Monday, September 08, 2008

Media Bias in the 2008 Election: How This Bogeyman Works

Watch out!

Republicans have a new talking point: media bias is out to get Sarah Palin! And you'd better bet that they will ride this horse home. That's how Bush I got into the White House with Quayle on the ticket. Don't think McCain won't be trying to accomplish the same feat.

Lest Obama supporters get too complacent about this, let's look at some facts that show why this issue is a powerful one for Republicans, and how they consistently play the cry of "media bias" to get the media off of issues they don't want examined.

First of all, Democrats should admit there is a slightly left tilt in the average news coverage across a range of outlets. This has been shown in fairly objective studies. That doesn't mean that FOX isn't a right-wing shill, that the NY Post doesn't lean right, or that McNeil Lehrer isn't completely objective. But it does mean that the NY Times, Washington Times, and LA Times have more interest in airing left-leaning rather than right-leaning stories. Naturally: those urban area constituencies are their readers. But according to objective studies, the overall lean to the left in news coverage is real. Probably because most news outlets cater to audiences on the coasts.

The advantage for the Republicans, however, is that there is a countervailing conservative bias in opinion and commentary. That's because there are nearly twice as many conservative opinion makers on the airwaves as there are liberals. There's also a very hefty prejudice toward conservative religious viewpoints in the news.

This is where you get the toxic mix: a tendency for more liberal stories to break in the news gives the overwhelming conservative punditry more cause for hew and outcry. And so: "liberal bias" becomes the story of the opinion makers. Naturally, the mainstream news becomes cowed by the opinions. Case in point: MSNBC fires Keith Olbermann, one of the few liberal opinion makers, as anchor today so as not to be seen as "liberal."

But what they are really doing is just adding to the number of conservative pundits, and giving them even more power to decry "liberal" bias in news reports.

All this has a definite effect on the public. Most people believe there is a left-leaning bias in the media. Of course it's an oversimplification, and Republicans have done a masterful job stoking this belief. They know all this and are using their conservative commentator advantage to hammer home a "bias" against their candidate. They've used the free range of opinion on the internet to mix this up with what media outlets are saying. And they will hammer any sense of an endorsement of the Democratic candidate (while playing puff pieces on the MSM about themselves). This is why Republicans can be more successful than Democrats going on the offensive: they have public opinion for a left-leaning media bogeyman and pundits available to flood the airwaves with Republican puffery. Democrats have a harder time going on the same offensive without falling into this "media bias" trap.

The Democrats have to be VERY CAREFUL about this: bias needs to be rebutted and comments about Republicans need to be weighed carefully. But they've left an opening. Democrats need to counter this dynamic by getting MORE liberal pundits available on more outlets. Don't worry so much about attacking Palin or getting facts into the news. As we've seen, facts mean little and the overwhelming conservative punditry will dismiss the facts as "biased." But DO get Bill Maher and John Stewart as snarky commentators on CNN. Get Obama spokesmen more distributed across the evening news. The interviews with Palin will do little, in this environment, except give the Republicans more ammunition. But liberal commentators need MORE airtime, not less. If this line isn't fought carefully, history has show, McCain could make real headway.

For instance: here's an example of Michael Moore doing a great job on Larry King. The bowling alley background and the economic points are all very smart and carefully crafted to speak to the correct audience. We need more of these sorts of pieces.


Anonymous said...

"The Democrats have to be VERY CAREFUL about this: bias needs to be rebutted and comments about Republicans need to be weighed carefully."

How can you rebut the truth? Only by providing false evidence or by confusing the truth in a myriad of misdirected statements. The truth is simple, the media IS liberally biased. I'm certainly no fan of McCain, but don't try to hide the truth by declaring this a simple Republican attack strategy.

As a moderate, I prefer to see equal coverage (postive AND negative) for both candidates. Perhaps you missed the USNews article that clearly showed a 69% positive coverage of Obama, 67% positive coverage of Clinton and a meager 43% positive coverage of McCain ( Haven't you noticed how little media coverage there has been on Obama's ties to radical terrorist Ayers or his pre-Washington "Chicago-Style" politics? These vitally important facts get little media coverage while something as petty as Palin's pregant daughter is pumped through every major news outlet with relentless abandon. No bias my foot.

Perhaps if you step outside of the forest you will see the trees my friend.

Martin Schecter said...

Moderate mo - no doubt a true point in June as the Dem. primaries were wrapping up since the primaries took the focus of the news. Any info on what the stats on Obama v. McCain look like through today? I would guess there's still a slight lean for Obama, in the news. But I would suspect a definite lean for McCain, in the punditry. My point is about the difference between the two and how Republicans exploit that difference.

Martin Schecter said...

Also: "Obama's ties to radical terrorist Ayers or his pre-Washington "Chicago-Style" politics."

Hmmm, I don't see your point on this. These stories have been raised constantly in talk radio and conservative blogosphere, as well as on the MSM. Can't say they've been overlooked in the media: ABC debates brought up both directly. Here's a feature on it in one of those famous liberal rags, the Washington Post. Palin's just getting the onslaught at the moment since she's a complete unknown and there's so much time to make up for. The press hasn't even had a chance to ask her about any of it yet. But these stories about Obama have been out there for a while.