Media Bias, Alive and Well

Back in early October, Paul Ryan told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that “it goes without saying that there is definitely media bias … as a conservative, I’ve long believed and long felt that there is inherent media bias, and I think that anybody with objectivity would believe that that’s the case.”
Of course, Republican accusations of liberal media bias have become as banal and ubiquitous as the evening news itself. And beyond making the average liberal roll his eyes, the complaint has even begun to perturb some of the conservative movement’s most outspoken leaders. Just after Ryan’s comments, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hesitated to support his fellow Republican: “I’m not going to sit here and complain about coverage of the campaign. As a candidate, if you do that, you’re losing.”
To Christie’s credit, that much is probably true. But now that we all agree the Romney-Ryan ticket has already lost, perhaps Christie would agree that it’s time to take a look at the numbers.
To many, media bias seems an obvious and inevitable phenomenon; serious analyses of media bias date back as far as the Lincoln-Douglas days over 150 years ago. But honest and objective analyses clearly indicate that such bias has only worsened.
During President Obama’s 2008 campaign, the overwhelming majority of news media was clearly and unabashedly behind the campaign of hope and change. Time‘s Mark Halperin called it “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq War. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” Los Angeles Times writer Mark Barabak expressed similar sentiments: “I think it’s incumbent upon people in our business to make sure that we’re being fair. The daily output was the most disparate of any campaign I’ve ever covered, by far.”
Their statements were not only backed by traditional analyses of media coverage, but also by a more revealing statistic: the Democratic Party received a total donation of $1,020,816 from 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks in 2008, while the Republican Party received only $142,863 from 193 donors.
After such blatant and self-admitted media bias in 2008, we might have expected this year’s election coverage to become far more balanced. Instead, news organizations remained blatantly in the bag for the president and his Democratic allies.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently released its report on the 2012 election, and the numbers are clearer than ever. While Governor Romney and President Obama received approximately the same amount of coverage, the type and character of coverage provided were much different. In evening network news, for example, narratives of President Obama remained approximately balanced, while the negative exceeded the positive by 17 percentage points for Governor Romney. Coverage of Romney was also twice as negative as that of President Obama (23 percent versus 11 percent).
Of course, the go-to scapegoat for liberal critics will be the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel. There is no question that Fox News exhibited a right-leaning bias in its coverage: fully 46 percent of news coverage for the president was negative. However, not only was Fox News essentially the only media organization to not have a leftward skew, the bias in its coverage also paled in comparison to that of MSNBC, where coverage of Romney was 71 percent negative (over one and half times more negative than Fox coverage of President Obama). And perhaps the most telling statistic is from the final week, when MSNBC ran no negative coverage of President Obama and no positive coverage of Governor Romney, the most absolute bias of any of the cable news channels.
Even network television (ABC, CBS, NBC) exhibited an apparent bias for President Obama. While Romney received a roughly even amount of positive and negative coverage during the day, evening coverage (when the majority of viewers tune in to network news) saw a stark change, giving a positive three percent boost to President Obama while Romney received two-to-one negative coverage.
Some may argue, as former Clinton-Gore campaign adviser Peter Mirijanian did back in late September, that there are simply more negative things to say about Governor Romney: “the media covers the horse race, they cover the gaffes, and unfortunately the Romney campaign has had more gaffes lately.” But let’s be honest with ourselves—for every time the mainstream media excitedly exploded coverage of gaffes like Romney’s 47 percent comments, they pushed those of the opposition under the rug.
Consider what Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen at Politico wrote in May:

On the front page of its Sunday edition, the New York Times gave a big spread to Ann Romney spending lots of time and tons of money on an exotic genre of horse-riding. The clear implication: The Romneys are silly rich, move in rarefied and exotic circles, and are perhaps a tad shady.
Only days earlier, news surfaced that author David Maraniss had unearthed new details about Barack Obama’s prolific, college-age dope-smoking for his new book, “Barack Obama: The Story” — and the Times made it a brief on A15.

This comparison isn’t meant as a limited and single example; it simply epitomizes the more general and daily practice of blatant bias on the part of mainstream news media. Vandehei and Allen continue: “Republicans cry ‘bias’ so often it feels like a campaign theme. It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh – or Haley Barbour.”
And this point is visibly true in our daily news. How much less covered were the gaffes from Vice President Biden, an unimaginably extensive string of occurrences that might put former President George W. Bush to shame, perhaps the most egregious of which came when Biden told a largely African-American audience that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains”? Imagine if Romney or Ryan told the same crowd of African Americans that Democrats would put them all back in chains. Any objective viewer would admit to such a double standard.
Media coverage of foreign policy was no better. Foreign policy should have been a low point for the Obama campaign, especially with Benghazi and other scandals emerging throughout the last few months. And while foreign policy coverage of the president was 3-1 negative, for Romney it was somehow worse: 5-1 negative.    
At what point will we admit that Paul Ryan’s lamentations of liberal media bias aren’t so far-fetched after all, and in fact raise serious concerns? In the end, an electorate that continues to be partially-informed each and every election year is nothing to shrug our shoulders about.
Photo Credit: Politico
The author’s name was removed from this article retroactively at their request.

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