Still Liberal, Still Biased

How Big Media Helped the Left and Hurt the Right in 2003

Executive Summary

According to a growing number of journalists, the media’s liberal bias — a trait that most reporters refuse to acknowledge — is no longer a problem. Pointing to the commercial success of conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, plus the Fox News Channel’s dominance of cable TV, many media liberals insist the news industry has all of the fairness and balance it needs.

“It took conservatives a lot of hard and steady work to push the media rightward. It dishonors that work to continue to presume that — except for a few liberal columnists — that there is any such thing as the big liberal media,” Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne argued late in 2002. Dionne, formerly a top political reporter for both the Post and the New York Times, asserted that the media are actually “heavily biased toward conservative politics and conservative politicians.”

But as a new election year begins, the news organizations who truly dominate the media landscape — such as the Big Three broadcast networks and influential papers like the New York Times — remain what they have been for decades: allies of liberalism and enemies of conservative policies. All last year, Media Research Center analysts documented the media’s coverage of a variety of social and political issues, and found that the Big Media in 2003 reliably reflected the liberal mentality that Dionne and others argued was a thing of the past:

  • Economic Policy: All year, the media waged a campaign against taxpayers while pushing for ever-expanding government spending. TV gave three times more airtime to liberal arguments against President Bush’s tax cuts than conservative rebuttals, emphasizing how “big” and “huge” those cuts were. But when the subject was a much larger federal handout for senior citizens, the same network correspondents found critics who charged the giveaway of at least $400 billion was “still not enough.”

  • Foreign Policy: The media showered skepticism on the elected defenders of American liberty, not the tyrants and terrorists who threatened us. Before the war in Iraq, journalists such as ABC’s Peter Jennings advertised their open hostility to President Bush’s policies. During the war, NBC had to fire one of its correspondents for appearing on enemy-controlled Iraqi TV to declare the “failure” of the American war plan. After the war, journalists equated the alleged “quagmire” in Iraq to the failed U.S. effort in Vietnam two generations ago. The networks delighted in bad news — on the day of Saddam’s capture, Jennings pessimistically declared that “there’s not a good deal for Iraqis to be happy about at the moment.”

  • Social Issues: The media marginalized believers in traditional values and celebrated the counter-morality of secular progressives. On the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, TV virtually ignored the well-attended annual March for Life. Supreme Court reporters contrasted “conservatives” with those supporting “gay rights,” as if conservatives are against “rights.” The networks also portrayed Gene Robinson, the first gay Episcopalian bishop, as a courageous pioneer.

  • Politics: The media showed extreme reluctance to portray liberal Democrats as ideologues and revealed their double-standard on character issues. Although his presidential campaign is based on absolute opposition to the war in Iraq and reinstating the high tax rates of the Clinton era, numerous journalists rejected the notion that Howard Dean is liberal. As the California recall approached, reporters like Tom Brokaw — who refused to detail Juanita Broaddrick’s sexual assault charges against Bill Clinton — hypocritically confronted Arnold Schwarzenegger with last-minute groping allegations. “In many states, what you did would be criminal,” Brokaw lectured the GOP candidate.

The following month-by-month review shows how liberal bias contaminated the coverage of the major news stories of 2003, even as so many reporters continue to deny such bias exists. As the 2004 presidential campaign gets underway, the media elite — the Big Three networks, CNN, major newspapers and newsmagazines, wire services and taxpayer-subsidized public broadcasting — will surely be the Democrats’ greatest asset, as they twist their stories to boost liberals and thwart conservatives.