“…while corporate media does indeed have a conservative slant, they also have an interest in convincing you that their reporting is neutral.”
By Larry Butler (about the author) Op Eds 4/28/2013 opednews.com
Good Press Conference by www.mcmurraymusings.com
“Liberal media bias” is one of those axiomatic slanders that is self-evident among conservative believers. Seldom do progressives respond in any way more meaningful than a shrug or a headshake. At the risk of refuting the absurd, once again, I must address a popular myth.
Numerous analytical studies have been conducted, flouting the subjectivity of an issue that consists primarily of attitudes. Predictably, disparate and conflicting conclusions are offered by these efforts. Starting a logical investigation with a conclusion inevitably supports the original premise — a classical case of begging the question. Studies funded by those people and organizations screaming about liberal media bias can be expected to find, well” liberal media bias. Studies funded by those screaming about conservative bias can be expected to find conservative bias — if there is much such funding out there. Studies funded by media industry insiders can be expected to find no bias at all. Butwait a minute — that’s not what they found.
Global News Intelligence consults with media companies to develop intelligence used in competitive markets. Because GNI supplies information to its clients upon which they will build their business strategies, the value of its product depends upon the accuracy of this information. In 2012 GNI was engaged to evaluate media bias in the presidential election, and the 4 th Estate Project was launched. Their evaluation of media bias was based upon two criteria: (1) the number of GOP voices quoted in media vs. the number of Democrat voices quoted; and (2) the percentage of positive and negative sentiments expressed toward each candidate. The results were summarized as an infographic here.
Those results, after processing 717 articles and 15,357 quotes, are summarized as follows: “”newsmakers appearing in the media as partisan Republicans are quoted at a 44% higher rate than partisan Democrats. Additionally, the ratio of positive to negative coverage was 17.1% more critical of Obama than Romney.” Bottom line? “Our data does not support the thesis of a liberal media bias as it relates to Election 2012 coverage.” This insider study actually revealed a very real conservative media bias.
So if 2012 election coverage was any indicator, liberal media bias is a myth. But why does the myth persist? The most strident claims emanate today from a radicalized Republican party. The unlikely alliance of religious zealotry and neo-racism has marginalized the moderate moral authority that once made the party great. It’s the radical right that screams most loudly about liberal media bias. Within this context, the rising political power of the corporation is actually a potentially moderating influence. But while corporate media does indeed have a conservative slant, they also have an interest in convincing you that their reporting is neutral. If they are seen as promoting their own business interests, they lose your support for their positions. A conservative corporate media is repackaging and promoting the myth of their own liberality!
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Media companies are businesses. By their very nature, they will promote their own best interests whenever they can. Their interests include resisting any public policy relating to business taxes and regulation in general, and specifically to the operations of the media outlets they own. An ideal corporate world is one unfettered by taxation and regulation, and an ideal media corporation’s world is one in which anything can be disseminated. Businesses, by their very nature, have a bias toward laissez-faire and freedom of action.
Clearly, corporations have an interest in influencing public policy decisions. The most direct ways to achieve this influence are to contribute to political candidacies and to actively lobby lawmakers. Few would argue, even in a day of obscure campaign financing, that media companies don’t engage in these strategies. But a much more powerful influence can be achieved by media corporations indirectly, influencing the opinions of their audience by carefully managing the content of their programming.
Let’s agree that businesses influence the news we get. Most of our information comes to us filtered through the lens of a corporate enterprise. The top six media companies have a combined revenue of $210 billion annually, and a combined market capitalization of $360 billion. Yahoo! Finance yields (as of May 25, 2013) the following breakdown of revenue and market cap: Comcast (CCV) $62.57B and $67.57B; Disney (DIS) $42.84B and $111.94B; News Corp. (NWS) $34.33B and $72.97B; Time Warner (TWX and TWC) $50.12B and $82.67B; CBS Corporation (CBS) $14.09B and $28.89B; and Clear Channel (CCMO-OTC) $6.2B and $0.24B.
If you want news that’s independent of corporate influence, you’ll have to look to smaller players. Current and Link are funded by viewer contributions and/or offshore interests, but their exposure and influence are limited. PBS and NPR, however, are primarily funded by the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with a budget of $445 million in FY2012. But this is only about 0.25% of the combined revenues of the few media companies listed previously, so you’ll have to look pretty hard to find truly independent programming. The news follows the money, so we’ll tend to get our views from the corporate sector, with a corporate slant.
Just a minute, you might say. Programming with a liberal bias can be found on the networks owned and operated by these very media giants. If we’re living in a conservative media conspiracy, how can this be? The answer can be found in every MBA strategy curriculum in the country: market segmentation and product differentiation — finding an audience and giving them what the want.
Because media companies are corporations established for the purpose of making money, they can be counted upon to embrace strategies that promote that objective. Market segmentation, according to Investopedia (click here), is “”the aggregating of prospective buyers into groups (segments) that have common needs and will respond similarly to a marketing action. Market segmentation enables companies to target different categories of consumers who perceive the full value of certain products and services differently from one another.” Even large media companies can’t ignore market segments. For example, CNBC addresses those who want real-time business and finance news, and are tolerant of the interests and values of business. Simultaneously, MSNBC addresses those whose worldview is more progressive, and may be tolerant of much more liberal positions. Both segments exist, with limited overlap; and both segments are profitable to address.
Product differentiation is “A marketing process that showcases the differences between products. Differentiation looks to make a product more attractive by contrasting its unique qualities with other competing products. Successful product differentiation creates a competitive advantage for the seller.” On CNBC, you will often see program hosts attacking progressive politicians and their positions through ridicule and innuendo. This reflects not only the positions of the network, but also of those of the market segment it is addressing. On MSNBC, you will often see program hosts attacking corporate influence and regressive policies through commentary — and yes, ridicule and innuendo. This also reflect the positions of the network and those of the market segment it is addressing. Both segments are not only profitable to address — they are profitable enough to retain by tailoring the content they want to see.
In and of itself, this process is positive; it gives us the freedom to choose a variety of viewpoints on TV or cable — let alone what we may find on the Internet! But an industry that gives the customer what it wants is faced with a dilemma: delivering a wide spectrum of thought content may threaten the positions that the industry embraces. A program on MSNBC that exposes corporate excesses may influence viewers to persuade their elected representatives to take action against corporate excesses, which could lead to lower profits for Comcast.
That’s why the myth of liberal media bias persists. Corporate media does indeed have a conservative worldview, but they must convince you — no matter what segment you occupy — that their reporting is not tainted by their own business interests. If they fail at this mission, they lose your support for the positions they hold and subtly promote. If the program you are watching is consistent with the values and goals of the corporation, all they have to do is to convince you that it represents fair and balanced reporting. But if the content you are watching is adverse to the interests of the corporation, they must present it within a global context that mitigates its credibility — and here’s where the myth of liberal media bias is useful. It moves the boundary flags of moderation toward the right. The industry itself encourages you to think that their own programming is biased toward the left. If you accept this lie, you will be less likely to act upon progressive beliefs — and less likely to act contrary to the interests of the corporate media industry.
If you’re still undecided as to the myth of a liberal media bias, let’s recap. Businesses act in their own self-interests, and in the interests of their shareholders. Big media companies are businesses — $360 billion worth. They want a cultural, labor, legislative, regulatory, and judicial environment that allows them to maximize profits. But progressive politics are an immediate and tangible threat to their interests. In what alternate universe would big media companies permit a liberal bias in their own programming?! “Liberal media bias” is more than a myth — it’s an absurd lie echoing from media corporations themselves, and resonating with the ignorant among us.
Small business consultant, CFO, and university educator specializing in quantitative business and economic modeling. Now retired and currently traveling the country by motorhome and motorcycle.