Seeing-what-you-want-to-see Dep’t

By a 45-39 margin, the public thinks the major networks are either unbiased or tilted toward conservatives, rather than exhibiting the famous “liberal media bias” the right wing has been screaming about since the Nixon years. But Rasmussen Reports and Instapundit simply refuse to do the arithmetic, and report the 39% minority view as if it were the prevailing view, simply because it’s more common than the view that there’s a conservative bias (not surprising, given that the “liberal bias” charge gets lots of mainstream media attention, while a mass audience virtually never hears the “conservative bias” charge.

Despite decades of increasingly hysterical right-wing insistence that the big three networks have a “liberal bias,” less than 40% of the public agrees. A fifth thinks the networks are biased toward conservatives. A quarter thinks they’re unbiased.

But Rasmussen Reports, which itself has a strong rightward tilt editorially (Rasmussen was a significant player in the defeat of the immigration bill), claims that:

By a 39% to 20% margin, American adults believe that the three major broadcast networks deliver news with a bias in favor of liberals.

Glenn Reynolds quotes the “results” without doing the arithmetic.

Now that’s just an insane way to read those statistics. Despite all the propaganda about “liberal media bias,” and the lack of any substantial mass-media exposure for the opposite viewpoint, those who think the networks are either straight or tilt to the right outnumber those who believe that they are tilted to the left.

See how the text of the question was slanted:

When CBS, NBC, and ABC report the news, they show a bias that favors…




Not Sure

An honest version of the question would read something like: “When CBS, NBC, and ABC report the news, do they report it fairly, or do they show a political bias?” Then those who say “Show a bias” could be asked whether that bias was conservative or liberal.

I understand that the right wing is gasping at straws these days. Compared to Bush’s popularity or Republican party identification, belief in liberal media bias is substantially more widespread. But it’s still a minority view, even excluding those who don’t express an opinion.

Interestingly, NPR, which I’d say is on balance somewhat more liberal than the networks, scores the highest of any outlet in terms of delivering unbiased news: 37% think so. Fox News, a pure propaganda organization run by a Republican Party operative on behalf of a conservative billionaire, is considered unbiased by 36% of the public and biased toward liberalism by 15%. Only 31% have noticed its obvious, Pegleresque conservative slant.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: