Yes, Virginia, Media Bias Is Real

by James A, Bacon

There are far more liberal/Democratic journalists than conservative/Republican journalists, but political bias has little influence over how they report the news, finds a new study on media bias, “There is No Liberal Media Bias in the News Political Journalists Choose to Cover.

The study, one of whose three co-authors, John B. Holbein, is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, uses Twitter postings as a tool to measure the ideological leanings of thousands of journalists. By this measure, the scholars confirm the widespread public perception that journalists are far more liberal than the public at large.

The figure above shows the ideological distribution of 13,500 journalists based on their Twitter interactions. “As can be seen, journalists are dominantly liberal and often fall far to the left of Americans,” the study says. “A full 78.1% of journalists are more liberal than the average Twitter user. Moreover, 66% are even more than former President Obama, 62.3% are to the left of the median Senate Democrat (in the 114th Congress), and a full 14.5% are more liberal than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (one of the most liberal members of the House). In short, journalists are overwhelmingly liberal/Democrats.”

However, the authors write, journalists strongly value objectivity in reporting the news. Based on responses of the 18.3% who responded to a survey, they conclude, “Despite being dominantly liberals/Democrats, journalists do not seem to be exhibiting liberal media bias (or conservative media bias) in what they choose to cover.”

Nice try, fellas. But you’re not going to persuade anybody.

I will accept the methodology for using Twitter to measure the political leanings of journalists. Perhaps someone should take a closer look at the findings, but I find nothing surprising here. Well, I guess I’m somewhat surprised that 14.5% of journalists are further to the left than Ocasio-Cortez — I didn’t know such a thing was even theoretically possibility. Still, the findings align with my view of reality.

The disputable finding is that liberals and Democrats don’t exhibit liberal media bias. Here’s how Holbein and his co-authors came to that conclusion:

We created an artificial campaign email address for a fictitious candidate for the state legislature. We emailed the journalists on our list asking them to cover the potential candidate. Covering campaigns and the people who run in them is a vital part of political journalists’ jobs. …. This story appears to be something that is generally considered newsworthy, but it subject to journalist discretion and is exactly the type of story where gatekeeping biases would be manifest.

Our email appeared to be from a campaign staffer indicating that the candidate was about to announce his candidacy within the next week and asking if the journalist would be interested in sitting down with the candidate sometime in the following week to discuss his candidate and vision for state government. The text in each of the emails was identical except for the bio of the candidate we included at the end of each message. … Each email described the candidate as being either a “Conservative Republican,” “a moderate Republican,” “a moderate Democrat,” or a “Progressive Democrat.”

In the responses received, journalists showed no meaningful bias in their responses to the candidates. They were just as likely to favor conservatives as liberals. In conclusion: “Despite the overwhelming liberal composition of the media, there is no evidence of liberal media bias in the news that political journalists choose to cover.”

While the narrow finding may be defensible — liberal reporters show no bias in choosing to write about conservative candidates — it is ludicrous to extrapolate to the larger conclusion that “there is no liberal media bias.”

That conclusion totally misses the point. You don’t hear conservatives/ Republicans griping about the media ignoring conservative/ Republican candidates. The Virginia media didn’t ignore Sen. George Allen when he ran for re-election in 2006, for example. To the contrary, the media devoted endless ink to the “macaca” fiasco, which kept him on the defensive, to the exclusion of other issues that might have favored him. Bias comes in the narrative framework embraced by the media. What issues do the media regard as important, and which can be safely ignored?

This point is so blindingly obvious that it astonishes me that some people take the trouble to deny it. Here at Bacon’s Rebellion, we do not pretend to be unbiased in our selection of news articles and the way we frame the issues. We do try to be fact-based, accurate and objective enough to acknowledge that stories often are multi-faceted, complex and have other ways of looking at them. But each of our contributors brings a distinct point of view to bear, and we don’t pretend otherwise.

I put a different spin on news and commentary than that of most reporters in the commercial/philanthropic media. So do Steve Haner and Don Rippert, who can, to varying degrees be described as moderate conservative or libertarian, and Dick Hall-Sizemore, who can be described as a moderate Democrat (which makes him less “liberal” than most journalists, according to the study). Peter Galuszka is the most liberal in his sentiments — we appreciate his efforts to keep us honest and prevent Bacon’s Rebellion from becoming a center-right echo chamber.

Coverage of the 2020 General Assembly session is a vivid illustration. With our different sets of biases, Bacon’s Rebellion has focused on very different news stories coming out of the legislature. We have highlighted story after story that has gotten virtually zero coverage in the newspapers. That’s not because liberal reporters and editors are consciously quashing stories they don’t like, it’s because they are actively pursuing stories that conform to what they think is important. What they think is important is not the same as what we think is important. It’s as simple as that.

Is that really so hard to understand?

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14 responses to “Yes, Virginia, Media Bias Is Real

  1. Well said Jim. You guys are doing some heavy lifting when it comes to covering public policy. I appreciate your deep dive into many of the proposed bills working their way through the General Assembly.

  2. What? The most liberal!!!!!

  3. re: ” We have highlighted story after story that has gotten virtually zero coverage in the newspapers.”

    Not sure why we ignore all the other Conservative Media that pretty much dominates the internet these days.

    Clearly, thought, there is still “envy” of those bastions of liberalism – the newspapers!

    But take something like the coronavirus. Does Conservative media “cover” it?

    Is that why Conservatives keep coming back to read WaPo and the NYT then get outrages when they read some of the “other” articles?

    If you want to read the “news” about things like the Coronavirus – even Conservatives know that Conservative Media is not going to cover it unless they see some way to turn that story into something to whack on liberals about. right?

    • “But take something like the coronavirus. Does Conservative media “cover” it?”

      Yes.

      “If you want to read the “news” about things like the Coronavirus – even Conservatives know that Conservative Media is not going to cover it unless they see some way to turn that story into something to whack on liberals about. right?”

      Wrong.

  4. Well, the General Assembly issues getting the most media attention have been the various gun control proposals, sucking most of the air until last week’s defeat on the final and most controversial element. Without that other issues would have gotten more attention from the depleted corps of reporters.

    • If Conservatives had 1/100th the number who showed up on gun rights, we’d have really good “coverage” of the GA – especially on all those issues the liberal media chooses not to cover!

      so what’s the problem? Only liberals do the news and they do it biased? Conservatives can’t do the “news” right? LORD!

      I know. I know. No matter what, it’s the liberals fault. Right?

  5. Wait a minute. I don’t use Twitter. Why am I being named?

  6. My first reaction to this was similar to those of Peter and Wayne. It is not a good approach to use Twitter as a basis of comparison. Most reporters now use Twitter as part of their job. Just because they are more liberal than most Twitter users does not necessarily mean they are more liberal than Americans generally because we don’t know to what extent Twitter users are reflective of the general population. Like Peter and Wayne, I don’t use Twitter. Nor am I a user of Facebook. BR is the only social media I use.

    • I have both TWITTER and FB accounts but I mostly “lurk” so just get a sense of the activity.

      Both can be really, really nasty…. and I just stay out of it.

      BR is downright GENTEEL by Twitter standards!

  7. Agreed, Dick; how can the choice of medium and the politeness of the first response to an apparent ‘press release’ say much of anything about the personal biases of the responder?

  8. Just in case I was starting to forget exactly how biased our news media really is, I received a really nice reminder in the week or so following the VCDL lobby day rally on January 20 of this year. I was at the rally with my son. We saw and heard what was going on. He and I (mostly I because he is a bit shy in crowds) had one-on-one conversations with more than 50 other attendees, none of whom I had ever met before. We stayed outside the civil rights violation zone because I was carrying a couple of handguns, but most of the people were outside the fence anyway.

    I know first-hand what happened at the rally, and I was and am appalled by the shamefully slanted and biased reporting on the event by the MSM and other leftist media, especially their lack of coverage of the diverse crowd that was in attendance.

    For instance, how many of you know that there was a contingent (at least 15 to 20 people) from the New Black Panther Party at the rally? Did any of you see any coverage of that fact in the days following the event? I certainly did not. Mostly what I saw in the post-rally news coverage was a continuation of the pre-rally mantra that gun owners are a bunch of ignorant, racist white men.

    Did any of you see any coverage of the LGBTQ group that was at the rally to demonstrate for their gun rights? They were there – I made a point of talking to them and thanking them for being at the rally.

    There was also a contingent from the North Caroline General Assembly in attendance. The were there with a letter of support for gun rights signed by a majority of their colleagues. They were trying to deliver it to their counterparts in the Virginia GA, but when I spoke with them they were not having much luck. I never did find out if they were able to deliver their letter.

    These are just a few of the pleasant encounters I had at the rally with people from all walks of life. There were people in three-piece suits and people in overalls. There were men and there were women. There were people dressed up in their tactical gear open-carrying firearms, and there were people in regular street clothes carrying concealed weapons and there were people who were not armed at all. I saw attendees and police officers laughing and joking together as they “talked guns”.

    The fact of the matter is every encounter and every conversation I had over the course of that day was upbeat, friendly and positive. I talked to people who had travelled from as far away as Alaska and California for the sole purpose of attending the lobby day rally, and while we all knew we were there for a serious purpose everyone was happy to be there.

    However, the overwhelmingly positive atmosphere at the rally did not match the predictions of our easily-frightened governor. Neither did it coincide with the MSM’s preconceived ideas about who owns guns and why they own them. And so they spun it into something negative – or at best, non-positive. They mentioned again and again how “lucky” we were that there was no violence, but the fact of the matter is, that rally was the safest place to be in Virginia on that day.

  9. Pingback: Yes, Virginia, Media Bias Is Real - Down The Middle News

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