To the left, to the left; everything you know in a box to the left… Bias in the media?
The tendency of people to perceive media sources as biased against their own viewpoints has been well documented. The bias can take the form of omission, where relevant facts, perspectives and arguments are not conveyed to the viewer. An example of this would be the Daily Show. A typical reaction of a social democrat (I refuse to use the word ‘liberal’ in this context, as it has a perfectly good alternative, distinct and historical meaning) to the show would be to laugh at the fact that the conservative arguments mentioned on the show are so bad. The typical reaction of a conservative would be annoyance that stronger conservative arguments are not presented on the show.
Perhaps a more serious type of media distortion is when news stories are consciously manipulated to fit an agenda. Recent examples include MSNBC doctoring a video so that what would otherwise contradict the hypothesis mooted on the show in question, that to oppose Obama’s healthcare reform bill you must be white and bigoted, becomes instead evidence shown to support the hypothesis. On the other side of the ideological divide, Fox News is often accused of having a conservative bias.
Anand, Tella & Galetovic (2007) argue that media bias should be perceived where the information concerned is non-verifiable. The information in the example above was verifiable, but verification required effort that not all viewers would have been willing to take. Gunther & Schmitt (2006) propose that perceptions of media bias are more likely to exist when the observer of the bias thinks that the information in question will be widely disseminated. This ties in with the third-person effect whereby people perceive others to be more influenced by biased information than they themselves are (Davison, 1983).
In which direction (on a simple left-right scale) would we expect the most media bias? Well, firstly we might expect more bias overall as news provision has become more disaggregated with the rise of cable TV and the internet. Secondly, the graph shown here by Charles Murray would imply that we might expect mainstream media outlets to promote views to the left of the population as a whole.