When I was interning for the Reagan-Bush re-election campaign in 1984, a friend introduced me to the idea that the media had a “liberal bias.” At the time, I could see what he meant.
While Ronald Reagan was adept at sidestepping criticism, reporters (especially those at the Washington Post) seemed to relish taking shots at the administration. Perhaps that’s what the press is supposed to do, but it felt unfair at the time. Now that I’ve moved to the left, I often see media coverage slanting to the right. In the same way that referees are always making calls against my team, media coverage has a tendency to skew away from my point-of-view.
Most of us are defensive of our strongly held beliefs, making it easy to sell a “liberal bias” to conservatives.
Actual bias is more difficult to quantify; there was a survey in the 1990s that indicated 60 percent of newspaper reporters identified more with Democrats. Even if those numbers are accurate, I don’t necessarily see a communist plot. Journalists are usually intelligent, inquisitive people who have to research their stories. It’s just possible they may know more about specific topics than the average guy watching from his couch. And, as Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”
Even if “liberal” reporters have a little leeway in their stories, ultimately, they are working for multi-national conglomerates that have interests in a variety of industries.
Naturally, it is in a corporation’s interest to protect, or at least not attack, the hands that feed them. A well known example occurred in 1995 when CBS owner, Laurence Tisch, defanged what would have been a devastating 60 Minutes expose on the tobacco industry. Tisch also happened to own a large percent of Lorillard Tobacco. While news departments claim independence, they know which stories to push and which to pull.
Corporate media has a vested interest in being noncontroversial since advertising rates are based on their market share and the number of viewers they can attract.
Unless they’re programming to a political demographic, the major networks don’t want to pick sides simply because they don’t want to alienate potential viewers. Now, because the mainstream media is fearful of being accused of a liberal slant, they will go to great lengths to give both sides of any argument equal time. So, if 97 percent of scientists believe in global warming, they will find the one scientist to present the counterpoint.
The network’s sometimes awkward attempt at neutrality has almost become irrelevant in the age of channel proliferation and niche programming. No matter how extreme your political views, you can find a channel, blog or a podcast to tell you exactly what you want to hear.
People can now wallow in the media of their choice, blocking any conflicting views and reinforcing their own preexisting beliefs. Certainly, the radio airwaves have become inundated with talk show hosts who preach their ultra-conservative doctrine 24 hours a day.
Since its inception, Republican media strategist, Roger Ailes, has run the “Fair and Balanced” cable network like the PR department of the RNC. It is unprecedented for a “news” network to be run by a political operative and, while Ailes’s has delivered impressive ratings, the Fox News audience consistently ranks as the most misinformed of all TV viewers. Issues such as the Iraq War, immigration, healthcare reform and climate change pose particular challenges to the Fox crowd.
Starting with Fox News, conservative media reinforces the belief that the mainstream media has a “liberal bias” because it continues to build a dependence on them.
While I’m not saying they brainwash their audiences, making followers reliant on them alone for information is a classic indoctrination technique. Anyone who deviates from the party line is automatically suspect. Besides journalists, college professors, scientists and other “over-educated” types have been colored with the brush of “liberal bias.” Now even Nobel prize-winning scientists and economists can be disregarded if they disagree, which they often do.
Another basic propaganda tactic is “proof by assertion,” which basically means to keep saying the same thing over and over until the lie becomes the “truth.”
To boil it down to a simple set of brainwashing instructions: shampoo with the message, massage it into the scalp and repeat, repeat, repeat. Reagan and both Bushes were experts at firing repeating bullet points at their unsuspecting audiences. Easy to remember messages work best, such as these classics: no new taxes, flip-flopper and WMDs (weapons of mass destruction).
The most insidious result of promoting the idea of a “liberal bias” is that it sows seeds of distrust, corralling true believers into closed systems, unwilling to believe anything that doesn’t come from sanctioned sources.
Of course anyone, on the right or left, can be brainwashed, or at least influenced, by a heavy dose of inflammatory information. The good news is that anyone can be deprogrammed too.
The instructions could be the following: turn off the faucet of “news,” rinse with cold water, take a good look in the mirror and think for yourself again.
Jeff Fulmer lives in Nashville Tennessee and is the author of the blog and the book Hometown Prophet. If God spoke through a prophet today, would we really want to hear what he has to say? For more information, visit the Hometown Prophet. Follow on Twitter here.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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