The leftwing bias of the American mass media is pervasive and quantifiable. Since the 1980s, studies have consistently shown that the professionals who constitute America’s mainstream news media – reporters, editors, anchors, publishers, correspondents, bureau chiefs, and executives at the nation’s major newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks – are preponderantly left-oriented and Democrat. These studies have excluded commentators, editorialists, and opinion columnists – all of whom make it clear that they are giving their opinions and analyses of the news as they view it. Rather, the focus of the research has been on those individuals whose ostensible duty is to impartially and comprehensively present the relevant facts to the readers, listeners, and viewers.
A useful way of gauging the news media’s political and ideological makeup is to examine what the professionals in that industry believe about a wide array of social, ethical, and political issues. For example, research shows that:
- Fully 81% of news media professionals favor affirmative action in employment and academia.
- Some 71% agree that the “government should work to ensure that everyone has a job.”
- 75% agree that the “government should work to reduce the income gap between rich and poor.”
- 56% say that the United States has exploited the nations of the Third World.
- 57% say that America’s disproportionate consumption of the world’s natural resources is “immoral.”
- Nearly half agree that “the very structure of our society causes people to feel alienated.”
- Only 30% agree that “private enterprise is fair to workers.”
It is equally illuminating to examine the degree to which members of the news media have supported Democrat or liberal/left candidates and causes, both at the ballot box and with their checkbooks:
- In 1964, 94% of media professionals voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater.
- In 1968, 86% voted for Democrat Hubert Humphrey over Republican Richard Nixon.
- In 1972, 81% voted for Democrat George McGovern over the incumbent Nixon.
- In 1976, 81% voted for Democrat Jimmy Carter over Republican Gerald Ford.
- In 1980, twice as many cast their ballots for Carter rather than for Republican Ronald Reagan.
- In 1984, 58% supported Democrat Walter Mondale, whom Reagan defeated in the biggest landslide in presidential election history.
- In 1988, White House correspondents from various major newspapers, television networks, magazines, and news services supported Democrat Michael Dukakis over Republican George H.W. Bush by a ratio of 12-to-1.
- In 1992, those same correspondents supported Democrat Bill Clinton over the incumbent Bush by a ratio of 9 to 2.
- Among Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, the disparity was 89% vs. 7%, in Clinton’s favor.
- In a 2004 poll of campaign journalists, those based outside of Washington, DC supported Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush by a ratio of 3-to-1. Those based inside the Beltway favored Kerry by a 12-to-1 ratio.
- In a 2008 survey of 144 journalists nationwide, journalists were 8 times likelier to make campaign contributions to Democrats than to Republicans.
- A 2008 Investors Business Daily study put the campaign donation ratio at 11.5-to-1, in favor of Democrats. In terms of total dollars given, the ratio was 15-to-1.
It is exceedingly rare to find, even in the most heavily partisan voting districts in the United States, such pronounced imbalances in terms of votes cast or dollars earmarked for one party or the other.
The figures cited above are entirely consistent with how news-media professionals identify themselves in terms of their political party affiliations and ideological leanings:
- In a 1988 survey of business reporters, 54% of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 9% as Republicans.
- In a 1992 poll of journalists working for newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, 44% called themselves Democrats, 16% Republicans.
- In a 1996 poll of 1,037 reporters at 61 newspapers, 61% identified themselves as Democrats, 15% as Republicans.
- In a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, media professionals were nearly 7 times likelier to call themselves Democrats rather than Republicans.
We see similar ratios in studies where news people are asked to rate themselves on the left-to-right political spectrum:
- In a 1981 study of 240 journalists nationwide, 65% identified themselves as liberals, 17% as conservatives.
- In a 1983 study of news reporters, executives, and staffers, 32% identified themselves as liberals, 11% as conservatives.
- In a 1992 study of more than 1,400 journalists, 44% identified themselves as liberals, 22% as conservatives.
- In a 1996 study of Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, 61% identified themselves as liberals, 9% as conservatives.
- In a 1996 study of 1,037 journalists, the respondents identified themselves as liberals 4 times more frequently than as conservatives. Among journalists working for newspapers with circulations exceeding 50,000, the ratio of liberals to conservatives was 5.4 to 1.
- In a 2004 Pew Research Center study of journalists and media executives, the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives was 4.9 to 1.
- In a 2007 Pew Research Center study of journalists and news executives, the ratio was 4 liberals for each conservative.
Bias in the news media manifests itself most powerfully not in the form of outright, intentional lies, but is most often a function of what reporters choose not to tell their audience; i.e., the facts they purposely omit so as to avoid contradicting the political narrative they wish to advance. As media researchers Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo put it: “[F]or every sin of commission…we believe that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sins of omission – cases where a journalist chose facts or stories that only one side of the political spectrum is likely to mention.”
By no means is such activity the result of an organized campaign or conspiracy. Media expert Bernard Goldberg says: “No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.” Goldberg explains that "a lot of newspeople … got into journalism in the first place" so they could: (a) "change the world and make it a better place," and (b) use their positions as platforms from which to “sho[w] compassion,” which “makes us feel good about ourselves.”
Expanding further upon this point, Goldberg quotes researcher Robert Lichter of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, who said that journalists increasingly "see themselves as society’s designated saviors," striving to “awaken the national conscience and force public action.” Or as ABC News anchor Peter Jennings admitted to the Boston Globe in July 2001: “Those of us who went into journalism in the ’50s or ’60s, it was sort of a liberal thing to do: Save the world.”
Adapted from: "In the Tank: A Statistical Analysis of Media Bias," by John Perazzo (October 31, 2008). This article is complete with footnotes citing the sources of the various statistics.