Time's Media Writer Argues Media's Dominated by a 'Moderate Bias'

The latest Pew poll found people see Fox News as conservative, but Time media writer James Poniewozik noted large numbers also thought the major networks were liberal. That must mean it’s time to assert the media has a "moderate bias." This is defined, as liberals usual define it, as pretending conservative idiocy isn’t idiocy:

As anyone following health reform knows, centrism is a political position too. And you see moderate bias — i.e., a preference for centrism — whenever a news outlet assumes that the truth must be "somewhere in the middle." You see it whenever an organization decides that "balance" requires equal weight for an opposing position, however specious: "Some, however, believe global warming is a myth." (Moderate bias would also require me to find a countervailing liberal position and pretend that it is equivalent to global-warming denial. Sorry.)

Far be it from us to assert that paragraph has a moderate bias. The liberal bias is quite clear. Poniewozik here did not note the recent Pew finding that the number of people who believe in global warming is on the decline (too much moderate bias?)

All of the Time writer’s cuteness here is avoiding the issue. The objective approach to reporting a news story isn’t "centrist," but it is inclusive. It doesn’t lecture the reader that the truth is obvious, and what’s obvious is the conservatives are idiots. (That’s certainly the Time and Newsweek approach.) Liberals who complain that the "truth" is being wronged by idiocy are suggesting that objectivity is a ridiculous, even damaging journalistic approach. It is a whole-hearted sermon for incessant and aggressive liberal bias.

The objective report should not avoid or run away from the truth – like trying to declare that it’s still not clear the Fort Hood shooter is a Muslim. But some "facts" are not yet clear: the forecast that the Earth will warm so much you can tie your boat to the Washington Monument is not a fact just yet. (That radical ecologist Paul Ehrlich predicted such a fate on NBC’s Today twenty years ago and it hasn't happened yet never stops the liberal certitude.)

Poniewozik’s "moderate bias" theory is not all wrong:

Often, moderate bias is just the result of caution, but the effect is to bolster centrist political positions — not least by implying that they are not political positions at all but occupy a happy medium between the nutjobs. Meanwhile, conservatives see moderate bias as liberal, and liberals see it as conservative — letting journalists conclude that it's not bias at all.

There is some truth here. The objective approach does stand between sides, or independent of the sides. It could be seen as sitting on a happy medium "between the nutjobs." The question, to use Time’s terminology, is why they feel standing firmly with the liberal "nutjobs" is a better plan than objectivity. The only reason: stand for liberalism, make a better, more liberal world. "Afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted."

Journalists should not conclude that if they are being complained about by both conservatives and liberals that they are not biased at all. Both sides could have a case, depending on each story. On some issues in journalism, the "nutjobs" even agree: both conservatives and liberals think the news has too much tabloid fluff, for example.

Poniewozik also argues that this "centrism" which favors established experts leads to a status-quo bias:

Moderate bias also grows from a related phenomenon: status-quo bias. Journalists, like anyone, have a built-in bias toward believing that what was true yesterday will be true tomorrow. Establishment news outlets grow cozy and comfortable with other establishments. One reason some journalists insufficiently questioned the run-up to the Iraq war and underestimated the housing bubble was that they listened to their usual, credentialed sources — and the history of the past decade is the history of the experts being wrong.

But what is the alternative: journalists trusting gadflies without much of a resume? It’s certainly true that experts tend to draw packs, that media outlets feel comfortable huddled together using the same experts. Sometimes, the experts are wrong. Everyone quoted in a news story is a fallible human (even Barack Obama). There is an "iron Rolodex" that can be hard to break into.

But Poniewozik doesn’t have an answer to all this, just an ending that throws up its hands and settles for confusion: "And they all, in these unsettled times, have various issues with the centrist establishment — which has its own permutations and camps. All of this promises wild and interesting times for journalists to cover, but they won't be able to do it from the neutral center. Because there isn't one, and there never was."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis