Liberal Media Bias and How to Counteract it: Examples from Brexit and Benghazi

Liberal bias is well known to exist within the mainstream media, including network news shows of CBS, ABC, and NBC, cable channels CNN, MSNBC, major newspapers, news-wires, especially CBS News, Newsweek, and the New York Times. In support of the notion of liberal bias of the major networks is the finding that the Democratic Party received a total donation of $1,020,816, given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks (NBC, CBS, ABC), while the Republican Party received only $142,863 via 193 donations. Both of these figures represent donations made in 2008. I suspect that numbers for the 2016 election will dwarf these figures that already are weighted over 10:1 in favor of Democratic support.

Another more direct, but equally convincing means of assessing media bias is by canvasing media outlets immediately after an important politically charged event like the Leave-Remain vote for Brexit. The morning after the vote, I spent most of the day canvasing several liberal media depictions on TV (BBC, PBS, CBS) and via  the internet (NYT) and just one counterpoint on FOX resulting in unbelievable contrasts!

I was particularly struck with the rather extreme media bias of PBS which today appears to be the mouthpiece of the Democratic Party. Their staff interviewed lots of traumatized professional journalists. What impressed me was 1) the fact that every single commentator was completely negative; 2) only one view was represented, with no opposing commentary; and 3) the negative viewpoint expressed was somewhat hysterical and absurdly extreme. Like Chicken Little, these journalists were clearly upset by the democratic referendum in Britain and conjured up catastrophic cascades likely to follow it using terms like “dire, dark and disturbing,” with years of steep economic decline. The British majority were characterized unabashedly as old, angry, stupid and white — out to build walls instead of allowing free borders, a backlash against the more enlightened policy of globalization. There was literally no commentator who mentioned any other possible motive for the majority other than racism. Nobody expressed any notion that voters simply want back their freedom to elect their own officials and determine their own future.

Nobody who consciously seeks out different points of view regularly from the media would be surprised about this, as it has been apparent for decades. A 20-year-old study is still cited frequently: The Media Elite, (1986) co-authored by political scientists Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman, and Linda Lichter.

They surveyed journalists at national media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the broadcast networks. The survey found that the large majority of journalists were Democratic voters whose attitudes were well to the left of the general public on a variety of topics, including issues such as abortion, affirmative action, social services and gay rights. The authors concluded firstly that journalists’ coverage of controversial issues reflected their own attitudes and education, and secondly that the predominance of political liberals in newsrooms pushed news coverage in a liberal direction. The authors suggested this tilt as a mostly unconscious process of like-minded individuals projecting their shared assumptions onto their interpretations of reality, a variation of confirmation bias.” (From Wikipedia)

What would a scientist familiar with dealing with conflicting sources of information do in such a situation? First, one clearly needs to sample multiple independent sources of data to attempt to reconstruct a valid and accurate view of an event. However, if everyone derives their story from a single source they can hardly be considered independent sources.  For further illustration, consider today’s report in the U.S. media of the final report of the House Benghazi Committee. I rated each report on a simple 10-pt scale from 1 (Extreme Left) to 10 (Extreme Right) (although we all know that issues rarely line up so neatly from left to right).

Mainstream Liberal – Rating: 3

AP:  Benghazi Report Faults Security: No New Clinton Allegations
Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee harshly faulted the Obama administration Tuesday for lax security and a slow response to the deadly 2012 attacks at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya. But they produced no new allegations about then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

PBS: Benghazi Committee Faults Military Response To 2012 Attack
The 800-page report found that despite President Obama and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s “clear orders,” the military failed to immediately send a force to Benghazi and that nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed — almost eight hours after the attacks began. The report had harsh findings about the military but little new about the role of Hillary Clinton, whose response as secretary of state had been thrust into the spotlight by the committee’s investigation. 

New York Times: 2-Year Panel on Benghazi Ends, Finding No New Fault by Clinton
The House Select Committee on Benghazi found no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the deadly attacks in Libya in 2012. The 800-page report ends one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history.

ABC News: Final Benghazi report faults security; no new Clinton allegations
House Republicans on the Benghazi Select Committee released their long-awaited report this morning on the events surrounding the 2012 Libya terrorist attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The report says there was intelligence leading up to the attacks that the diplomatic consulate and CIA annex there were not safe and that top officials in the U.S. State Department, including Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, should have realized that.

CNN:  Benghazi Committee Caps Two-Year Investigation: No Bombshell, Faults Administration
House Republicans capped a partisan, two-year investigation of the Benghazi terror attacks Tuesday with a report that contains no significant revelations about the events that led to the deaths of four Americans but faults the Obama administration for security lapses. The more than 800-page report paints a picture of a perfect storm of bureaucratic inertia, rapidly worsening security in Libya and inadequate resources in the months that led up to the killings of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues.

All the mainstream media outlets I sampled were virtually identical. All emphasized that the investigation was politically motivated and contained no new information about Clinton’s role. None reported that it had already been firmly established that she did play a key role in the attempted cover-up and weeks of misleading press reports about the cause of the violence being attributed to an inflammatory video, rather than a pre-planned full scale military assault on the embassy.


Far Left — Rating: 1
For Media Matters for America, the whole point was to discredit Fox News:

Media Matters For America: Farewell To Fox News’ Benghazi Hoax

To the surprise of no one, the Republicans’ four-year partisan inquisition surrounding the terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, is likely ending with a whimper. With the House Select Committee on Benghazi finally releasing its findings, and the report representing the eighth and (likely) final government investigation into the deadly event, the Benghazi hoax, as sponsored by Fox News for four years, finally comes to an impotent and ignominious end. 

Right of Center — Rating: 7

Fox: House panel investigating deadly Benghazi terrorist attack faults Obama administration response — 
finds Clinton knowingly misled public; the headline was later changed to: “House Benghazi report slams administration response to attacks” 

A damning report authored by the Republican-led House committee probing the Benghazi terror attacks faulted the Obama administration for a range of missteps before, during and after the fatal 2012 attacks – saying top administration officials huddled to craft their public response while military assets waited hours to deploy to Libya.

Several hours later FOX shortened their headline from 20 to 8 words: House Benghazi report slams administration response to attacks, deleting the key words: “deadly terrorist Obama” and “Clinton knowingly misled public.”

While the wording of the article remained unchanged, the headline change clearly conformed more closely to the mainstream liberal press, but without stating explicitly that there were no new allegations against Clinton.

Mainstream Conservative Rating: initial post: 7, altered post: 5 


Since it’s impractical to canvas all news outlets all the time, one practical solution is to seek out news from two contrasting and independently derived positions and add a third from a foreign or local source. In the above example, you can easily verify that AP, PBS, CNN, CBS, ABC, and the NYTimes are virtually the same. All invite the reader to exit the story quickly after reading the headline that states: Nothing New. You only need to read one of these since they are not independent. FOX provides the lone essential counterpoint within the mainstream media. A foreign news service (like the Telegraph or the Mail for Brexit) might be a useful third source. And of  course, internet sources a bit outside the mainstream, like Breitbart, are invaluable (Breitbart headline on the Benghazi report: “House Benghazi Report Confirms ‘Spontaneous Video Protest’ Story Was Deliberate Political Disinformation“; the article clearly implicates Clinton).

Sophisticated media consumers already recognize that the average reader has the freedom to self-select the truth that matches their existing ideology. In contrast, the triangulation method I propose, derived from procedures designed to validate scientific data, ensures that the reader may encounter facts that confront their existing beliefs or run counter to their cherished narrative. Politicians would be less polarized if they did the same, and journalists should be re-trained to provide less polarizing news reports in the first place. But don’t hold your breath.

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