The One-Sided Media Cocoon

While I was in the car yesterday I turned to a conservative talk radio station, which I recommend all liberals do from time to time. The host, whom I didn't recognize, brought up some innocuous piece of news reporting that appeared in the Politico. As you know if you care about these things, the Politico is a complicated media entity. On one hand, they employ a lot of reporters and they sometimes break interesting stories. On the other hand, they're almost a parody of the inside dope-obsessed Washington media, which finds the question of whether Eric Cantor's press secretary and John Boehner's press secretary are feuding far more compelling than, say, the question of what effects cuts in Medicaid would have on struggling Americans. But when this conservative talk show host mentioned the Politico, he found it necessary to refer to it as "the left-wing rag the Politico."

Here in Washington, almost no one in either party is crazy enough to think that the Politico is actually a left-wing rag, an ideologically-motivated news outlet whose purpose is to advance the liberal cause. And whether this talk show host's listeners know or care much about it in particular isn't my point. My point is this: If you are a consumer of conservative media, you get constant reminders -- every day, multiple times a day -- that you absolutely must not believe anything you hear or read in any news outlet that is not explicitly conservative. Which brings us to this new poll from Public Policy Polling, where they asked people whether they trust a long list of news outlets:

-Democrats trust everything - except Fox News. NBC does the best with them at +50 (67/17), followed by PBS and CNN at +49 (66/17 and 65/16 respectively), ABC at +38 (57/19), CBS at +35 (58/23), MSNBC at +33 (56/23), and even Comedy Central at +4 (36/32). Fox News comes in at -36 (25/61).

-Republicans meanwhile don't trust anything except Fox News. PBS comes the closest to breaking even among non-Fox outlets, although not very close, at -30 (26/56). It's followed by CNN at -49 (18/67), MSNBC at -51 (18/69), NBC at -52 (17/69), CBS at -54 (17/71), ABC at -56 (14/70), and Comedy Central at -59 (12/71). But Fox News comes in at a stellar 73/17.

This is in line with other polling on the topic, and it shouldn't surprise anyone. For the last 40 years, conservatives have made hatred of the media a core component of their ideology, and it's reinforced constantly. But this gets mischaracterized all the time, so it's important to understand: Americans are not "polarized" when it comes to the media, because that implies that both sides have drifted apart to similar degrees. Conservatives and liberals are not equally prone to huddle within their self-reinforcing cocoons. It's the conservatives who refuse to believe anything that anyone but Fox or conservative talk-radio tells them. Yes, there are a few people on the left who are similarly distrustful of information they don't get from those who share their ideology. But there's just no comparison between that small proportion of liberals and the consensus on the right that every news outlet that isn't ideologically conservative must therefore be ideologically liberal. Just look at those numbers again.


Your entire premise hangs on one key assumption: that the news outlets other than Fox are not ideologically left of center. It is well established (see TIM GROSECLOSE AND JEFFREY MILYO, A Measure of Media Bias and many other sources) that nearly all the major news outlets including those you mentioned run left of center. Yes, Fox is right of center, but their actual NEWS arm is less right of center than the NYT, CBS Evening News, and WA Post are left of center (see Grosecrose). I listen to NPR (and often yell at my radio), read the NYTs (and yell) and yes, sometimes Fox News. I think your problem is you don't know where the CENTER is. When the liberal elite talk about abortion on demand at any time as if it is a given that this is a centrist view when polls show about 20% support for it... well, you get the idea.

You might want to revisit the definition of "well-established". One scholarly article with poor evaluative criteria does not make your position well-established.

I'd engage in a counter-argument but honestly, is there anything that would change your mind?

Way to prove the author's point, there.

We always hear the moaning from conservatives about the "liberal media", yet they never offer any empirical evidence. Basically, when conservatives complain about the media, what their really referring to is any story that does not paint them in a perfect light. For example, Gingrich last night excoriated John king for the question about his ex wife. So this is an example of the Liberal "gotcha" media? No. It's someone asking Gingrich about something he was responsible for. Instead of manning up and taking responsibility for his actions, Gingrich turned it into a media critique. Does anyone think that if Obama had been a serial adulturer with a record like Gingrich's he wouldn't be asked about it? Of course not. The only bias the media really has is for scandal, controversy, or conflict irrespective of party. Conservatives only throw up the liberal media BS when they can't control the narrative. What the right really wants is propaganda, and of course that's what they get on FOX.

It is important to add that conservatives will even impute "bias" to the mainstream media even when reports are entirely "accurate." All a report has to do to earn the epithet "biased" from the Right is to put conservatives in a bad light -- even when they deserve it. I'm not saying that most reporters are not politically liberal themselves. I suspect they are. Journalism, like any of the other arts, attracts people whose search for truth and freedom of expression tends to put them on the left side of the political spectrum. But having been a reporter myself, I also know that most reporters and writers also try to be accurate and "fair" in their reporting. I am not sure that this is true of Fox News and the rest of the conservative press -- since attacking the mainstream media for bias is often the excuse they use to fight fire with fire and be equally "biased" the other way. That is the "balance" in Fox News' "fair and balanced." And I will bet that all those conservatives out there shouting "bias" every time their ox get gored are unable most of the time to show where a story was "wrong" so much as it was on the wrong side.

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