Bias, False Equivalency and Propaganda

Many of you may have noticed that I rarely use the term right-wing media, instead substituting right-wing propaganda.  I do so because I believe the latter is a much more accurate term.  The difference between the two is not as great as some people might think.  Both provide information, and both have a point of view, either subtle or overt.  The difference, in my opinion, lies primarily in intent.

The primary intent of legitimate media organizations is to inform, with influence being a secondary motivation.

The primary intent of propaganda institutions is to influence, with information being a secondary motivation.

The giants of right-wing media now, including Fox News, almost all clearly fall in the second category.

I can hear conservatives beginning to splutter “But, but, but … it’s the mainstream media that is biased.”  Let me stop them right there by stipulating to the fact.

It is true that what people call the “mainstream media”(which encompasses the three traditional television networks, CNN, and most of the major newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, etc.) is indeed somewhat biased.  In fact they have a pretty solid and consistent left-center bias that usually takes the form of editorial choice as to which stories to emphasize, and the occasional use of loaded words in their articles that reveal how the institution feels about the issue in question.  They also have very high journalistic standards, the quality and accuracy of the information conveyed is excellent, and they do not hesitate to publish and highlight negative stories about liberals and Democrats, their reputed allies.  They offer up nearly equal time to conservative viewpoints in their editorial spaces and shows.  They win a lot of journalistic awards, and when they make a mistake, they almost always correct it and take corrective action.

Their bias is negligible and easily corrected for in relation to the bias displayed by right-wing propaganda outlets, which is why they deserve the name.  Those display a consistent and obvious hard right-wing (not right-center) bias in virtually all their reporting and opinions.  They not only use editorial choice and loaded words to make their points, but almost always omit information and viewpoints damaging to the point they are trying to make.  Their journalistic standards are low, and they frequently publish/broadcast false information.  They hide or downplay stories that do not fit their point of view.  They do not offer anywhere close to equal time and space in their editorial spaces/shows for contrary opinions.  They win very few journalistic awards, and frequently double down when caught in a mistake or lie, rather than correcting it.

Comparing the level of bias of the two is a classic example of false equivalency.   The levels of bias and factual accuracy of the “mainstream media” vs. right-wing propaganda outlets is wildly different.  The right wing propaganda outlets are both much more biased and much less accurate.

The best source I have found for looking at media bias is the website Media Bias/Fact Check  (MBFC).  I also find it a pretty neat way to evaluate your own biases – look up the sources that you use most often or those that just “feel right” to you, and the description of their biases is probably where your own biases are.  In the interest of full disclosure, the sources I favor and put the most trust in tend to be left center and or centrist.  Most of them would also be considered mainstream media.

Of the top ten what I would consider most prominent conservative “news” sources (Fox News, Breitbart, Conservative Tribune, Western Journalism, Drudge Report, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, World Net Daily, The Blaze and the Daily Caller), nine of them are given a rating of “Mixed” by MBFC on their factual record, and those same nine are all rated as being “Right Bias” or “Extreme Right Bias”.  The lone exception is the Wall Street Journal, a lonely bastion of journalistic integrity on the right.

Contrast this with the outlets I listed as the “mainstream media”, which all consistently have “High” factual ratings, and moderate “Center-Left” biases.  There is one exception, CNN, which earned both “Mixed” and “Left Bias” ratings.  Hey, there’s a black sheep in every family.

You should also look closely at the two figures who are perhaps most influential in the right-wing propaganda world, Rupert Murdoch and Steve Bannon, and you see two people for whom politics is the reason they are in the information business, who make little effort to hide their goal of manipulating opinion.

Murdoch’s entire history, starting in Australia, then moving on to England and finally hopping across the pond to America when he bought Fox, is of political maneuvering.  He has always backed one party strongly (although curiously it has not always been the more conservative party) and used his media empire to favor that party.  My God, he makes no attempt to even hide it or pretend balance.  He hired Roger Ailes, who in addition to being a sleazy kind of guy, was a longtime high-profile Republican political consultant.  And don’t give me any of those “but so and so in the mainstream media is married to so and so, who once lived next to so and so in the Democratic Party” comparisons.  Another false equivalency.  There is no equivalent to Roger Ailes in terms of partisanship running any mainstream media outlet nor has there been in recent history.

As for Steve Bannon, he resigned his position at Breitbart to work in the Trump White House, and after flaming out there in less than seven months, is right back at Breitbart, providing loving accommodation to the viewpoints of the “alt-right” and other extremists.

And don’t even get me started on InfoWars, or talk radio, or any outlet that begins with “Patriot” or “Freedom” or “Liberty”, where a sizable number of conservatives get fed a heaping helping spoonful of unadulterated lies, misinformation, loopy conspiracy theories and bigotry, then say “Yumm!  Can I have some more, please?”

The fact is that American conservatives are currently being bombarded by  sophisticated, coordinated and non-stop propaganda, the effects of which are easily measured in various polls measuring whether they believe Obama was a Muslim (many do), climate change is real (many don’t), etc., etc.  This warping of the fabric of reality for a significant part of our population is perhaps the largest reason for the level of division in our country right now.

I used to think this could never happen in America, that we were somehow inherently better or smarter than the Germans of the 1930s, for example, and that we could never be taken in by such propaganda.  Particularly now, with incredible amounts of real information  and powerful fact-checking tools available at our fingertips.  I was wrong.



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