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Media bias

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A segment on the July 12 edition of ABC’s “Good Morning America” revealed what most Americans already knew — the media elite just don’t get it.

Coming out of a news report on the creative ways some Americans avoid jury duty, GMA co-host Diane Sawyer told of a time she had been called to fulfill that civic responsibility.

“You know, I wanted to sit on a jury once and I was taken off the jury,” she said, according to a transcript on Newsbusters.org. “And the judge said to me, ‘Can, you know, can you tell the truth and be fair?’ And I said, ‘That’s what journalists do.’ And everybody in the courtroom laughed. It was the most hurtful moment I think I’ve ever had.”

Ms. Sawyer, welcome to the world of reality beyond the insulated and overwhelmingly liberal protective bubble in which you and your liberal media colleagues live and breathe.

Outside the very narrow philosophical and ideological confines of the network newsrooms in New York City and their adjunct studios in Hollywood and Washington, most of the American public believe the electronic media is horrendously biased.

Bernard Goldberg, who for 28 years was a network insider and a longtime CBS News correspondent, has referred to many American newsrooms as “bastions of political correctness.”

A recent Rasmussen survey revealed that by a 39 to 20 percent margin, Americans consider the three major networks to be biased in favor of a liberal perspective in their delivery of the news.

Only 25 percent of those questioned said the news programs lacked a bias in production or presentation.

Of the adults surveyed, 33 percent said CNN has a liberal bias and 27 percent said National Public Radio has such a bias.

Only Fox News was viewed as having a conservative bias — 31 percent saying it favors the conservative viewpoint and 15 percent alleging the network has a liberal bias.

The Rasmussen polling organization found that 37 percent of respondents believed NPR delivered the news without a bias, 36 percent for Fox and 32 percent for CNN.

I have to admit I’m surprised that the percentage of people who think the major network news organizations are biased is not higher.

Yet a unique — and non-biased — UCLA study reported in the November 2005 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics sought to quantify where news programs and newspapers fall on the political scale.

According to the study, 18 of the 20 major media outlets studied scored left of center. “The CBS Evening News,” The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranked among the most liberal, with the news pages of The Wall Street Journal only slightly less liberal. The Journal’s editorial page is typically right-of-center.

Among the major outlets, only Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored to the right of center. The most centrist outlet proved to be PBS’ “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

Jeffrey Milyo, an associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri who was a co-author of the study, made an interesting observation: “If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox’s ‘Special Report’ as ABC’s ‘World News’ and NBC’s ‘Nightly News,’ then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news.”

While millions of Americans still watch the “Big Three” (ABC, CBS, NBC), their viewership has declined dramatically. As recently as 15 years ago, over 90 percent of Americans watched the nightly network news. Now, only 60 percent of Americans watch the major networks’ nightly newscasts.

Katie Couric isn’t alone in facing deflated ratings; the “Big Three” anchors are on a sinking, if not obsolete, ship.

And newspapers, whose circulation rates have been falling for more than a decade, aren’t doing any better.

While 35 percent of Americans over 30 read a newspaper every day, only 16 percent of those aged 18-30 read the news daily. Two-thirds of these young adults say they “usually skim through the news sections” as opposed to reading “quite a few stories,” according to a landmark study from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Just under half of all teens and young adults said they rarely, if ever, read a newspaper.

The evening news audience is primarily older Americans (57 percent watch each day), while less than a third (31 percent) of young adults and teenagers claim to view national television news each day, the July 2007 study reports.

Non-traditional news sources are increasingly attractive to all Americans but especially to the nation’s younger adults as more and more of them want their news on demand.

When it comes to Internet-based news (and that is a broad definition), roughly one in five of all respondents to the Harvard survey say they access the Internet every day for news purposes.

Yet over half of adults over 30 (54 percent) “hardly ever or not at all” use the Internet to get their news. Of the 18-30 year olds, 45 percent rarely visit “Internet-based News” sites.

A 2004 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey suggested only 23 percent of young people 18 to 29 were receiving news on the presidential elections from the nightly network news, down from 39 percent in the 2000 election.

Yet the survey revealed 21 percent of this demographic considered comedy outlets such as “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” as their regular sources for campaign news.

The “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” averages around two million viewers each night.

And another study conducted in the run-up to the 2004 Election Day revealed that Daily Show watchers were on average more aware of the issues being discussed in the campaigns, more liberal than average, and better educated.

No matter where we get our news, we need to recognize the presuppositions of those who produce and deliver the news to us. And we need to understand that no one speaks with complete objectivity. While some may say they divest their opinions from their report, in reality our beliefs and values infiltrate everything we say and do.

God’s Spirit allows us to practice discernment so we can embrace what is true and reject what is false. As students of the culture, we need to ask God for His wisdom to recognize the difference. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we would do well to heed Elihu’s advice to Job (34:4): “Let us judge for ourselves what is right; let us decide together what is good.”

While there appear to be fewer Americans than ever keeping abreast of the news, I encourage you to stay informed and pay careful attention to how the news is being delivered and who is doing the delivering. In staying informed, so that we can make informed choices, we must heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:15-16: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk — not as unwise people but as wise — making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

    About the Author

  • Richard Land

    Richard Land, D. Phil, is the Executive Editor of the Christian Post, having previously served as president of the ERLC (1988-2013) and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (2013-2021). He also serves as the chairman of the advisory board at the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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