Sholeh: Media bias has truth - and value - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Sholeh: Media bias has truth - and value

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Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 12:00 pm

If possession is nine-tenths of the law (and of course it isn’t), then perception is nine-tenths of relative reality. In other words, facts don’t dictate common perceptions nearly as much as does our inner biases.

You’re wondering where I’m headed; two questions. The first answer brought a little self-reflection, irony, and a scratch on the head, all of which add up to the second. But I digress.

First question: Are mainstream media biased?

Loaded, I know. Self-evident, some might say. Right or wrong, that’s perception.

From the perspective of journalists who do it every day, two points. One, broadcast (TV, radio, and some Web) media are practically in a different universe than are we of the (sniff, sniff) “old-style” print media, i.e. newspaper writers. Print journalists would argue there is far more sensationalism and unasked-for commentary on TV news than in print news.

We’re from Earth. They’re Klingons.

Which leads me to point two. Bias is as normal as human nature, try as we may to avoid it. No matter how hard any of us tries (and that includes readers, who sometimes find what they’re looking for whether or not actually present in the text), we all come with baggage, viewpoints, fears, and expectations, generally subconscious. Carefully we must guard against those to see things simply as they are, and not as we are. Still, it helps to try. It helps tremendously and journalists do have a duty to do just that with more vigilance than those in other professions.

Caveats shoved aside. Shifting to facts, according to the Pew Research Center, Gallup, and other research to answer the first question:

1. Yes, then: In 1997 a survey of newspaper staffs across the U.S. did find a 65 percent liberal tilt at large papers of 50,000-plus circulation (12 percent self-described conservatives; the rest independent). Smaller papers were about 50 percent self-described “liberal-leaning,” 23 percent conservative-leaning, and the rest independent. Note, these are large papers. Smaller papers, like smaller communities, tend to lean more conservative.

2. But not the editors: In the same survey, the numbers shifted in favor of conservatives among editorial staff. Perhaps this is easily explained by age, as editors tend to be older than most reporters and non-journalism surveys have shown people tend to wax conservative with age, at least a little more than when young.

3. Yes, but shifting right: Pew research tracked the 2012 election, finding a nationwide pro-Romney slant and a persistent negative tone for Obama throughout the campaign coverage.

4. Public divided: A Gallup poll in 2011 found 47 percent of Americans believe the media are too liberal; 13 percent say they are too conservative; 40 percent, “just about right.” According to a Christian Science Monitor Oct. 15 article, the results were similar in 2002.

In September, Gallup reported distrust of the media is at 60 percent, an all-time high. Unfortunately it didn’t distinguish between print and broadcast.

So finally, the second question: Could the “liberal media” perception — within and without — in part be a by-product of its function? A big concern civic-minded types as well as journalists have about the erosion of readership is the loss of the media’s watchdog function. Without this check-and-balance — someone unconnected to governments and major players whose job is to watch and publicly report — corrupt players are attracted to public office. Most public officials are good people, now. In human history when few or none took a daily paper, the opposite was once true.

Without oversight, bad acts go by without notice, at least for longer and with more damage. So the most important function of a healthy newspaper is to pay attention. To everything. How many of us have time to take that on ourselves?

A free press is one not only without connection to officialdom, it is one without limit of ideas. Synonyms of “liberal” include broadminded, free-thinking, and open-minded. Perhaps if most media are liberal-leaning, it is in this sense of liberal. At least that’s what reporters strive for as they gather information to report.

The media’s job in a democratic society is to put as broad a spectrum of “new”(s) out there as is possible with given resources and human capabilities. It’s left to the reader to judge its value.

Sholeh Patrick, J.D., is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • truthful1 posted at 10:54 am on Thu, Dec 20, 2012.

    truthful1 Posts: 554

    Who ever owns the media gets their opinions spouted as 'fact' - for example, see Rupert Murdoch.

  • capnbutch posted at 7:07 am on Wed, Dec 19, 2012.

    capnbutch Posts: 729


    I like your introspection here. Montana's greatest journalist, Don Weston said that everyone wants objective media. He reminded that all people have bias and that some bias in media is unavoidable no matter how inappropriate it is.

    There is a sadness in the view (above) that there is something wrong in having a Liberal or Conservative bent. That is not bias but merely who we are, the sum of our experiences. The real error comes when we reflect our opinions as fact.

    Claiming opinion as truth and lying are the very things that discredited journalists Rather and Gerianos. Those men hurt not only themselves, but the media that had expected their integrity. Their dishonesty went so far as to hurt the entire nation. I think that the good journalist remains aloof, viewing each protagonist as his/her children and hoping the best for each.

    We are going through an extended period of hate, hate that is prompted by journalists through bias-related dishonesty. Although newspapers are not required to make peace among readers, neither do they have the right to cause division.

    Frankly, Sholeh, I am impressed with your article today. You are young and growing rapidly. You took a risk by showing your written opinion but you honestly labeled it as opinion rather than as news. That irons out all the bumps because it allows readers to compare your opinions with their own. Keep growing and caring about your readers.

  • concernedcitizen posted at 6:08 am on Wed, Dec 19, 2012.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    I agree with voxpop.

    Good reporters, news persons, whatever, if doing their job correctly would leave their own personal bias out of it. We, as a society, do not know how to do this anymore. We see it in all aspects of life. Even our "REPRESENTATIVE" government officials that stand and say "I feel/believe .......". They are not paid to "FEEL" or represent their beliefs. They are paid to "REPRESENT" all of the people and reporters are paid to report ALL of the facts, right and left, up and down, in and out. Not just what "THEY" feel and/or beliefs.

  • voxpop posted at 5:08 pm on Tue, Dec 18, 2012.

    voxpop Posts: 738

    Print media today is no different than any other. They reflect the bias of the publisher and editor. Those who write for any media know the slant expected and follow the party line in order to keep their job. No one with an IQ over 12 thinks anything different. If not true, let's have an investigative piece about how downtown businesses influence the city council to get what they want.

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