The Media and the Genie in the Bottle

Question MarksIt has long been the cry from the Right that “the media” has a liberal bias. Recently, Sharyl Attkisson just resigned from her two decades long stint with CBS citing “liberal bias” as the culprit. (See Sharyl Attkisson resigns from CBS News as reported by Politico Magazine online.)

For grins I searched the following sites in vain for any word about the resignation of the long time CBS reporter: Nothing on CNN, NPR not even on CBSNews. Not surprisingly, I did find plenty on Fox News, including a tweet by Britt Hume: “The liberal culture of the major networks news division claims a scalp.” This was in response to Sharyl Atkisson’s tweet: “I have resigned from CBS.” The lack of any word in the “liberal” media sources, and the corresponding coverage by the main “conservative” media source seems to underscore the notion that media is biased in America.

Is it really any surprise? Gallup polls over the last decade plus report the common perception that the media is biased. (Media Research Center)  The perception is overwhelmingly that the bias is liberal. Over those years, the ratio of people who think the media is too liberal to people who think the media is too conservative has ranged from over 2 to 1 to over 4 to 1.

I am not noting anything new of course, though it does depend on who is asked. Over the same period of time, there were people who reflected the thought that the media is too conservative, but the numbers range from 11% to 19% of those polled; while a consistent 44% to 48% hold that the media is too liberal. The “too conservative” group is comprised primarily of those labeling themselves Democrats and liberals. The “too liberal” crowd is overwhelmingly the Republican and conservative group. (Gallup)

Can there be any doubt that our perspectives and our positions depend on where we stand?

It seems that the collective “we” used to maintain the pretense that reporters and news agencies are unbiased. Sure, journalism schools preached the party line. People, however, are not unbiased; and, frankly, I doubt reporters ever really were unbiased. People are people in whatever era they live, and people have biases. In years gone by, reporters and news agencies may have made more of a concerted effort to maintain the ideal, but the ideal is certainly more of an illusion than reality.

I have rued the “loss” of the unbiased media ideal in a reflexive sort of way myself. Some honest reflection on the other hand leads me to wonder why I/we ever bought into the notion that people can be unbiased at the core.

More of a concern is the loss of trust in reporting. Gallup has chronicled that growing distrust over the last decade. In the last seven years, less than half the people polled trust in the media, and well over half the people polled trust the “not very much” or not at all. (See Gallup)

Interestingly, Democrats responded that they trust the media in high numbers – no lower than 59% and as high as 70%. That stat, alone, affirms the media has a liberal bias. Republicans report little trust in the media –never above 49% and as low as 25%. Independents, too, have comparatively little trust in the media, though ranging higher than Republicans – topping out at 53% and falling to 31%. (See Gallup)

In my own interactions I have heard visceral reactions expressed by conservatives to liberal media outlets and just as visceral reactions to Fox News. Let ‘s face it: Fox News is the only major media outlet that leans the other way. Each side of the spectrum dismisses the other the opposite media source ab initio. That, to me, is more troubling than the false notion that media is objective or the resigned realization that it is not objective.

We all stand somewhere on the spectrum, and we calculate the world from that reference point. Pretending we do not is dishonest. Pretending the “the media” does not do that is dishonest. Unbiased reporting was once held out as a professional standard. Appearances were kept up to pretend it was observed. In this day of the Internet, we can no longer give any credence to that illusion. The genie is out of the bottle. Was it ever in the bottle to begin with.

We should really stop the pretense that media is (or can be) unbiased. We should stop the surprise and indignation. “The media” are people, and people have biases! I dare say we should all spend some time entertaining “the other side” of the spectrum from us. I doubt it will change any of our minds, but it will help us understand each other a little better.

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