If the media's part of the free market, how can it be so liberal?If you opened a novelty shop near a domestic US military base and sold 'Viva bin Laden' and 'Death to America' t-shirts, would your business thrive?
The reason it would almost certainly fail very quickly is because what you were selling would be repugnant to nearly all of your potential consumers.
Yet according to many conservatives, the commercial news media is some how immune to this most basic tent of the free market.
I quite often hear the old 'liberal media' canard. I've explained many times (most recently here) why I believe this is misguided and misses the point
But the canard persists. And not just from unhinged extremists. I sometimes hear this from many moderate, reasonable people.
It's pointless to talk to the extremists, because their rantings are not based on rationality. But it's the intelligent people that interest me, the ones with whom rational discourse is possible.
I sometimes wonder if these people have really thought this issue through or if they are just accepting conventional wisdom, if they figure that this myth has been repeated often enough so it must be true.
In that spirit, I frame the issue this way...
Most media outlets in this country are commercial ventures. Nearly all the major ones and a great many of even the smaller ones are part of large corporate entities. That means that maximizing profits for the stockholders is not only one of its top priorities, but its legal obligation as a corporation.
Hence, I think we can all agree that whether it's The New York Times, NBC or The Podunk Weekly, most media outlets are for-profit businesses who, in this capitalist country, must be responsive to consumer demand in order to survive and thrive.
I think we can also agree that United States is split roughly evenly politically between those on the left, those on the right and those somewhere in the middle (or who defy easy categorization). Perhaps centrist/other occupy a larger percentage, but I think most would agree that neither left nor right represents a crushing majority.
So if the above premises are all true, then how is it possible that the media is liberal?
(For the purpose of this essay, I will unusually use liberal and leftist/left-winger interchangeably. And also from here on in, I am referring primarily to major mainstream media outlets, the primary targets of the 'bias' criticism)
If no more than 1/3 of the country is to the left of the national center, then why would major media outlets choose to alienate 2/3 of their potential audience? Why would national businesses who seek a broad-based appeal consciously do something that, if the premises are true, would seriously harm their profit potential?
According to many critics, five of the six network and cable news outlets (CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC) betray a liberal bias. The other (Fox "News") is conservative according to some on the right or centrist but populist according to others. Most major newspapers are also accused of being liberal.
So if these TV channels are all businesses responding to consumer demand and five of the six are supposedly liberal, then wouldn't this imply that something like 5/6 of the market is liberal or wants 'liberal news'?
Some might respond that conservatives simply aren't getting their news from television or newspapers anymore. But if this were true, then shouldn't the market respond by creating a conservative news channel (which doesn't yet exist according to some) or more conservative papers to tap into that supposedly unmet demand or alienated consumer demographic?
The same is true with newspapers. The right complains that 'most' newspapers are liberal. But again, shouldn't conservative areas have predominantly conservative papers? Doesn't the free market ensure that if papers were more liberal than their readership, then that readership would dwindle into oblivion?
The newspaper industry is struggling but that's because they're slow to adapt to the online revolution, not because of any alleged ideological agenda (a problem which, according to free market rules, should've sorted it years ago... if the problem really existed).
If 5/6 of the media is liberal but no more than 2/6 (1/3) of the country is liberal, then critics are claiming that the media is 2 1/2 times more liberal than their audience. According to the laws of free market, this shouldn't happen because free market would correct this imbalance very quickly.
At its core, this is why the 'liberal media bias' canard doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
The truth is that when people complain that the media is liberal, what they mean is that the media is more liberal than they are. And of course that's true for about a third of the country. Just as it's true that the media (taken as a whole, though it's not quite as monolithic as conservative critics imply) is more conservative than about a third of the country.
The commercial media as a whole can't have a significant liberal bias because the country as a whole is not significantly liberal. According to the capitalist theory that the market always works these things out, there can't be any other explanation... unless the rules of the free market don't apply to the media.
A few years ago, I remember a listener attacking NPR's All Things Considered for airing an in-depth interview with a Palestinian leader without 'balancing' that show with an interview with an Israeli leader. Of course, ATC aired a similar interview with an Israeli cabinet minister the previous day. As we all know, this is what partisans do. They complain about things in a vacuum, outside any long-term context to make their point. But it's our job to be critical thinkers and see their propaganda for what it is: self-interested whining with the intent of influencing the media to be more favorable to them. For a great many, the 'liberal media' canard is not a belief. It's a tactic.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The corporate media is interested in one thing and one thing alone: money.
Most people would acknowledge that media magnate Rupert Murdoch is pretty conservative. He's created right-wing propaganda machines like Fox News (sic) Channel and The Sun newspaper in Britain (the most loved paper in Liverpool, I understand). But even with Murdoch, ideology doesn't necessarily trump money.
He's famously entertained good relations with people like Tony Blair and the Clintons, people that, while hardly raving leftists, were not exactly darlings of conservatives.
Why did he do that?
He sucked up to power, even slightly left-of-center power, because he knew it was good for business. It was good for business to maintain friendly relations with those who regulate the communications sector to help push them to deregulate it... as Blair and Bill Clinton willingly did.
Yes, Murdoch's an ideologue, but first and foremost he's a businessman. Just like most of those who run the media.
But if I'm wrong, tell me why. Tell me why supposedly the overwhelming majority of capitalist media businesses are following the very uncapitalistic strategy of consciously spitting on, or at least ignoring, a huge chunk of its potential market.
Tell me how the contention that the commercial media is at least 2.5 times more liberal than the country as a whole meshes with the theories of the free market.