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The Mainstream Media Is Biased To The Right, And The Right Is Now Extreme
Conservatives have shouted that mainstream media is “liberal” for decades. But, if anything, today’s national press is biased towards an increasingly radical right.
Wherever you land on the political spectrum, you’ve likely heard that the news is liberal. This attack is part of a long-running strategy initiated by conservatives in the 1960s, upset over what they perceived to be unfair treatment. As American historian Nicole Hemmer puts it, “creating conservative media wasn’t enough to achieve balance. The right would also have to discredit existing media.” Their strategy of demonization has been so successful, trumpeted so often and so forcefully, that many wrongly believe that CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, and CBS are emphatically biased towards the left. A basic review of how our mainstream media treats the Republican party, now a party of extremes, reveals otherwise.
On The Trump Train
Donald Trump’s sexual assault, bigotry, lying, attempted extortion, stochastic terrorism, and stealing of classified information are radically extreme behaviors. Yet, throughout Trump’s presidency, major networks incessantly proclaimed the adoption of a “new tone” and pivots where there were none. Add to this their constant speculating about Trump’s electoral chances, even after he attempted a coup, and it’s hard to imagine how our political press could be more in the bag for a would-be dictator. Further, mainstream outlets hustle to share interviews with every Trump supporter at every Trump diner and rally. We rarely hear from other American voters except through occasional poll results. This is not the behavior of a “liberal media”.
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GOP, Context Free
It’s not just Trump coverage that reveals our media's right bias. Allegedly “liberal” newsrooms legitimize fake outrages cooked up in right wing think tanks, such as critical race theory and Moms For Liberty, by giving them a public relations polish and placing them prominently before our eyeballs, without providing the essential context that these “outrages” and hate groups are created and funded by right-wing billionaires. Legacy newsrooms routinely perform mindless stenography of GOP lies about the border, inflation, and the debt ceiling. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s lying and bigotry was rewarded with a 60 Minutes appearance. Other Republican officials known to have lied to the public are called “firebrands” instead of “liars”. Everywhere you look the extremism of forced birth, racist voter suppression, election lies and Christian Nationalism is softened with euphemism.
Legitimize Rather Than Criticize
If our mainstream media was liberal, it would spend nearly all of its air time exposing right-wing lies. Instead, our legacy outlets whitewash the lies. Republican elected officials lie about voter fraud, about the deep corruption of the Supreme Court, and about teachers grooming children. They lie about American history. They even lie and say Democrats run pedophile rings. This is wild, untrue stuff that we should expect our mainstream media to forcefully denounce, especially if it had a “liberal bias”. But instead, the mainstream media puts these people on their shows. They license this behavior, in effect saying, “This is okay. Lying is okay.” We are happy to legitimize and privilege lying, right-wing politicians because the people elected them and those same people might watch our shows and read our papers. That’s not journalism. That is amplifying far-right propaganda that begets more votes for far-right candidates in a vicious cycle. Once you see this bias in favor of the extremist right you cannot unsee it.
What Corrupt Supreme Court Extremism?
It is obvious to many that multiple “conservative” justices are deeply corrupt and hurting Americans with radical decisions. Yet, following a slew of recent rulings that reversed decades long precedents and paved the way for forced birth, an end to affirmative action, and discrimination against LGBTQ people, the Washington Post and New York Times published front page articles that whitewashed the court’s extremism and corruption. A New York Times article included a claim that “civil liberties and civil rights fared surprisingly well this term,” while further asserting that the three justices hand picked by Republican judicial fixer Leonard Leo will “continue to disappoint conservatives.” The Washington Post wrote a headline proclaiming “Court’s conservatives flex their strength.” This is the type of frame Sports Illustrated might use in describing the US Women’s soccer team achieving victory at the World Cup. This “nothing to see here” coverage is not a frame a “liberal” media would choose. Even a centrist media would inform the public of the crucial corruption context surrounding a failed branch of our government.
A Case Of The Sundays
Mere weeks after January 6th, after the majority of the Republican members of Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election in furtherance of a coup attempt, prestigious Sunday Shows on all major networks platformed politicians who’d told the Big Lie. Hosting right-wing liars and thanking them for coming on, as NBC’s Chuck Todd did in the months following January 6th (and in the weeks leading up to it), enables and normalizes the far right’s sedition. Speculating at how fascists like Ron DeSantis can better earn votes, so he can do more book banning and immigrant trafficking, as new Meet The Press host Katrina Peterson did three weeks ago, is right-wing media behavior.
Back On The Trump Train
Coverage of Trump’s indictment is yet another example of mainstream media’s right bias. Outrageous headlines followed Trump’s federal indictment on June 8th. Excuses were made and puff pieces penned for a coup-attempting former president who had now been caught on tape admitting to violating the Espionage Act. “Winners of the Trump indictment: the former president”opined one headline. “Biden should pardon Trump”read another. One paper lamented that the DOJ, not Trump by his own actions, put America in this position. And in the worst example of our (by now clearly!) partisan mainstream media whitewashing Trump’s criminality, this heroic/patriotic/defiant photo was used for a front page New York Times article announcing his indictment.
The other pro-Trump headlines came from USA Today and the Washington Post, so-called “liberal” mainstream media.
Our press is not liberal if it doggedly normalizes Trump’s extremely dangerous actions. Trump was indicted for deliberately lying and refusing to return stolen military secrets. Calling it a “documents” case or describing his crime as “mishandling” - downplaying frames pushed by our sympathetic national press - is tantamount to conducting a public relations effort on Trump’s behalf. His son-in-law was given $2 billion by the Saudis. His campaign colluded with Russia to help win the 2016 election. While president, Trump took money from foreign governments via his businesses. Mar-a-lago is an unsecured facility. This is a national security case and to state otherwise is to aid in Trump’s legal defense.
Further, Trump indictment coverage has confused the public by indulging far-right whataboutism regarding Biden documents and Hillary Clinton investigations. Without providing essential context surrounding those situations, that would allow the public to understand the massive differences, mainstream media supports the propaganda. Journalists, aware of right-wing attacks (Hillary poured bleach on her hard drive! Her aides smashed her phones!), must repeatedly and forcefully dispel those false equivalencies for the public rather than casually indulge them, as Peter Baker does below.
Corporate Bias Is De Facto Right Bias
We have a commercialized system of informing the public. Catering to “both sides” attracts the most eyes possible to sell to advertisers. When the New York Times visits a diner full of Trump voters in Pennsylvania, conservative readers see themselves. Liberal readers are drawn to clickbait MAGA quotes they find sensational. Corporate media cannot accurately describe one party’s lurch towards fascism because to do so would alienate readers sympathetic to the fascists. It must, in the interest of profit, make asymmetrical realities seem symmetrical.
No matter how much money corporations throw at Pride marketing, corporate imperatives align with conservative agendas. Put simply, corporations like Republican politics. The heads of our mainstream media are conservative or sympathetic to the Republican agenda of cutting taxes and maintaining the status quo. Outgoing Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan was Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and continues to be the Chairman of the Board of the The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. CNN’s disastrous Trump “town hall” happened because the conservative brass at Warner Brothers Discovery believed the way to attract more advertising dollars was to appeal to Trump supporters, despite Trump supporters not being their base audience. Commercially driven media will always result in corporate agendas AS our news. It’s why you don’t see nearly enough coverage of the January 6th coup attempt and why you’ll certainly never see “Voter Upset With Attempted Coup” stories. Because talk of “coups” is anathema to the “buying mood” corporations endeavor to create every day.
Kill The Myth, Heal The Nation
As with any lie repeated often enough, the myth that our media is liberal has become entrenched as a cultural assumption, obfuscating the ever present reality that our media actively privileges the extremist right. Americans are generally aware that corporate power has taken over our government, capturing the politicians and regulatory agencies meant to hold it in check. Behind every tragedy - a toxic train wreck, child gun deaths, the climate emergency - there is a corporate lobby that pushes bad ideas through the halls of government, making that tragedy more likely to occur. Less explored, to our peril, is the fact that corporations have taken over our information ecosystem and, therefore, our minds. Our corporate, mainstream news media act as lobbyists for the right when they push hateful bigotry, rampant disinformation, and extremist political figures on the general public, while often ignoring the perspectives of other Americans. The sooner we reject the myth of “liberal media bias” the sooner we can collectively take action to reform our media system to one that serves the public interest, thus securing better outcomes for more people.
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