Media Bias a Thing of the Past?

A new IPDI/Zogby Interactive poll shows that “83% of likely voters said the media is biased in one direction or another, while just 11% believe the media doesn’t take political sides.” Moreover, a whopping 64% said the media leans left, while only 28% see a conservative bias.

Coincidentally, this comes out a day after former WSJ editor Bruce Bartlett told us that media bias has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth.

In my view, the media did have a strong left-wing tilt for many years. But over the last 20 years or so, I think that has mostly disappeared. Major newspapers like the [Washington] Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage. Their editorial pages are still pretty liberal, of course, but the Post in particular is far less liberal in its editorial positions than it was in the 1970s.

If, as I believe, the major media tilted left and have moved toward the center, then this means they moved to the right. It is this movement that the left has picked up on and is complaining about. But the idea that the media now tilt toward conservatives is absurd.

However, I do think that in some ways conservatives have become better at using the media, taking advantage of its institutional biases to spin stories in conservative directions. Contrary to what the left thinks, this is not something nefarious, but simply the application of good public-relations skills.

Journalist Michael Wolff — someone who is hardly sympathetic to conservative thinking — explains how Republicans have learned to use PR to their advantage in the April issue of Vanity Fair. One simple technique is that Republicans make themselves available to reporters, while Democrats often don’t.
“The one constant I’ve observed, in 27 years as an on-again, off-again political reporter, is that Republicans return reporters’ calls and Democrats don’t,” Wolff observes.

Amusingly, that seems to be manifesting itself even more blatantly, as in the recent netroots-inspired cancellation of the FOX News sponsored Democratic debate in Nevada on the grounds that the network is a “propaganda outlet.” Curiously, while Republicans felt that way for years about ABC, NBC, and CBS, they continued to appear on those networks, appeal to the voters, and get themselves elected.

Overall, I think the “media” is more “biased” than ever in that there are now such a wide array of voices, most of which don’t even pretend to be “objective.” As a result, though, the “straight news” coverage at the major papers and broadcast outlets are constantly being criticized for biased reporting and are perhaps a bit more careful to give the appearance of evenhandedness than they might have been in the past.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The reason the left has a problem seeing the bias is it seems to be in agreement to them, so how can that be biased.

    If you look down you see 97% of republicans 66% of independents and 17% of democrats say it is biased in favor of the left. Zogby doesn’t report what the percentage is of republicans who see a left leaning bias, but obviously it has to be very small. 23% of independents and 66% of democrats see a conservative bias.

    Now this is a Zogby poll and and an interactive Zogby poll so large grains of salt are called for. But even with that caveat, the numbers it self tell the story. Acknowledging where you stand is likely to see the bias one way or the other, the independents nearly 3 to 1 seeing bias to the left rather than to the right is telling. A quick and dirty parsing of “independents” is that 1/3 lean republican, 1/3 really are in the middle and 1/3 lean democrat. Based on that, the republican leaners and the middle see a leftward bias and a majority of the democrat leaners see a rightward bias, which sounds about right.

    This is not new for the right, so we have been forced to live in the reality as it exists rather than the reality that you want to exist. But I think the democrats complaint about right wing bias for coverage of their debate is going to cost them with the persuadable middle.