January 9, 2013

Liberal and Conservative Bias in the Televised Media

We all know that conservatives cry "liberal bias," whether it makes sense or not. And, because of the obviously conservative Fox News, liberals and other left-wingers have a way to fight back. It has been a constant battle between the left and the right of the political spectrum. Honestly, it is a losing fight on both sides

One strategy that conservatives have used is calling MSNBC a "leftist" station. They have a point, however, since Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow, and especially Chris Matthews make their careers around bashing Republicans. Laurence O'Donnell has no plans of hiding his resentment of all things conservative. Ed Schulz is also a well-known Democratic host. Hell, even their commercials preach the progressive views of their major news celebrities, even from the not-as-known Chris Hayes. They have also had a Pro-Obama bias, evidenced by Chris Matthews's panic attack after the President's first debate with Mitt Romney and his diatribe against Reince Priebus. MSNBC's bias towards Democratic candidates and left-wing politics has been going on since the mid-2000s, ever since Fox News has picked up speed for its 2000 and 2004 election coverage.

Fox News has more or less the same formula, except theirs is original. They were the spark that set the wildfire that is conservative mainstream media. Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and company had given conservatives a greater voice in the American television media, a voice that they felt was lost in the midst of all the so called liberal bias when reporting the news and analyzing politics. Their biggest names and faces include Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and, until June 2011, Glenn Beck, whose name still rings around Fox programs. Again, you have your strong, yet partisan voices giving political commentary from the conservative point that, at times (in Beck's case), can slide so far to the right that there is no slide to the left, much less a criss-cross. I mean, who can forget Hannity's segment about Obama's first 100 days and his nickname for the President: the "Anointed One?" Or O'Reilly's meltdown against Jeremy Glick about the cause of 9/11, even in the face of facts? Or Fox's reaction to Obama's reelection? Fox generally has the polar opposite opinion of him than MSNBC. In the words of Alan Grayson, "if Obama were to somehow cure world hunger, he would be blamed for overpopulation." Fox's bias, going way beyond what I just mentioned, has been going on since the channel's founding in 1996.

And you know what? It is an excellent business plan for both sides. Their programs spark controversy, make each side hate the other, and up go the ratings. Not because you agree with the opinions displayed on Fox or MSNBC, but because you would like to make fun of what you believe to be an incessant circus of propaganda and lies. That is how the two channels make their money. Of course, their respective commentators and personalities do promote their beliefs in an effort to push an ideological point on their audience, but it is all an effort to increase the ratings and make more money.

Sometimes, however, it is done using misleading means. For example, I do not have to tell you how many things Fox gets wrong, whether it be through misinformation or "accidental" manipulation of footage to exaggerate the success of an event. The reason why there is no link to the misinformation that Fox can provide is because there has been so much coverage on the topic, it is just one Google search away. Or better yet, watch any episode from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. As for MSNBC's bias, you may need to take a bit more time when researching misinformation. In general, they are pretty spot on. But, as I said, you will find an example if you just look a little harder.

The bias is everywhere, and has given Fox News some heat. According to a poll conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University, Fox News viewers are generally more uninformed than people who do not watch news at all. And according to the poll:
Fox News viewers were 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who were not TV news viewers.  Fox News viewers were also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.
And MSNBC does not fall that far behind.
11% of MSNBC viewers actually believed that Occupy Wall Street protesters were Republicans compared to just 3% of Fox viewers.
If you want more information comparing the misinformation of Fox and MSNBC, read this study.

What does this mean? Although the partisanship of both sides makes for great ratings, neither side have been doing their journalistic duty, which is to inform the masses in a fair and balanced perspective. Megynn Kelly's show, America Live, has lately become less of a news show and more of an opinion show, where she lets her colors fly, even when she is supposedly "reporting" the news. MSNBC is also guilty of this, but in a less intense fashion.

It is pretty obvious which channel I prefer, mainly because I find it easier to agree with and not get mad about. The thing about me, however, is my desire to fact check. Whenever I watch MSNBC or Fox News and listen to the opinions of the commentators and the evidence that they present as fact, I go online. I look it up. This is something that many Americans do not do. Americans that trust their sources of information and their particular political agenda may not feel comfortable with the possibility that their opinions are based on inaccurate evidence. Proof: search comment boards for inaccurate talking points and then research the networks that deliver those talking points.

Bottom line: conservatives have a point when they perceive a liberal bias in today's mainstream media. Fox News served to counter the dominance of mainstream Democratic voices and made their Republican stars just as heard. Fox is currently the leading cable network and The O'Reilly Factor did not become the #1 cable news show for ten consecutive years for nothing. Fox's owner, News Corporation, owns various conservative media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal.  However, liberals and progressives also have a point when they say that the conservative bias is just as prevalent, if not more. This is because facts tend to favor liberals, which force Fox, Beck, and other channels and personalities to distort facts and even mislead their viewers in order to pursue their ideological narrative. It leads them to blame the president's reelection on "partisan factcheckers," namely Politifact and Factcheck.org, both nonpartisan projects. Or they tell a half truth, and a lot of the time it is for ideological purposes. And the left does the same, but to a lesser degree.

So why is it a losing fight? How about we take a look at who really wins in the ideological fight between the two media giants. Warning: the answer is not the viewers.

What is the purpose of a business? To make money. What is the purpose of a news organization? To inform the people of domestic and international news. And news organizations are businesses so they are also meant to make money. To make money you need to be a formidable competitor. You have to show potential viewers that your business offers the best product. And there is nothing the public loves more than strong personalities, partial debate, and a gaffe or two every now and again. It makes money, and it serves as an entertaining circus. In a July 1 article from the The Huffington Post:
Fox News dominated the top thirteen spots in July and secured 13 out of the top 15 programs in the coveted 25-54 age demographic. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, whose 10:00 p.m. show "Last Word" beat "The Rachel Maddow Show," ranking as the network's highest rated program in July, broke Fox News' winning streak. "Last Word" increased by 11% in total viewers compared to July 2011. MSNBC held its place as the second highest rated cable news network, firmly situated behind Fox News and ahead of CNN.
The news was not as good for CNN, as the network was down 20 percent in total viewers from this time last year. Anderson Cooper's 8:00 p.m. show "AC360" was the only program to increase in viewers from July 2011. While the network posted lower viewership compared to this time last year, CNN's ratings were higher than last month in both total viewers and the key demographic.
The difference between the stations in question and CNN is that the latter makes a greater effort to reporting the news and refuses to succumb to the strategy of partisan rhetoric and propaganda that has reeled in viewers to rival stations for over a decade. The effect: the steady ratings decline that CNN has been experiencing for years.

I maintain my point. Americans love political theater and controversy. Bias makes money, and while people on opposite sides of the political spectrum continue to fight over ideology and debate over who is really the political scapegoat, news organizations and their owners are laughing their way to the bank and cashing their multi-million dollar checks.


  1. Life has changed so much since I started voting in the 70's. News reporting has become a farce because I really do not believe any of them, so have to read alot of them and then fact check. There is not one of them you an believe.

  2. And it's unfortunate. Based on further research that I made, it was during the Reagan Administration where a policy called the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to present both sides of a controversial issue in an honest and balanced matter. The one who somewhat does that is CNN.