Imagine my surprise when, as a freshman at Morehead State University in Kentucky, I walked into an Introduction to Geography course and had to sit through a video called “The Myth of the Liberal Media.” One day we were talking about the earth’s weather patterns and the next, that the media is really conservative. Any taxpayer should take note.
“The Myth of the Liberal Media” is produced by the Media Education Foundation, and as the title implies, sets out to “prove” that conservatives are off their heads when talking about how liberal the media has become. In the film left-wing icons, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and John Lewis were interviewed to explain how.
Mr. Chomsky asserts that conservatives always complain that the media are too liberal. Conservatives go about proving this notion by showing how an overwhelming amount of journalists vote for Democrats. He says that this idea is “idiotic” because it proves nothing. I beg to differ. It proves that an overwhelming amount of journalists vote for Democrats, and hence agree with Democrats. And like anyone else, these biases control their choices. Why can’t liberals ever admit that bias affects their actions?
The overarching message of the video (being shown in a geography class) is that because large “conservative” corporations like General Electric and Disney own certain media companies, the media must be conservative. John Lewis says the conservative claim that journalistic bias affects the news output is “a bit like saying the workers on the factory floor decide what the car industry produces.” Really? That would be true if the factory workers created the raw materials, designed the cars, and controlled the marketing. Journalists don’t simply bang on typewriters—they decide who to interview for their stories, where the story gets placed in the paper or, for that matter, what is news, and whether the story will get ratings or sell papers. These are not decisions made by G.E. or Disney, and it is nothing like work in the car industry. To make the analogy even more silly, when one actually looks at the donation data, one will see that G.E. has been giving evenly to each party over the last fifteen years, while Disney donations have favored the Democratic party in that same time period!
Like any propaganda film worth its salt, this video makes good use of subtle graphics to make its point. In an attempt to prove how conservative think tanks influence the media, they put four names on the screen: Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato. The video cuts back to the interview with John Lewis who says that Heritage, AEI and Cato are all conservative. The graphics come back and these three names slide to the right of the screen under a small heading of “conservative” while Brookings stays in the center of the screen with a heading of “centrist.” Later, the Council on Foreign Relations is called centrist as well and apparently there is not a single liberal think tank to be found in all of Washington. That category was left blank.
At this point, I have not learned a single thing about geography.
Some of the information in this production is just blatantly wrong. For instance, they insist that if the media were indeed liberal, then it would focus on the billions spent on defense. This video was made during the Clinton slash-and-burn years on the military budget so there was little for the media to complain about. The military was being downsized, which is what the media and the left have wanted since Vietnam. But since 2001, it has been obvious that the media has been very critical of the rise in defense spending. The Media Education Foundation insists, as many liberals do, that welfare is a much smaller expenditure in the budget than defense. With another fine display of graphics, they show a little tiny bar graph for welfare and a giant one for defense. Anyone who knows how to look up federal budget records can see that in order to do this they have to focus on a very small portion of welfare (AFDC). Apparently, Medicaid, WIC and other forms of welfare do not count because that would make that little bar graph for welfare into a mammoth line that would overtake their point on defense spending.
So is the media liberal? My professor clearly did not think so, but let’s do a quick case study. Most Americans know that Dick Cheney used to work for Halliburton because just about every story written about the Vice President mentions it. Even some of the recent shooting incident coverage has made sure we have not forgotten. But how many Americans know about the oil company Al Gore and his family are involved with—Occidental? A Lexus-Nexus guided news search can show us the disparity in the coverage from one VP to the next. Putting in “Dick Cheney” and “Halliburton” searching in full text of “Major Papers” will turn up so many documents that the search engine cannot display them all. The same search substituting in “Al Gore” and “Occidental” will only turn up 221 hits. Narrowing that search down to just the New York Times: “Dick Cheney”+ “Halliburton”= 402 hits. “Al Gore” + “Occidental” = 19 hits. The Washington Post: 253 and 10 hits respectively.
Conservatives have known about the liberal media for years, but Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Lewis are a bit behind the curve. Unfortunately for American taxpayers, so are many university professors, and videos like this one find their way into classrooms even when they do not appear relevant to the course. If the course is a liberal indoctrination of college freshmen, then it is understandable that this video be shown. Otherwise, it has no place—especially not in a geography course.
Aaron Jones attends Morehead State University in Kentucky.