Media Objectivity Is Illusive: It Cuts Many Ways

Conservatives often excoriate the "liberal media." The Media Research Center, a content analysis organization, brands itself as a vehicle to "expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the left: the national news media." After an unflattering political cartoon featuring his two daughters, then Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz bewailed how "desperate the liberal media is to attack and destroy me."

If the media is so unabashedly liberal, logic would dictate that liberals would praise the institution, yet the left is just as quick to lambaste "the corporate Media" (often referred to as "the conservative media") as the right is to upbraid the "liberal media." Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders maintains: "The media is an arm of the ruling class of this country." He asserts: "I think what you have is a corporate media, which by definition has conflicts of interest." The liberal organization known as Media Matters dedicates itself "to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

It would seem impossible that both sides are correct. However, in its simplest form the media is simply a means of transmitting information. It is not an organism capable of existing on its own. Media is rather an all-encompassing term. Ideologues of all political persuasions cherry pick those parts of the media they don't like, while ignoring those which are sympathetic to their causes.

Surveys show that the overwhelming number of American journalists are left- leaning. A 2015 poll taken by Indiana University Journalism professors David Weaver and Lars Willnat showed that Democratic journalists outnumber Republicans Journalists by more than four to one and that an overwhelming 90% of Washington correspondents vote Democrat.

This is a natural result of a free market system. Individuals with a liberal mindset tend to gravitate toward careers like Social Services, theater, academia, and journalism. Alternatively, those who gravitate toward industries like construction, oil gas, as well as coal, and agriculture tend to be conservative.

However, this only accounts for the so-called mainstream media. Liberals would be correct to point to a conservative media bias. For example, they can point to the influential talk radio sphere. In 2015, Talkers Magazine ranked four of the top five most influential radio talk show hosts as conservatives. The top two were conservative raconteurs Rush Limbaugh who raked in 13.25 million listeners weekly and Sean Hannity who pocketed about 12.5 million listeners. Fans of these programs eschew mainstream media sources, believing they are accruing the unvarnished truth from these sources. Limbaugh jokes: "There is no need for a truth detector. I am the truth detector."

Americans no longer receive their news from a single source. The media is now fragmented. Liberals can listen to NPR, read The New York Times, and watch MSNBC. Conservatives can listen to conservative talk radio, read the Wall Street Journal, and watch Fox News. Accordingly, they choose to use the media as an echo chamber rather than a place to garner information. With so many different choices of media, many Americans engage in "confirmation bias." They search for sources which will fortify their preformulated beliefs, rather than challenge them. A liberal is more likely to watch an interview on Democracy NOW with progressive linguist Noam Chomsky, whereas a conservative is more likely to watch Sean Hannity interview conservative commentator Denish D'Souza.

It has become conventional belief that the media is supposed to be objective. Yet objectivity is unattainable. By choosing which part of a story to emphasize, which sources to use, and the order of the stories, media organizations exhibit bias.

During the early days of the Republic, the media was expected to be biased. In fact, it was blatantly partisan. The nation's first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, an exponent of an expansive Federal Government, founded The Gazette of the United States with friend John Fenno. Hamilton used his office to award printing contracts to Feno. The Publication made no attempt to be neutral. It advocated for Hamilton's viewpoint.

Hamilton's rival, U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who advocated a limited-purpose Federal Government, countered by co-founding The National Gazette with publisher Philip Freneau. Jefferson granted Freaneau authority to print State Department documents.

Throughout much of the Nineteenth Century, newspapers were mostly partisan propaganda machines. Many news reporters actually doubled as aides to politicians. In 1884, the Republican Los Angeles Times did not even report the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland as President for about a week. The newspaper had published an editorial supporting the Republican Presidential nominee James G. Blaine titled: "Six reasons Blaine will be triumphantly elected."

Republicans can draw uproarious applause by using the media as a boogeyman. This is a tactic used often, sometimes by moderate Republicans to galvanize their more conservative base. At the 1964 Republican National Convention, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who many Republicans viewed with suspicion for his moderate politics, brought down the house by berating: "Sensation-seeking columnists and commentators, who couldn't care less about the future of our party." In 1992, President George H.W. Bush would often try to relate to conservative voters by quoting a bumper sticker which read: "Annoy the media. Re-elect the President."

Democrats have also used the media as a boogeyman. In 1994, Bill Clinton lashed out at the negative media coverage that he halted air transportation at Los Angeles International Airport so he could get his haircut on the runway aboard Air Force One. Clinton told KMOX radio in St. Louis, Missouri: "Did you know there were press people on the aircraft carrier? Did you know that the carrier had been fully reimbursed out of the private pocket of a White House staff member who was so upset about it? No. Why didn't you know about that? Because the press reporting it didn't say so."

In 1990 Massachusetts Democratic Gubernatorial nominee John Silber answered a seemingly innocuous question asked by Natalie Jacobson of WCVB-TV in Boston about his biggest weakness this way: "You find a weakness. I don't have to go around telling you what's wrong with me. The media have manufactured about 16,000 nonexistent qualities that are offensive and attributed them all to me. Let them have their field day. You can pick any one of them."

The term media encompasses everything from newspapers to talk radio to television to any other means of transmitting information. The person who transmits the information will have a bias. That is unavoidable. All sides of the political spectrum can point to some facet of the media as being partial and against them. For liberals, that can include conservative talk radio hosts, FOX NEWS, The Drudge Report, ect. For conservatives, that can include MSNBC, NPR, and The New York Times. Some sources suffer from crosscurrents of indignation from the left for having a corporate bias and from the right for having a liberal bias.

A true consumer of news must employ an analytical prism when trying to find the truth behind any story. It is often better to view contravening sources and research their validity rather than gathering information as the gospel truth from any source. As the essayist E.B. White phrased it: "I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that does not have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular."