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The Liberal Media

November 8, 2012


One of the most-used phrases in the political arena today is “The Liberal Media.” Also known by its cute recent nickname of “The Lamestream Media” with their “gotcha journalism,” it is accepted as gospel that the media are, by and large, dominated by liberal elites, and that they use the propaganda machine to trick the misinformed sheep into behaving the way the liberals want. I, however, do not subscribe to this view.

For starters, let’s look at the cable news channel ratings. Zap2It keeps track of the cable news ratings on a daily basis, and while I have not yet been able to find a good summary of the annual viewership for each network, the results for November 2 look pretty typical. In general Fox News dominates in each and every time slot, with MSNBC (its admittedly liberal competitor) only seeing 1/3 – 1/2 the viewers of Fox.

Indeed, the disparity is so large that Huffington Post could not put enough spin on the Q3 results (no total data) to balance out the fact that not only did Fox maintain its lead (one which spans back to 2002), but they also have the 10 most-watched programs of all cable networks. Stop and think about that for a second. All of the top 10 cable news shows on one network.

I don’t think there’s any denying Fox News is very conservative and MSNBC is extremely liberal (as shown by their viewers’ opinions). The die hard argue that Fox is the only station providing “true” coverage of the issues, and that you can’t judge the network based on how their “entertainment” hosts (O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, et. al.) lean. The only problem with this logic is these same people have no problem scorning MSNBC as “proof” of the liberal infiltration of the media because of Rachel Maddow. Pot meet kettle.

The conservative domination of the news doesn’t stop with the cable news shows, however. The two most-listened-to radio shows belong to Rush Limbaugh and the aforementioned Sean Hannity. While this is not as dominant as in the cable comparison, there is a notable lack of liberal influence in this sphere, as the next three programs (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace) belong to NPR, followed by two more conservative shows (Glenn Beck and Mark Levin).

What about print media, you say? Again, the numbers show that the top spot, measured by circulation, goes to the conservative Wall Street Journal. I was surprised to find USA Today running a close second… I guess all those free editions in hotels spur a lot of copies! The next two papers, the New York Times and LA Times, each have less than 60% the total circulation of WSJ.

That’s all well and good, you say, but what about online readership? Everybody knows the internet is the most important form of communication nowadays! OK, in this arena I will concede that the liberal-leaning sites do have an advantage, although the top site, Yahoo! News, has never been described to my knowledge as being drastically one way or the other. CNN looks much more moderate posed between Fox and MSNBC, but Huffington Post, rounding out the top 3, definitely leans left. However, the majority of people still get their news from the TV, rather than online.

So what’s the final verdict? Conservative news shows dominate cable, radio, and newspaper media, while the liberal sites have an edge with the online crowd. While I won’t say there is a conservative bias in the news, at least not pervasively across the board, the data above show that reports of the liberal bias of the news media have been greatly exaggerated.


From → Opinion

  1. Brian permalink

    Dave, I don’t have a great deal of time to comment in-depth so I will be brief. From what I gathered, your argument is based on the assumption that “liberal bias” in the media should be calculated based on viewership/readership numbers. If that is your standard model, then I agree your above analysis appears correct. However, I would pose an alternative model that I believe is the standard conservatives often talk about when they speak of media bias. The assumption people that complain about “liberal bias” usually make (albeit if you listen to them every outlet other than Fox News, Talk Radio, and “new media” are all liberal media) is on number of publications. I am not saying this alternative model is correct, just adding depth to the conversation. A little food for thought if you will.

    • I understand that perspective and thought about that. If we start with the assumption that the majority of the other outlets lean liberal (an assumption I’m not necessarily willing to stipulate, but for the sake of argument), then let me make an analogy. Walmart is, without a doubt, the most popular discount department store. It has a large number of competitors, including Family Dollar, Big Lots, etc. By number, there are more of these competitors than there are of Walmart, but Walmart has the largest number of customers and therefore the largest impact in the marketplace. I don’t think anyone would argue the market is biased against Walmart because there are more competitors.

      • Brian permalink

        A nice analogy to make, and I agree with that. I would argue the difference between Wal-Mart and the media is people have more of a need and desire for cheap goods. There are far more shopping for cheap goods than paying attention to the news on a continuous basis. It is my experience that people tend to may more attention to news during an election year. If we are stipulating for arguments sake that a majority of media outlets lean left, if you took the entire viewer/readership of all left leaning media, it would likely beat Conservative media outlets numbers. If Wal-Mart has 40 percent market share and its next closest competitor has 20, it appears Wal-Mart dominates the market. However, if you look at the collective competition, Wal-mart does not dominate. The collective has the other 60 percent share. Is this argument correct? I am not willing to stipulate that, but playing devil’s advocate is fun.

      • Dave Meyer permalink

        Yes, that argument would be correct. While I, like you, am not willing to stipulate those points yet, I don’t think I have the time or data to do a thorough analysis of the media. However, there is an interesting article (, sorry, apparently can’t make hyperlinks in comments), which reports on multiple studies finding (gasp) conflicting results as to the overall bias of the media, based largely on who performed them. The article makes some very good points, like the fact that the internet has spawned more partisan sites and has allowed us more access to information, which makes it easier to find fault and second guess. These factors reinforce peoples’ preconceived notions about the existence of a bias. I’m not arguing that liberal bias doesn’t exist, because it clearly does. But so too does conservative bias. And until we all recognize those biases for what they are, rather than claiming that “my news is more truthful than your news,” we’re never going to get anywhere.

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