Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Conservative Media Bias

Here we go again. The left side is crowing about a report that supposedly proves the media has a conservative bias. "Conservative media bias!" It's the kind of baldfaced absurdity that makes coffee come out my nose if I read it without warning.

Who did this study? Media Matters for America of course.

But go read the report anyhow, just for practice in shooting fish in a barrel. Especially the methodology section. They only studied Sunday morning talk shows -- which certainly are "media," but which aren't the news-gathering and publishing industry any more than "Hollywood Squares" is. Or was. And MMFA simply counted up the people who appeared on the shows, and assigned them "left-or-right" identities. They took no account of what the people were on the air to say. If you were from the Bush Administration's National Institutes of Health and you went on the air to talk about obesity, or teen smoking, you were one more notch for "conservatives," because you were representing a "conservative" administration.

Most of the left-side commentators on this study seem to have read the cover letter, not the report. Check out the key chart on page 9 of "journalist appearances": Percent of conservative journalists during Clinton's second term = 41% while during Bush's first term it was down to 29%. Difference is, "neutral" went up from 32% to a whopping 58%.

But that doesn't figure into MMFA's conclusion, because MMFA's poll is based on a false dichotomy view of America as a place of "liberals" and "conservatives" who deserve to be heard in exactly equal measure. There's no "neutral."

In fact, we're a nation where only 18% self-identify as liberals, with 33% calling themselves conservatives and 40% self-described as moderates.

Here's an interesting graph:

It should be noted that most of this disparity can be accounted for by the guests on Meet the Press and This Week. While journalists regularly appear on Face the Nation, often to participate in interviewing a newsmaker, the vast majority of these guests are non-ideologically aligned daily newspaper reporters or centrist opinion columnists.

"[N]on-ideologically aligned daily newspaper reporters"? In 22 years in newsrooms I've never met such a beast.

The survey lumps "centrists" with "conservatives" -- not surprising when you're coming from MMFA's position. In one graph, it performs a Frankenstein merger of David Broder, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Novak, and William Safire as though there's not a crack of daylight between the first two and the last. It rolls Orrin Hatch and Colin Powell and even Zell Miller into one pudding. That must be how the world looks from where MMFA stands.

It's also not surprising to me that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans not only reversed when Bush took over from Clinton, but the gap grew wider. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with bias. Look at it this way: The political news shows want to interview the people making news politically. In the second half of the Clinton years, the administration was Democratic, so that party provided the majority of the guests. But the Congress was controlled by Republicans, who were very effective in pushing their own agenda, even to the point of impeaching the president. So, they were driving the news and were represented on the news shows.

Under Bush, both the White House and the Congress have been controlled by Republicans, except for a brief period when the Senate was evenly split. Bush has chosen to do very little reaching across the partisan aisle. Should the news shows be required to devote as much time to ineffective leaders of a minority party as they do to those actually making decisions and initiating policy?

MMFA's way out of this "conservative bias?" In part, more "[w]riters from prominent progressive magazines" on the Sunday gab-fests, such as "Mother Jones." Well, if I were a conservative Republican, I'd love that answer. Yes, put the "progressives" in every living room in America on a Sunday morning. Make "Mother Jones" the alternative to the GOP. Sounds like a formula for victory to me.