CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Media Bias

Nov 15, 2008

The reason this website exists – and many like it – is because of media bias. If the mainstream media (MSM) were doing its job properly, there may not be a need for sites such as this. But because the MSM is overwhelmingly left of centre, and overwhelmingly secular, there is a pressing need for news and views which are less secular and less leftwing. Thus CultureWatch.

The media of course has great power and influence. It can not only report news but create news, distort news, manipulate the news and censure the news. As commentator James Hitchcock once wrote, “Probably the greatest power which the mass media possess, is the ability, in effect, to define reality.”

As one who has been involved in dealing with the media over the past twenty years, I have witnessed firsthand the way in which news coverage can be treated. I have certainly witnessed how the media can distort and create news. As GK Chesterton once quipped, “Journalism consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

Now on a regular basis I provide examples of the bias inherent in so much of the MSM. Indeed, I have over 50 articles on this site devoted to the issue. But still, critics will remain sceptical, and deny any such systemic bias. So let me here offer a bit more proof of my allegations. Let me provide a few bits of documentation to back up my claims.

A number of studies have been done on this issue. They show that much of the MSM simply reflects the reigning worldview of our elites, that of secular humanism. Let me mention just a few of these studies. One earlier study was published back in 1986 when Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda Lichter wrote The Media Elite. In it they carefully documented how our news makers are far to the left of ordinary Americans, and far more secular. The book is the result of a ten-year study sponsored by several universities. It examined how journalists covered issues during the previous fifteen years, and makes clear how out of touch most of them are from the rest of the nation.

Then there is the work of a former MSM insider, Bernard Goldberg, His 2001 book Bias was a damning expose of the overwhelming bias found at CBS in particular, and the MSM in general. Goldberg had worked for the CBS television network in America for nearly three decades. Thus he knew from personal experience how the media can push agendas, manipulate the news, and censure opposing viewpoints. His expose is must reading.

Plenty of other book-length critiques of the media have appeared over the years. There are also plenty of quotes one can cite from various players, including those who admit their own bias. Let me just offer two Australian quotes regarding our own ABC.

Australian writer Robert Dessaix was for many years the host of the ABC’s Books and Writing program. He also happens to be a homosexual. Way back in the mid-1990s he said this about the ABC in the Melbourne magazine of the arts, Storm: “The political correctness of the ABC is extraordinary. There’s no leeway in anything to do with race or gender or politics. There is only one attitude you can have to Aborigines, to multiculturalism and to feminism. I have to tailor what I say to the reigning ideology of the ABC. As for career prospects in this bastion of gay men and feminists, heterosexual males may as well go and commit suicide.”

The second is also made by an ABC insider. David Salter was a former executive producer of the ABC’s Media Watch. In an August 2007 article in the Australian entitled “A bias for independence,” he too makes an incredible admission: “The long march of young liberal-humanist progressives through the ABC’s many portals is as much a self-perpetuating cycle as the daughters of doctors choosing a medical career or the sons of great football players striving to match the sporting deeds of their fathers.”

It is most revealing that he uses the phrase “the long march”. Anyone aware of leftist thought and history would immediately know what he was referring to. Around 80 years ago the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci said the most important mission for socialism was to “capture the culture”. He said this must be done by means of the “long march through the institutions”. That is, socialists must take control of the institutions of influence and power, such as the academy, the judiciary, and the media. Thus the goal is to overthrow societies from within, instead of relying on bloody revolutions from without.

So Salter knows well that this is exactly what has been happening in the ABC. Of course many other examples and admissions can be produced here. But let me focus on one final, and very recent, illustration. It concerns the just-finished US Presidential elections.

Two of the most leftist and secular MSM outlets in the US are The New York Times and The Washington Post. There was a quite amazing piece in the Post last week. It is written by Deborah Howell, an ombudsman for Post. The piece was entitled, “An Obama Tilt in Campaign Coverage” and it spilled the beans of the leftist slant of the Post.

She begins with these words: “The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.”
 
“My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 of last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates’ backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4. The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts’ views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues.”

Here are some of the specifics: “The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces about McCain, 58, than there were about Obama, 32, and Obama got the editorial board’s endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain. Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Reporters, photographers and editors found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.”

But wait, there’s more: “The number of Obama stories since Nov. 11 was 946, compared with McCain’s 786. Both had hard-fought primary campaigns, but Obama’s battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton was longer, and the numbers reflect that. McCain clinched the GOP nomination on March 4, three months before Obama won his. From June 4 to Election Day, the tally was Obama, 626 stories, and McCain, 584. Obama was on the front page 176 times, McCain, 144 times; 41 stories featured both. Our survey results are comparable to figures for the national news media from a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It found that from June 9, when Clinton dropped out of the race, until Nov. 2, 66 percent of the campaign stories were about Obama compared with 53 percent for McCain; some stories featured both. The project also calculated that in that time, 57 percent of the stories were about the horse race and 13 percent were about issues.”
 
And of course it is not the text which is important. Images can have far more sway: “Counting from June 4, Obama was in 311 Post photos and McCain in 282. Obama led in most categories. Obama led 133 to 121 in pictures more than three columns wide, 178 to 161 in smaller pictures, and 164 to 133 in color photos. In black and white photos, the nominees were about even, with McCain at 149 and Obama at 147. On Page 1, they were even at 26 each. Post photo and news editors were surprised by my first count on Aug. 3, which showed a much wider disparity, and made a more conscious effort at balance afterward.”

It is quite remarkable to have this sort of true confessions coming from such a liberal media outlet. But it adds further proof to what conservatives and religious folk have been saying for years: the MSM is out of touch with much of mainstream society, and it takes positions that are far to the left of many, and far more secular than most.
 
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/11/09/ST2008110901017.html

[1507 words]

11 Responses to Media Bias

  • Not to mention the almost total sidelining of the Republican candidate, Ron Paul, who had to resort to the Internet to get his campaign message across, and achieved an astonishing response.
    But he is a man of integrity who upholds the constitution and stands against the vested interests of Washington.

    John Nelson

  • Thanks, Bill, for a timely article.
    While there has been clear media bias to the left for number of years, this year was different in that the journos were “in the tank” (as the Americans put it) for Obama. The New York Times became the PR headquarters for his campaign. Several conservative journos, notably Sean Hannity, declared 2008 the year that journalism died: there is no impartial investigation and scrutiny any more; only advocacy and propaganda peddling. Just look at the total lack of investigation of Obama: his background and dubious (even criminal) associations; his radical Marxism; his his murderous views on abortion; his involvement in fraud and election-rigging, to name a few. The MSM gave him a complete pass on these matters. It was only when they could could not avoid them that we started to hear about Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko, or about ACORN and voter fraud. But then the MSM worked hard – and successfully – to defuse them.

    Meanwhile their avalanche of scrutiny on Sarah Palin was relentless: we learned everything about her clothes, her hairdos and how much both cost; her children and whether or not Trig was really her own child; her (alleged) incompetence on matters of foreign or other policy etc. etc. etc. See the allegations stated and refuted on:
    http://fightthepalinsmears.com/

    Likewise Biden was given a complete pass: his plagiarism; his multitude of gaffes (e.g. “FDR went on television to the nation after the 1929 Wall St crash”); his incompetence on foreign policy (the VP debate showed the relative novice Sarah Palin knew more than he did, was more adept, and got her facts right), just to mention a few.

    Yes, journalism is dead! Therefore we need a multitude of sites like this one of Bill’s (I would like to get my own started up as well) so that as in America the ‘blogosphere’ (as it is called) can start to exercise the same sort of power here that it does in the U.S.A. that way we can start to challenge the Fairfax Press, the Nine Network, the ABC, and journalistic elite (so-called) in general.

    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Hi Bill,

    Really good article. That quote about:

    “As for career prospects in this bastion of gay men and feminists, heterosexual males may as well go and commit suicide.”

    …is REALLY sad to learn – but so accurately descriptive.

    I think that this is the reason why the “No on Prop. 8” radicals are protesting the passage of Prop. 8. They just CANNOT BELIEVE that it passed. Nor, can they ever consider the fact that the majority of people in liberalville California do not think like they do!

    One more thing – wanted to let you know that I have nominated your blog for the 2008 Weblog Awards in the “Religion” category! 🙂

    Christine Watson

  • Thanks Christine

    Yes, if Prop 8 had gone the other way, and pro-family forces began protesting, the lefties would be screaming that we need to accept the democratic process and all just go home and shut up. Strange, but they are not saying that about the homosexual protestors.

    And thanks for the nomination.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    The thing that saddens me the most, is not that the mainstream media is biased so strongly (really, what do we expect? People love the darkness, after all – John 3:19-20), but that Christians by and large, accept the framework within which much electronic and print communication takes place. Celebrity culture, and the adoption of what is considered ‘successful’ are but two things that are all too pervasive in the church these days. To be sure, communication tools should and, indeed, must be used, and used well – but I tire of people who, for example, want to ‘make movies’ for all the wrong reasons – ie. they want to ‘make it’ in TV or Hollywood or something similar. (I usually end up thinking – Why? Are so many of the ‘stars’ such glowing examples of how to live?) Musicians who think that having hit songs or a recording deal is necessary for using their gift well also come to mind.

    I’ve got news for those people – you never ‘make it’. It’s an illusion and there are thousands of unscrupulous people in those industries ready to exploit your talent for their own gain. These industries are sadly replete with stories of people not getting paid what their most precious work was worth. But if you make pleasing God your goal, you will be satisfied more often and more deeply because you are part of the kingdom of someone who actually cares about you (inexperienced and pharisaical fellow Christians notwithstanding).

    Yes, we need Christians in virtually every field, but they need to be there for the right reasons – primarily because God has called them there and they can can demonstrate that calling. A big litmus test is the question, “What will you do if God specifically tells you not to chase being a ‘star’ but to help someone else?” A mature Christian will realize that it’s not about him/her – it”s about furthering God’s kingdom – and God will never disown those who seek to be faithful to Him.

    It’s important to realize the most powerful and insidious messages are usually not the obvious ones. The photo on the front page of the preferred candidate (or ‘personality’) smiling, versus the one they want you to think ill of looking aggressive or negative or captured with eyes half closed or hands midway through a gesture (looking awkward) or their tongues hanging out momentarily (there’s a John McCain photo at one of his debates that comes to mind) etc. etc. The burying of stories further down the news rundown or pages deep (to give the impression they are less important) The order of quotations within a story as well as descriptions of certain groups with negative labels (pro-life/anti-abortion, pro-marriage & family/anti-gay are but two examples that come to mind). The glamorous photos of stars in expensive clothes unaffordable to most. Ads heavily photoshopped and treated to give false impressions of beauty. The opposite extreme in promotion of good ‘self-esteem’ as the highest ideal. The denigration of being single as being invalid and sad intrinsically. The acceptance of acidic and vacuous criticisms of people for daring to have a few hairs out of place or wear the ‘wrong’ colour. Even headlines are good examples. The run-up to last year’s federal election had numerous examples of Howard-bashing, but I doubt that most people were aware of how persuasive a carefully worded line of text in big bold print can be.

    Perhaps the most destructive of all is the pervasive “me, me” individualism and subservience to relativism which translates into materialism, hedonism, consumerism and superficiality. And the sense that we live interdependent lives is trampled on and lost. Jesus’ statement to “do to others what you would have them do to you” sounds like outright rebellion in that kind of climate.

    But Christians spend a lot of time getting upset about too much sex, swearing or anti-God content on TV. To be sure, these things aren’t good and need to be stopped, but the worst messages that the mainstream media sends out have sadly already infected the church to a great extent. The overt content is just symptomatic of the real cancer. I wish people would just spend at least a quarter of the time they spend watching TV reading the Bible instead, making use of the opportunity they have to learn something life-changing from the God who loves them deeply, personally, intimately. And who paid the ultimate price to win them. That’s in stark contrast to the MSM, who just want you to absorb one thing to the next, proliferating the sense of the importance of the ‘next big thing’ to get a hand on the contents of your wallet. What was incredible and amazing just a few years ago is slow, outdated, lame and/or unfashionable today – just so they can sell you what’s new. The trick is to get you to associate ‘old’ with ‘wrong’. But ‘relevance’ can be a cruel master over time.

    It’s a delicate balance, in many ways, to walk as a follower of Jesus. I re-read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis recently, and often if the devil doesn’t get you with one extreme, he’ll try for the opposite – and if you recognize both, he’ll go for pride. So that is why we must take our eyes off ourselves and onto God. He is unchanging, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so as Christians we need to realize we have been given and hold in our possession a totally unique treasure – something truly counter-cultural but also also fundamentally reliable, unlike everything in this world. “For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)

    Mark Rabich

  • You’re welcome, Bill. You deserve it. Great content here. Hope you get into the ten finalists list!

    Speaking of “media bias,” I thought that you would get a laugh after viewing the video at this link:

    How Obama Got Elected.

    I am so embarrassed for my country!!

    Christine Watson

  • Bill
    An excellent article. I spent most of my working life in the media (ie radio) also did narations on a few TV documentaries and know that all that you say is true. Has anyone else noticed that the pattern of the Rudd ascendancy had so many similarities to that of Obama.(1) Ignoring his many shortcomings (2) trivialising his gaffes (3) running cold on any adverse stories on their “messiah” (small m of course for me).(4) ridiculing opponents of the said messiah.

    The Left does, however supply us with some unintentional humour. They continued to ridicule Sarah Palin for the supposed amount she spent on her hair- how unusual for a female. Yet what she spent on her hair would pale into insignificance, compared to what Joe Biden would have spent on his well publicised but somewhat ineffective hair transplant.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • I saw this process when I ran for state parliament. When I analysed the coverage for each candidate in a local rag, it just happened to be directly proportional to the amount of advertising each had purchased. When I later told them I had run out of funds for advertising, they then actually went to the effort of finding a couple of quotes on my election website which when taken out of context would portray me as a looney – never having bothered to look at it before. Firstly money speaks, and when it doesn’t matter, the left bias comes in.

    Of course in many situations laziness has the major role – they have to provide certain quantities of copy by a certain time, and if you can get it to them pre-processed, they will take it, otherwise you will end up with garbage. Very often the reporters have no idea about the subject they are reporting on anyway. Unfortunately, truth and balance in reporting is often only due to good luck, not good management.

    Andrew Amos

  • Hey Bill

    I think the things that makes me so nervous is that even the Christians that I know that give their lives for the Gospel, dont just accept the MSM but dont even make the effort to read the MSM. I am working on pointing more people towards this site.

    Richard Blake

  • Hi Bill
    To add to your list of examples, in the recent ACT election, the local rag, the Canberra Times, actually had a paid advert from the ALP stuck on top of the front page of the paper coupled with, of course, an appropriately pro-ALP headline.

    The Chief Minster (ALP) stated on radio that “It was one of a number of advertising options presented to the ALP by the Canberra Times.”

    Needless to say, my Letter to the Editor suggesting they’d now lost all credibility didn’t get printed! Maybe they surprised that I was naive enough to think they had some credibility still to lose!

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the paper has a strong anti-Christian bias which appears to be the real agenda behind the whole ‘bias’ issue.

    Roger Birch

  • ‘Disgusting’ Bias for Obama, Time Writer Admits

    The mainstream media’s support for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was so biased that even major insiders are now admitting they were shocked by its depth and depravity.

    Last week, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin called the media’s performance during the campaign simply “disgusting.”

    Halperin told a panel of media analysts at the Politico/USC conference on the 2008 election, “It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war.”

    He added, “It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.”

    According to the Web site Politico, Halperin, who edits Time’s political site “The Page,” zeroed in on two New York Times articles near the end of the campaign that profiled both Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama.

    “The story about Cindy McCain was vicious,” Halperin said. “It looked for every negative thing they could find about her and it cast her in an extraordinarily negative light. It didn’t talk about her work, for instance, as a mother for her children, and they cherry-picked every negative thing that’s ever been written about her.”

    But the Time gave Michelle Obama red carpet treatment, “like a front-page endorsement of what a great person Michelle Obama is.”

    Now that the election is over, Halperin is not alone in admitting the bias. The Washington Post’s ombudsman recently conceded that the paper’s coverage was skewed strongly in favor of Obama and against the McCain-Palin ticket.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

Leave a Reply