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The Liberal Media?!?!?!?!

Yesterday I got involved in an interesting e-mail discussion with one of our viewers, Larry Schweikart, a professor of history at the University of Dayton. He took issue with my column yesterday, The Washington Redskins And The Great Bush Comeback, believing that there is no way that the mainstream media could favor Bush. His thoughtful response stimulated me to think about whether there is any legitimacy to the view held by a great many conservatives and Republicans, that major print and television outlets like the New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC and cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC repeatedly demonstrate a liberal and Democratic Party bias.

Below is an excerpt of his response to what I wrote, my reply, and a brief portion of his second response. This is a huge subject that we will keep focusing on at

Professor Schweikart's response:

I found the reasoning in your column ludicrous. First, having conducted research on press bias for a forthcoming book, I can assure you that the media is not just subtly biased against Bush and Republicans, it is overwhelmingly so. Every single study of the press shows a statistically large---to gigantic---leftward tilt.

If the press has "made up its mind" about anything, it is that the journalists have already concluded Gore is the winner. Just one example will suffice: there is no legitimate reason in the world to trumpet on virtually every television "news" show the Newsweak polls---which are notoriously unreliable, featuring small sample sizes, often conducted over weekends---when it has available and has had available all the time several more reliable polls that have always had Bush ahead. (See: Battleground, Portrait of America, both of which are rolling 3-day averages of very large samples, no weekends, "very" likely voters only).

One statistician has concluded that in 1996, the odds that ALL the polls would be as far off in the same direction was almost 5000 to one!!

Go 'Boys. Go Bush.

Larry Schweikart

Professor of History, University of Dayton

My reply:

Larry: I really appreciate your response. Good points you make. And we agree on Newsweek.

However, I review over 60 domestic news outlets per day and can tell you that Gore is being attacked much more than Bush. And it is because these publications are actually to the left of Gore. Bush hasn't been attacked, in many respects, he has actually been ignored.

The press certainly has a bias toward the Left but maybe not in the way that you and others, like Rush Limbaugh imagine. The bias is much more editorial in nature than it is coverage wise. The left-leaning media outlets are critical of Gore but they would never consider endorsing Bush on their editorial pages. Just read today's NYT for example - the editorial is anti-Bush but the coverage in stories over the last two months has been fairly critical of Gore.

Bottom line: my analysis reflects the rhythm of news coverage during the campaign more than it does partisan bias. But when the editorial endorsements are written in the last two weeks before the election you and I will stand together in agreement that the bias will be anti-Bush. Do you see where I am coming from and where we agree?

Best Regards,

Cedric Muhammad


Professor Schweikart's second response:

Cedric, OK, I see your point, and can probably agree.

I'm writing a history of press bias, and when it changed, pretty much pinpointing the shift in the Kennedy administration. While my book isn't finished, I begin with a history of journalism wherein the Jacksonian era of highly partisan presses gave way to about 100 years of "objective" press. This didn't mean that journalists weren't "liberal" during that time, but both business practices and the demands of readers required an emphasis on fact and truth.

By 1960, the liberal press had generally remained "objective" and "fact based." (Obviously, we can find a few exceptions---McCarthy's trials, the Scopes trial, maybe coverage of Sacco-Vanzetti or Lindbergh). But by and large the press was not partisan.

My note:

Professor Schweikart's second response opens up another subject which raises the question of whether or not it is proper for media outlets to be "partisan" at all. In the latest stage of our ongoing exchange the professor and I are discussing media outlets like the Washington Times and Fox News Channel which style themselves as fair and balanced news sources but which I feel are no better than the Washington Post and CNN in that they seem to be partisan as well.

These outlets, very obviously favor conservatives and Republicans in their coverage.

The professor believes that Fox and the Washington Times are refreshing in that they provide coverage that can't be found in other media outlets, but to me they are guilty of the same practices that he abhors in so-called "liberal" media outlets.

Going to an extreme in order to balance another extreme does have value at times but certainly doesn't result in the type of unbiased coverage from a single source that the professor and many conservatives and Republicans seem to crave.

Are Fox News Channel and the Washington Times "objective" and "fact-based"? Or are they just polar opposites of CNN and the Washington Post and New York Times?

Let us know what you think.

Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

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