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"In a world of blogs, instant messaging and multiplying media choices, is media bias a real problem for our society or just a political argument?"


By Ajay Singh

Published Apr 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Media Watchdogs

Bias is only one problem facing the nation's multiplying media. Log on to the Media Reform Information Center for an exhaustive list of media-reform efforts, blogs and organizations. Progressive national media watchdog group FAIR has been on the case since 1986; log on and read what they're reading. Conservative media watchdog group Media Research Center will give you another take on the issue.

A recent study, which its co-authors claim may be the first objective analysis of bias in the mainstream media, found that most outlets tilt leftward in their news coverage, including some whose editorial position is staunchly conservative.

We asked five UCLA experts for their views on the subject of slanted news.

Timothy Groseclose
Professor, UCLA Political Science
Co-author, A Measure of Media Bias

"The question of media bias is one that should, and can, be settled by data and statistical methods, not by which side can yell the loudest. As economists might say, the question is a positive one, not a normative one. My co-author and I have developed such a method to measure media bias, and we find that most media outlets indeed lean left. I think that blogs and talk radio help to counter-balance the liberal bias of the mainstream media. But there is a fundamental difference between the mainstream media and the former two mediums: For the most part, blogs and talk radio only interpret and repeat news from basic sources such as newspapers, CNN, Fox, etc. They do very little basic reporting. Also, blogs and talk radio rarely claim to be unbiased, unlike most mainstream media sources. Accordingly, I doubt that they fully counterbalance the bias from the mainstream media."

Franklin D. Gilliam Jr.
Professor, UCLA Political Science

"I always find the search for ideological bias in the media kind of a red herring. You have to have a pretty watered-down version of liberalism or progressivism to think of American mainstream media as liberal. In context, when you think of [media in] other countries, where there's real dissent all across the spectrum, it seems we're arguing over a very narrow bandwidth in the U.S. It's the kind of thing that will get attention, but I don't know how far it really pushes the debate. For example, media dissent on the war in Iraq has been so muted and these great liberal papers have been terrified of expressing any real dissent. Another thing is that partisanship always cuts both ways. I am a source for reporters at newspapers here and internationally and I don't ever feel like I'm being quoted because they're expecting liberal points of view. They're trying to find somebody who knows something about the topic. I've never had somebody fish for me to say something damaging about the [Bush] administration or conservatives. They say, 'Here's an issue, what do you think about it?' "

Frank Mankiewicz '47
Vice Chairman, Hill and Knowlton

"I don't think the blogs and the other new media are that big a part of the universe - yet - but a heavily conservative media bias is a huge problem just here in the mainstream. Through the 20th century, newspapers were almost all biased to the conservative Repub-lican, big business side, and the emergence of TV has only confirmed the bias. The newspapers tried for a false 'balance' - all geared to the status quo - and television started, and remained, the creature of its sponsors: 'Don't offend, support authority.' The sole aim of TV, remember, is not to amuse, not to educate, not to titillate, but to deliver - at all times -the largest possible audience to the advertiser."

Suzanne Rico '88
News Anchor, CBS 2 Morning News

"I believe media bias is an increasing problem. As more and more media outlets compete for viewers, those outlets, especially the ones on the fringe, try to distinguish themselves by taking a stand. I have seen, at every level of the news-gathering and reporting process, decisions being made that skew a story to the right or the left. It is sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. The invention of new ways to report a story increases the possibility of bias. For example, the conflict in Iraq is the first war to be reported via blogs, BlackBerries and home-video cameras, tools that can and are used to pursue an agenda."

Ben Zuckerman
Professor, UCLA Physics and Astronomy
Vice President, Californians for Population Stabilization

"When things do not go as they wish, some persons and organizations place blame on media bias. For example, recently, while I was a member of the national board of directors of the Sierra Club, I often heard the club's leadership complain about the right-wing bias of the media, especially of talk radio - thus attempting to rationalize why the U.S. environmental movement has fared so poorly in recent years. But my impressions of both the media and academia have been just the opposite; that is, of a general liberal bias. I'm comforted that the Groseclose/Milyo research has confirmed these impressions. Regarding most issues, media bias should not be a problem as long as one is ready and willing to read/view/listen to material outside of one's comfort zone. In my opinion, the real problems are: intellectually oppressive political correctness; sound bytes that trivialize and misinform; inaccurate reporting (either purposeful or as a result of a lazy and derivative journalistic establishment); and the general media focus on sensationalism and trivialities while some really critical issues (as one example, endless and rapid California and U.S. population growth) receive virtually no attention."