I was on the way to town Sunday ("town" being Hampton) to pick up some charcoal lighter fluid and ice (throw in a dog bone for Mencken), when the program started on the radio. The conservative talk show host lamented media coverage of last week’s GOP national convention. He complained that the media’s "liberal bias" tainted what was otherwise a virtual font of virtue and gravity.
Let me tell you about that infamous liberal bias in the "mainstream media."
"Mainstream media." How much more mainstream can you get than Fox News, which trumps all other cable news networks? How much more mainstream can you get than the Wall Street Journal? How much more mainstream can you get than local Arkansas newspapers, which carry conservative views as much as moderate ones (don’t even look for lefty views; they’re probably not here).
Sorry. Got distracted for a moment. On to the "liberal bias."
There are really only three things a person needs to know about the media. One, the folks working there probably do tilt a bit to the left, generally. Two, the folks who own the place most likely tilt more than a bit to the right. Three, to be a discerning consumer of what passes for news these days, a reader or viewer must be able to differentiate news from opinion, even if a media outlet is passing one off as the other.
Let’s take these in reverse order.
Many media outlets fail to properly label news and opinion. Newspapers do the best job in that area, and TV "journalists" do the worst. The pretty people on the small screen (and a growing number of big screens) seamlessly shift between reporting and commenting. There’s no flashing red banner on the TV telling you that someone is giving his/her opinion. And that’s the problem. People hear opinion presented as fact, and they take to heart whatever the opinion is. They accept it as fact.
Media outlets on both sides of the political aisle use this tactic. MSNBC is just as guilty as Fox News of foisting off opinions in the guise of ostensible news. But don’t think for a minute that either one of those outlets comes to the table from anywhere other than the left and right.
On to the media moguls. Talk about an easy concept to wrap a mind around. People who own even smallish (by at least a regional measure) media companies aren’t clipping coupons. They’re doing fine personally.
Using the basic tenets of Republicanism and Democratic ideals, where would you figure most media owners would fall on the political spectrum? Of course, most of them are conservative Republicans who want their taxes to go down.
Though ownership counts for something and some media owners are more strident than others, this fact doesn’t play quite as large a role in the news columns as one might think. Or, it could be that some journalists are luckier than others when it comes to ownership editorial dictates.
Finally, liberal bias in newsrooms. Does it exist?
I think so.
Purely anecdotal evidence: A solid majority of journalists go into the field viewing it as more than a job. It’s a cause, a search for truth and justice and all those things that we, as Americans, say we want. Journalists see their work as being part of a larger good, and that’s not really in question.
Seems logical, then, those folks would naturally lean to the political left, that they would see the world through a prism of commonality and society.
Is it these journalists’ job to use that inherent mindset in their work? Of course not. It’s their job to check their worldview at the door and report what they find. Some do a better job than others.
• Have some grains of salt handy when consuming "news";
• Know that the people who own the media outlets generally are conservative, and some coverage questions will reflect that viewpoint; and
• Journalists might have biases, but the good ones will still give you the straight story — if you choose to believe it.
Rick Fahr is a longtime journalist in Arkansas, who most recently was editor and publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is email@example.com.