It is common pastime of catallaxians to condemn left-wing media bias: in the US, Australia and elsewhere. To be sure, claims of media bias are not confined to the right. For instance, during the Iraq war, anti-war activists such as Michael Moore condemned all mainstream US media for war mongering and support for President GW Bush. My Yugoslavian friends condemn all the Australian media for their conspiracy against Serbia. However, the right are more persistent and perpetual in their exposure of the left-wing media bias.
Of course one may say that bias is in the eye of the beholder. However Rafe recently cited a report which showed that in the US about 90% of journalists vote Democrats (sorry I forgot the correct number). Surely this is pretty solid evidence of media bias?
But the question is: why? Take the US for example. Most of the media and all newspapers in the US operate in the free market of ideas. As we all know, roughly speaking 50% of US voters vote Republicans and 50% Democrats. These numbers fluctuate from year to year, but 50/50 is a rough long term trend. Yet, it appears from the estimate quoted by Rafe that people overwhelmingly buy left of centre papers. There is some inconsistency here.
To explain better what I am talking about, let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that number of journalists of particular voting record translates into numbers of papers of particular political colour. Let’s further assume that each paper employs the same number of journalists (this is far from true of course, but let’s just assume this for simplicity’s sake). Then, there would be 90% left of centre papers and 10% right of centre. But this would mean that 80% of Republican voters buy left-of-centre papers! Why would they do this? Conversely, if Republican voters wanted to buy right-of-centre papers, surely this demand would create corresponding supply. No need even to create new papers; existing right-of-centre papers should increase in circulation and become on par with the New York Times! And surely at least some of the existing papers would be keen to expand their market by hiring more right of centre journalists?
There are a number of possible explanations for the existing situation. One is that many people don’t really care about paper’s political bias. They buy a paper for sports, science, crime, etc etc pages, where politics is irrelevant. Maybe due to their indoctrination in liberal arts colleges, sports journalists are Democrats, but this may not affect their reporting, or indeed sales.
A more likely explanation is that voters and newspaper readers are not the same contingents. Indeed not everyone in the US votes, and very small percentage of people buy papers. Yet this does not explain why the buyers are so overwhelmingly buy left-wing papers. Perhaps this reflects the class positions of the two parties. Papers are most likely to be read by urban intellectuals, while there may be far fewer newspaper buyers in the Heartland… But is hard to construct a similar explanation regarding electronic media, particularly television, which is a true mass medium.