When and Why Did the Media Become Biased? Is It A Tool of the Left?

The following are excerpts from an Washington Times Commentary Article entitled “America’s tradition of Media Bias by Thomas G. Beccaro

Media bias has actually been the norm in America history. For instance, the American Revolution was sparked by an intensely biased or partisan media. Pamphleteers like Sam Adams fought English-sympathetic newspapers by sensationalizing the early conflict in his writings. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” was described as “fanatical” and literally transformed the colonists’ view of King George with such lines as: “Even brutes don’t devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families.” It was so influential, that no less than John Adams would say, perhaps jealously, that “history is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine.”At the time of the most important “election” in American history, the adoption of the Constitution, America was the place of a very biased media. Our Founders played hardball and did what they could to block publication of Anti-Federalists sentiments in newspapers. Indeed, in part because of their influence, if not the demands of Federalists, less than 16 percent of newspapers published Anti-Federalist, i.e. anti-Constitution, articles. The Civil War-era media of the 1860s was far more overtly political than the newspapers of today, including numerous papers run by the parties or politicos. Many towns had a Republican newspaper and a Democratic newspaper. During that time, the escalating partisan tide was against those who urged caution in the face of Civil War chants. The pace of that dynamic occurred faster in the South as partisans known as Fire-Eaters in and out of the media drove the debate toward secession and then war.

It would not be until the very late 1800s that newspapers began to separate from the parties and that type of bias began to lessen. The first half of the 1900s, a period comparatively less division among us, featured perhaps the least-biased media in our history. FDR began the process in earnest of regulating the media, which efforts eventually resulted in such practices as “equal time.” Despite the attempts of government to regulate fairness, the Vietnam War would again result in significant media bias and gave great energy to the past 50 years of media bias. There is a difference, this time around, however. Overall, the major media today tilts decidedly to the left. 

Why is there an imbalance? The answer is that although Fox News exists and talk radio is on balance conservative, there are no party newspapers like in years past. Nor is the right nearly as engaged in the major media business like the left. In short, the left is more prominent in the media today and their voices louder than those on the right. That tilting is having an effect. The major media exert great influence on which issues of the day will get covered. 

Is media bias inevitable? It is a mistake, given human nature and history, to believe that people can be unbiased. That is not normal human behavior. It is probably wiser to understand that objectivity for most people is illusive and that a biased media is likely to be around forever. The way that economists have defined damaging bias, it typically means that you’re misrepresenting the facts, suppressing facts or just lying. Knowing that, the question is what if anything should be done about it? In very real terms, unless and until the existing imbalance is corrected, the outcome of the political issues of the day and our elections will continue to tilt in the same way the media is titling now. The only realistic way to change it, is for the right to become far more prominent in the major media, social media and beyond.

The following are excerpts from “Making Sense of Media Bias” by Lindzi Wessel

How does the media function when everything is working? The ideal role of the media is to provide information. It’s almost impossible for people to inform themselves about what politicians are doing directly, and it’s just boring to many people. Media is a very effective way of having a few big actors with lots of resources finding stories of interest and presenting them to voters. This makes politicians much more accountable.

What caused the shift away from explicit party affiliations? People have speculated. There is some evidence that advertising revenue and competition between papers may be what was driving the change. Falling advertisement revenues and social media is changing the media landscape both in countries like the U.S., but even more so in countries like China that don’t have a mature and independent press and media market. It’s much more difficult to censor millions of users than it is to censor a few media outlets.As it became more profitable to write stories that interested people, biases fell. One study found that in areas where ad revenues were higher, the slant was less.

What happens when slant crosses into damaging bias, not just ideological, but misrepresenting facts, suppressing facts or lying? Can the media harm society? Some evidence exists that the media could provide worse outcomes for society, but this comes mainly from totalitarian states where there’s little media competition, there’s just one media outlet and the rulers use it to implement terrible actions. One example was how radio was used by the Rwandan government in the 1990’s to, basically, tell people to commit genocide. One study found that where there was better radio reception, there were more civilian deaths. Another study from 2013 shows that the Nazi control over radio broadcasts increased support for anti-Semitic policies in places where there was a prior history of rioting and attacks targeting Jewish communities. But these are extreme examples that don’t tend to happen in democracies with a free press.

What about the spread of false information on social media? There’s two obvious reasons why you see this kind of fake news on social media. One is that those who post fake news want to influence an election, or something else. The other is that it’s profitable. We have these fake news-producing sites in Macedonia who know nothing about U.S. politics but they know how to write a news article or post that will get many clicks. The thing that makes social media conducive to fake news is there’s much less of a reputational (sic) concern for users on Facebook or Twitter. They can write something crazy and then just open up another account, and write something crazy. A media outlet in the U.S., like a local newspaper, cannot do that. Reputation is what makes people pay for their articles.

Having a biased media is a dangerous phenomenon. Our media has been biased throughout most of our history, but in the past there were a higher number of independently owned news sources. So the chance of finding one that was giving an accurate rendition of the facts was much easier. With the advent of the internet, newspaper revenues dropped. The number of newspapers and magazines reporting news also decreased in number. Large corporations bought out the remaining services, this includes news channels as well. Another trend that has occurred, because of decreasing revenues, the number of investigative reporting has decreased as well. More and more news companies are relying on fewer and fewer news investigators and reporters. It has become much easier for political parties to buy the loyalties of the news providers. So for the first time in our history, one political party controls the press and the media. With the exception of Fox news and a few newspapers and internet blogs which try to provide unbiased coverage of the news , the vast majority only publishes news that is favorable to the left.

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