Mainstream reporters tend to see both liberal and right-wing critics as a bunch of whiners who “just don’t get it.” And in many cases, they’re right. But being mainstream reporters, they tend to believe–nay, know–that they are always right. In fact, journalism is just about the only field whose practitioners routinely justify themselves on the basis of the fact that they receive criticism from “both sides.” The possibility that they might be screwing up in two (or more) ways simultaneously appears to be beyond their imaginative capabilities.
During the past generation, these same mainstream journalists have lurched to the right, thanks in large measure to an extremely well-funded, well-organized and well-disciplined conservative political assault comprising, essentially, two tactics: a willingness (and ability) to make life miserable for those who don’t go along, and a determination to shape the zeitgeist in such a way that those who do go along may not even know they’re doing so. In other words, what Tony Soprano cannot accomplish, leave to Antonio Gramsci.
While most fair-minded observers ought to agree with the above, particularly in light of the rise of the far-right media empire of Rupert, Rush, O’Reilly and talk-radio, etc., it’s still pretty difficult to prove. Most academic studies of media content are compromised because even with the best intentions, it’s impossible to control for independent political variables. As for the decades-old studies purporting to show that reporters vote Democratic: When not biased in the first place, they tell us nothing about the content of the news. A number of Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenants claim to be liberal Democrats–a lot that matters!
All this is reason to welcome the new study by David Brock’s Media Matters for America, titled If It’s Sunday, It’s Conservative. MMA conducted a content analysis of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’s Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press, classifying each one of the nearly 7,000 guests from Bill Clinton’s second term, George W. Bush’s first term and 2005 as either Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive or neutral. Its key finding: “The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton’s second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush’s first term, Republicans/conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005 the figures were an identical 58 percent to 42 percent.” And remember, this study doesn’t include Fox!
In addition, “more panels tilted right (a greater number of Republicans/conservatives than Democrats/progressives) than tilted left” for every single year of the study. In some years the gap was as high as four to one. Moreover, Congressional opponents of the Iraq War were all but banished from the Sunday shows, particularly in the period just before it was launched.