What’s News?

President Trump and his allies are enjoying the media’s own goals http://thehill.com/homenews/media/340564-media-errors-fuel-trump-attacks, but the factual errors in these stories are a relatively unimportant symptom of the media’s bias problem.

Who cares, really, that only four intelligence agencies –  the CIA, FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency – had contributed to the conclusion that the Russians had interfered in the 2016 election, instead of the 17 agencies originally referenced by The New York Times and The Associated Press? As I’ve previously written, I – and, I assume, most people – believe that those four agencies were right – the Russians probably did their best to sow confusion and distrust about our election process, and if so, they succeeded, abetted, ironically, by our legacy media’s wildly overblown coverage of the story.

I know and am quite fond of a fair number of current and former employees of the legacy media; one is a beloved member of my immediate family. I think it’s fair to say that I am familiar with how most of them see the world and their roles in it. They see themselves as upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity, and no doubt they are furious at themselves when they make factual errors of the sort alluded to in the linked article. They know that making such errors damages their own credibility.

Even so, I think that the legacy media – The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CBS, etc. – are profoundly, if only semi-consciously, biased against Republicans, libertarians and social conservatives (though the latter two are quite different from – and frequently opposed to – each other on policy grounds). The media’s biases – which are deeply embedded in their understandings of right and wrong – manifest themselves in ways small and large, having little to do with their occasional, and inevitable, factual errors.

Begin with the manifest fact that virtually to a person the managers and editors at these organizations think that Trump (and before him, Romney, Bush, Bush, Sr., and Reagan) while running for or in office are/were Bad Guys (Republican candidates or presidents are only seen in less harsh lights when they are long out of office), whereas Hillary (and Obama and Clinton) are Good People. Oh, sure, Bill had his character flaws, but his heart was in the right place; the Republicans, not so much.

The effect of these personal judgments is seen in the framing of visual images of the various leaders. So Obama, for example, was nearly always shown in heroic poses; Trump, the opposite. Editing of this sort shows an inevitable, if petty, bias. People naturally want those whom they admire to look good, and the inverse. The good guy/bad guy perspectives also come through in how news stories are told: Trump tweeted a nasty, sexist tweet – unforgivable; Clinton received oral sex from an unpaid intern – and is alleged to have committed multiple rapes – hey, it was just sex.

Far more insidious, because less obvious, is the bias inherent in these organizations’ selections of topics to be covered.

If a white cop shoots a black man under questionable circumstances, it’s national headline news – but if a black cop shoots a white man, or if thousands of black kids shoot each other in Chicago, not. The media are trying to illustrate a point in the first case, and to hide points in the latter ones.

Obama doubled the national debt in eight years, while saddling us with the future costs of a gigantic new medical entitlement? Not news. The economy grew less under Obama than in any previous eight year period since the 1920’s, with a steady decline in the labor force participation rate? Not news.  Obama’s two signature foreign policy ‘achievements’  – the Paris accord and the deal with Iran – were both carefully crafted to be binding on the US while avoiding the Constitutionally-mandated treaty-approval process? Definitely not news. What’s a little attempt at a unilateral surrender of sovereignty by a progressive president among friends?

Trump’s uncouth tweets? Big news. Big, big news.

I could go on and on about story selection bias, but you get the point.

Given my view of the personal integrity and professionalism of most media people, where do their biases come from? How do the Republicans all get to be bad guys and why do the media’s stories skew so heavily toward statist ‘solutions’ to perceived problems?

Our elite culture – consisting of our colleges, our entertainers, our news media, etc. – has been marching leftward for a long time. To be a caring society we must do more through the agency of government. Business is all about greed, government about the common good. Climate change threatens all life, and can only be stopped by immediate, globe-wide governmental actions. Ours is a racist, sexist, etc. society, so government must constantly intervene in otherwise private affairs. To progressives, these are not opinions, they are self-evident facts. If you believe all that, Republicans are necessarily either stupid or evil.

And if you’re a reporter, and you have swallowed the progressive credo whole – to say nothing of wanting to hang with the cool kids – confirmation bias will do the rest. You will go looking for evidence to buttress these propositions, and you will find evidence that you are convinced does so irrefutably. (In a different context, my mother used to sagely tell us “If you go looking for trouble, you’re going to find it.”)

But somehow, the Deplorables – and I, if there’s a distinction – won’t buy it, because we know that the legacy media don’t have the first clue about why those of us who are on the other side of these issues think as we do.

We know how they think, for sure, because we are surrounded by their perspectives and their constant, sanctimonious lectures – but they really don’t get us at all. They don’t even try to do so.

And they wonder why half the country cheers at their little stumbles, and at the far more important loss of their previously unchallenged ability to dominate the nation’s news delivery.


M.H. Johnston




4 comments to What’s News?

  • Doug  says:

    As far as the Russians…these news people never watched ‘Get Smart’ when they were younger as I did. Had they, there would be no surprise from the actions of ‘Operation Chaos’. Even Max Smart would have known what was and is going on.

    But how to reconcile the obscene profits that Whole Foods is making on its own 13.7 billion sale to Amazon? A business designed to do good for the world selling free range chickens and wild caught salmon and responsibly harvested whatever. With the world in disarray, melting, and falling apart will Whole Foods stockholders share these profits? New BMW for the weaver in Malawi or climate controlled abode for the overheating Polar Bear? A confounding conundrum for the do good anti-capitalists.

    Finally, what ever happened to the ‘corrections’ segment in the Globe/Times/Post? Non-existent. When they have editorial pieces (last) Sunday above the fold on the front page calling it news, you know we are in a different world.

    Good piece. Might be time for you to start tweeting.

  • Tim Huban  says:

    Nice column Mark. I don’t think the bias in media will ever change. Just pick up any newspaper and count how many neutral / positive headlines there are about Trump or republicans. These folks really think that republicans only focus in life is self enrichment….pretty sad. When premiums for Obamacare skyrocket again this fall, it will be Republicans’ fault….

    Hope you are having a great summer!

  • Buck  says:

    Without the time to deeply read or delve into/access the news – where does one turn for the least biased review of current events? The Economist? When the tipping point is reached, and the majority of our fellow citizens get their news from Facebook, what is truth? It’s what the majority believe — Orwell’s 1984 indeed.

  • Anonymous  says:


    All your posts are incredibly well informed and well reasoned. This is one of many bests.


Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>