despite the fact that CNN can reach 50%
more households than FoxNews. I think I'd have to shell out money to get
specific, fresh data from Neilsen, but I think we can infer that FoxNews
has more viewers than NPR has listeners.

> But the fact is that most journalists (something like 70%, if I recall
> correctly) are self described "liberals" is telling. ... I think they
> simply do not appreciate republican (or libertarian) positions on the
> issues thus they cannot cover these issues with passion or heart.

I make a distinction between personal views and bias. A professional
journalist may have opinions on an issue, but unless they work for an
activist newspaper, they try to keep their opinions from biasing their
coverage. Otherwise they get picked on by their editors, their
colleagues, and their sources.

Often, more important than a reporter's inclinations is her editor's
inclinations. Reporters learn pretty quickly what kinds of stories the
editors and producers are interested in, and what things won't get on the
air or into print. Not that there is a big conspiracy where Murdoch and
Turner set an agenda[4], but rather that there is subtle but constant
pressure to cover things in certain conventional ways. Some good books
I've liked on this topic:

* "The More You Watch, the Less You Know" by Danny Schecter
* "Media Circus" by Howard Kurtz
* "Breaking the News" by James Fallows

-Matt Jensen

[1] "Fox News Channel: It's not fair. It's not balanced. So what?"
[2] http://npr.org/inside/press/000925.spain.html
[3] http://npr.org/inside/press/000803.simeone.html
[4] Of course, Murdoch and Turner hate each other. For them to conspire
    in creating either a left-wing or right-wing bias would be like
    Gates conspiring with Ellison.

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