When I began working with the media in the 1970s, political conservatives often charged that the media had a liberal bias. This lead to a “they’re-out-to-get-us” mentality on the part of the political right, and a “that’s absurd” denial from journalists.
Then in the 1980s and 90s came a series of studies documenting the liberal leaning of the media. One study found that the ratio of reporters identifying themselves as liberals or Democrats versus those who identified themselves as conservatives or Republicans was as high as
9 to 1. But reporters still insisted their stories were balanced.
Finally, since 2000, several journalists, most recently Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, have openly acknowledged a liberal bias in the media.
But for most of you—unless you are involved in conservative politics—the media’s liberal bias doesn’t affect your interviews. There are other biases that do, however.
Joan Stewart, a former reporter and editor now known as The Publicity Hound, wrote an excellent article,“The Ugly Truth About Media Bias,” for Bulldog Reporter. Stewart details issues of background, mindset, and job circumstances that cause bias. These are biases you need to be aware of in preparing for interviews. I urge you to read the whole article. (Click on the article title link above)
One of the biases Stewart touches upon, and the one I feel is the most universal, is the emphasis on reporting the negative. An old newsroom adage is “if it bleeds, it leads.” A former news director at a network affiliate in Washington, DC used to send his reporters out with the admonition, “find me the tragic, the senseless, and the bizarre.” Or as the great media critic, Richard M. Nixon, commented, “For the press, progress is not news. Trouble is news.”
Reporters are skeptics. They look for the down side, for what could go wrong, for what they’re not being told. You must anticipate their objections and prepare convincing—and interesting—proof.
Lyndon Johnson, summed up the media’s negative bias this way. “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”