One of the reasons my more pessimistic (and, as it turns out, realistic) friends cited for believing that Mitt Romney would lose is media bias. I dismissed this not so much because I don’t believe that media bias isn’t an issue, but because I thought that there were enough countervailing forces to push Romney over the hump. Whoops.
I’m still leery of citing media bias as a principle cause of Barack Obama’s victory because doing so would diminish the more serious issues, and there are no shortage of reasons explaining why Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney. That said, it’s clear that a compliant media helped. From Candy Crowley giving a big assist at the second debate, to media silence over Benghazi (which followed years of silence on Fast and Furious), to harping on every minor (and not so minor) GOP flub, it’s clear that conservatives have been swimming upstream against a media tide.
But Ronald Reagan dealt with a biased media, and he managed to defeat Jimmy Carter, and then went on to win an even bigger landslide against Walter Mondale. Moreover, Reagan accomplished that in an ere where the only major national news sources were left wing networks and a handful of national daily newspapers. Now there are institutions like Fox News, talk radio, and blogs and other alternative media outlets. Haven’t these leveled the playing field?
Well, the problem is there are left-wing new media outlets, and they are just as well-read and well-watched as the right-wing outlets. Sure Fox is the king of cable news, but the sum total of the other television and cable networks outdraws the Fox viewership. And while talk radio may be dominated by the right, the left has outpaced the right when it comes to electronic media.
More importantly, while right-wing alternative media outlets may draw some non-partisans, we have become a polarized country even when it comes to our sources of news information. David French linked to a very informative graph that shows how conservatives and liberals are simply digesting news in very different ways, and left-leaning sources are ones which are very influential in the broader culture. We may shake our heads in disgust over the fact that many young people actually rely on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a credible news source, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As French notes, so-called moderates tend to read or watch left-leaning sites and programs, thus the new right-wing media isn’t penetrating the core demographic of younger voters. As someone perhaps more tuned into pop culture sites than most in these parts, I can testify that there is a definite leftist tilt that certainly influences those who are otherwise not especially tuned into current events.
I would also argue that the 24/7 news cycle hasn’t redounded to the right’s advantage. Sure Rather, Cronkite, Jennings, Brokaw and others were heavily influential, but they were on for 30 minutes a day – 22 if you factor in commercials. If a conservative politician made a blunder, they could plaster it on the nightly news, but then it was largely forgotten for another 23 hours. Now that blunder will be tweeted and re-tweeted, blogged about, joked about by Colbert and Stewart, mentioned on “apolitical” humor and culture sites, and broadcast on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and even Fox. There’s no place to hide. So while news outlets ignore the president’s dithering while his ambassador was killed, everyone is sure to hear about “legitimate rapes” over and over again.
I maintain that there are bigger problems than media bias to overcome, but it is a larger problem than I had thought previously.