Bias in the News: Blame it on Their Zip Code

For years, journalists have bristled at allegations of liberal bias in the news.  “If you think we have a bias,” some of them would say, “that only proves one thing:  that you’re the one with the bias.”  When my book Bias came out at the end of 2001 –despite a surprisingly good review in the New York Times – so-called mainstream reporters generally denounced the book.  “Liberal bias?” they asked incredulously.  “What liberal bias?” A few even called me a “traitor” for supposedly turning on my colleagues, which is kind of funny since these are people who won’t call a real traitor …  a traitor.

Well, now we have Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent at NBC News, breaking ranks (sort of) with his fellow journalists.  In an interview with Politico, Todd says, “To me, the ideological bias in the media really hasn’t been there in a long time. But what is there that people mistake for ideological bias is geographic bias. It’s seeing everything through the lens of New York and Washington.”

Not really, but it’s good that Chuck Todd at least seems to be acknowledging that there was, once upon a time an ideological bias in the mainstream media.  To say it “hasn’t been there in a long time,” acknowledges that it was there, once.  This is something a lot of journalists would never admit.

To Chuck Todd, bias in the news simply stems from too many elite journalists living in too few places, Manhattan and DC.  But what Chuck Todd doesn’t quite seem to understand is that geography influences culture and culture influences ideology. People on the Upper West Side of Manhattan don’t see Obamacare, for example, the same way people in Alabama see it.  That’s not because of geography.  It’s because of ideology.  Or to put it another way, there are a lot more liberals on the Upper West Side than there are in Montgomery.

Todd is hard on political journalists, but only up to a point, and makes sure we understand that they’re not slanting the news in favor of liberals because they themselves are liberals.  The reason, he says, has a lot more to do with zip codes than party affiliations.

“I think sometimes there are too many people who cover politics that don’t understand the grassroots of the Republican Party,” he correctly tells Politico. And why don’t they understand?  Because they cover America from a safe distance, embedded in the nation’s two media capitals – Washington and New York.  “Part of what animates them [political journalists] is if [Middle Americans are] pushing it, I’m against it. But also that we don’t understand their day-to-day lives. That we don’t respect the fact that they go to church twice a week. That when we look down our noses upon Wal-Mart, they see it as the only place to shop.”

Let’s see if I have this right:  The sophisticates in Manhattan and Georgetown don’t like anything that the hayseeds who live in Middle America like.  If the unwashed in Flyover Country are for it, the elites in New York and DC are against it.  That, Chuck, is not a geographical bias.  It’s the same old bias conservatives have been complaining about for years.  It’s a bias based on the reporter’s ideology, the journalist’s liberal ideology.

By blaming it all on geography, Chuck Todd, intentionally or not, tries to take the edge off of the problem.  If it’s only geographical, it speaks only to a blind spot.  It says, “Hey, we live in a bubble, that’s why we’re biased.  And it has nothing to do with our politics.”  Yes, they do live in a bubble, but make no mistake:  inside that bubble journalists don’t simply share the same geography — they share the same ideology.  They’re almost all liberals inside the bubble who share the same values, and believe those values are moderate, mainstream and reasonable while conservative values are extreme and dangerous.

“Too many people mistake ideological bias for what really is a matter of geography,” is how he ends his interview with Politico.

Sorry, Chuck, but you’re the one who is making a mistake.  If almost all the media elites live in Washington and New York and are liberal, is the problem that they live in Washington and New York or that they’re liberal? If there were more conservatives in the ranks of elite journalists – editors, producers, anchors – it wouldn’t matter if they all lived on the same block.

But let’s give Chuck Todd some credit for even bringing up the subject of bias in the news.  Halley’s Comet flashing across the sky over the USA is a more commonplace event than a mainstream reporter admitting any kind of bias. Still, it’s too bad, since he’s in charge of political coverage at NBC News, that Todd forgot to tell Politico about how supposedly objective journalists fell madly in love with Barack Obama four years ago and decided they would not settle for being eyewitnesses to history.  The election was too important.  This time, they felt, they had to they help shape history.   So they put on their short skirts to go along with their pompoms and shamelessly became cheerleaders for Mr. Obama — and will probably do it again once the Republicans pick their nominee.  That kind of journalistic bias has very little to do with geography and whole bunch to do with ideology.

So, one cheer for Chuck.

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  • Gerry

    Note to Sam. While Fox is drooling over Romney the New York Tiimes, Washington Post, LA Times, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal,
    Seattle Times, Portland Press, Providence Journal, San Francisco Examiner, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Public Radio, et al are in bed with the current occupant of the White House. For you to spotlight FOX is despicable.

  • Sam

    I wonder if anyone will report on the obvious love-fest for Mitt Romney happening every day on the Fox News channel. I think someone should do a count on the positive stories for him vs positive stories for Santorum or Paul. It’s no doubt they’ve been given their marching orders to spin this campaign to a Romney win. How many times has he been on Fox-n-Friends, America Live, Happening Now, and just today again had Bill Hemmer drooling over him. Maybe we should know what he really stands for before we are herded like sheep into his camp. Maybe it’s his zip code that has the NY media in love with him. Please report media bias when you see it. Check it out.

    • Kathie Ampela

      I don’t know if there is intentional pro-Romney bias at Fox News or if it’s just mass-group think that Romney has it locked up. The continued skepticism and lack of enthusiasm for Romney by the Right speaks for itself. http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/contrada/120308
      I can’t jump on the bandwagon for this guy no matter how much I’m being told of a Romney inevitability.

    • Tim Ned

      I believe Sam if you look at the political opinion programming on Fox you are wrong. In these programs I would guess that Gingrich and Santorum have been on their opinion programs much more than Romney. But I do believe the Fox political commentaries do favor Romney. As for the news segments such as Shepard Smith, I believe the reporting has been fair and balanced across the candidates.

  • Jamal Wilkerson

    Are there people who actually believe Chuck Todd is an expert on something — that he has knowledge or insight to impart to the ignorant on a matter of importance?

    It is to laugh.

  • Phil

    Todd’s theory doesn’t hold water because journalists in Middle America are just as liberal as those on the coasts. Bernie, you need to write a book about the WHY of liberal media bias. You’ve explained, very well, the HOW and the WHAT of the problem. Now you should write a book on WHY the industry is a magnet for a people with a left-of-center worldview. Why don’t conservatives seek employment in this line of work? That would be a fascinating social study, and great topic for your next book. And if I can get a cut of the rotalties for giving you the idea, I’ll take it!

    • EddieD_Boston

      Conservatives all major in businesss or engineering.

      • Phil

        True. But if people enter the media to influence events, rather than merely report objectively on them, as I believe they do, why aren’t there an equal number of conservatives who are just as passionate about influencing events in their direction as there are liberals? The reasons people of different ideologies choose different professions is a fascinating topic, I think, and I’d love to see a great writer like Bernie delve into that subject.

        • Tim Ned

          Great question Phil. I may be wrong but I am of the opinion that most college professors are liberal as well. Either the conservatives are quiet or they are dramatically outnumbered. I believe the latter.

          • EddieD_Boston

            Liberal Art majors become journalists and they’ve been completely brainwashed by graduation day. Accountants and electrical engineers go into private industry.

          • scocope

            As someone who has undertaken both tracks in college (currently the Liberal Arts track but I also have a BS in Business) it may have something to do with brainwashing, but, it may also have something to do with my observation that Liberal Arts students and especially the professors just aren’t very smart; their grasp of politics, social movements, and history depend alot on emotions and feelings and what they’ve watched on MSNBC the night prior.

  • Terry Walbert

    Reporters were not always considered such a respectable lot. They were hard drinking, card playing, gambling, and associated with the less than gentle folk in society.

    Perhaps things started going wrong when reporters started getting masters degrees and calling themselves journalists.

  • Drew Page

    I find it amusing that the liberal elites in Washington, New York or California who so stridently profess their concern over the poor, the minorities and illegals would not for a moment consider living among them, condescend to associate with them or tolerate their presence at their children’s schools, their social affairs, cocktail parties or country clubs. Yet these same liberals are quick to label those outside their circle as racist, xenophoebic and un-American for doing the exact same things.

  • stmichrick

    What strange lengths Chuck Todd reaches for in absolving big media from blame. I guess what follows is that bias could be corrected by forced relocations of elite journalists to fly-over country?
    “Live, from the NBC News Centre in Tulsa Oklahoma…”

  • Homer

    While acknowledging a bias is a step to the correct direction, as Barnie correctly pointed out, Mr Todd doesn’t suggest a way to solve the problem.
    Only when he, or any other MSM journalist will try, they’ll see the problem will be apparent.

  • RecknHavic

    I think Todd hits on a point here tho that is true: journalist cannot recognize their own bias. He coulda saved himself some time and read your book I suppose.

  • Wallace Flint

    Bernie,
    What a bunch oh phonies those liberal writers are. Do they really think that most Americans are wrong and they are right? They ought to go out among the people and work among them! Maybe the liberals might just learn more about life!
    But what I’ve read about them, I really doubt it. You have lived among these clowns and really know what to expect from them. But losts of luck dealing with them. Better you than me.

    In God We Trust!
    Wally Flint- Boonville, NY
    P.S.- Have you ever been back to Bergenfield lately? I went to High School in Dumont, just north of Bergenfeild,NJ

    • Nancy Raabe

      “What a bunch oh phonies those liberal writers are. Do they really think that most Americans are wrong and they are right?”

      Yes. They do. And that’s exactly the problem.

  • Ellsworth M Tooey

    Funny that their living in isolation in New York and/or Washington didn’t prevent them from finding all kinds of horror stories on the economy when ‘W’ was the president.

  • Dave O’Connor

    Bernie, will he join you in the straightening out the mansions of the Fourth Estates?
    With a leary eye, I offer a token of credit to Todd, for daring to project what’s behind media bias; zip-codes, area-codes or other demographic indicators (suggesting the country is 50 states, thousands of municipalities and counties of white mice).
    But can he lead?
    I’m reminded of an old “New Yorker” cartoon.
    The chairman is looking down the table (board members seated eight to ten on each side).
    And he proposes; “I think it’s time to get rid of the “Yes men”. What do you guys think?”

  • Bill Hurdle

    What I find most offensive about Mr. Todd’s analysis is the inference that there is no real bias but only the mental superiority of those elites living in Manhattan and DC compared to the unwashed masses living elsewhere. I guess they don’t teach statistics in journalism school and how intelligence is evenly distributed across the population. How magnanamous of him to share his superior abilities with the rest of us.

    • Drew Page

      The halls of academia, including journalism schools, are breeding grounds for liberals in training because they do not believe that intelligence is evenly distributed, or distributed at all, outside the university.

  • kayakbob

    hmmmm. “By blaming it all on geography, Chuck Todd, intentionally or not, tries to take the edge off of the problem.”

    Bernie in my opinion, you got it half right…the second half. Yes, Mr. Todd is absolutely trying to take the edge off of the problem. But where we disagree is the consciousness of it. I think it is an absolute conscious spin. He can’t defend his colleagues anymore and he knows it. So he simply changes the definition. People like Mr. Todd are not stupid people. They aren’t really very bright – in the real world sense – but don’t for a second think they are stupid or naive when it comes to defining an issue. They are brilliant when it comes to shifting responsibility away from liberalism and toward conservativism.

    I am old enough to remember 1979. Jimmy Carter was floundering with high unemployment. I remember reading very “serious” editorials that claimed we, as a nation, needed to adjust our perception of “full” employment. We needed to consider 7 or 8 or even 9% unemployment as “full” employment. Anything less is just not possible. Since 1979 I think we have been at 5% [true] unemployment several times. So much for the desire to redefine a problem rather than ADDRESS the problem.

  • JohnInMA

    That one statement on geography leaves me incredulous. Perhaps because I am rooted in science and engineering, I find that either there is no real thought and analysis behind what he says, or he is intentionally looking for a deflection that on the surface satisfies some (lefties). The test is always to ask the ONE further question. In this case it might be a how or why, such as: How is geography the DOMINANT factor in rejecting non-Manhattan/DC ideas? Did the M/DC elites equally oppose WI initiatives over the past decade, it also being a throwback flyover state deeply rooted in dairy and agriculture? Not a chance. It is fundamentally ideology. The farmer in MN who participates routinely in church but also favors most progressive social programs is not likely ignored, or opposed by the M/DC elites. He may not even be treated with as much condescension.

    The true failure of the modern, mainstream media to me is that they are no longer convincing. Perhaps the “profession” no longer stresses analysis and rationalization. So much of what is written/stated on the topic of politics or culture cannot pass the “next question” test. It is either a bad habit that has evolved or they simply don’t see the need any longer.

  • ted wight

    It is propaganda of which Goebbels would be proud. The country is heading down the financial toilet because the media has a blind spot for Democrats, so-mistakenly-called “progressives” and Mr. Obama. Unless Mitt Romney can come out of the gate running and saying truths that are explosive sufficiently that even the Left-wing media has to cover them, we as the greatest nation in history will fail.

    • Wil Burns

      I keep forgetting that the economic crisis and the Iraq War & Afghanistan war and the national Debt began on January 20, 2009 . . .

  • Dave Koffer

    Of course the lamestream media is biased to the left, and unfortunately, most likely will never chsnge anytime soon since they are so emotionally invested in Barry Hussein Nobama!!!

  • Webmaster

    This is a keeper!

    “Halley’s Comet flashing across the sky over the USA is a more commonplace event than a mainstream reporter admitting any kind of bias.”

  • Ken Besig

    Journalists have a serious responsibility to report the news fairly, objectively, and as professionally as possible. Sure, everyone has his biases and his favorites, and it is especially important for professionals to understand this and keep their biases and favoritisms in check. Of course in our day and age, due to immaturity and ambition, too many journalists will do, say, write, or broadcast anything to get ahead. And this is wrong, wrong, wrong! It is also why the Internet has become more popular than mainstream news, why the mainstream media is viewed with increasing skepticism by the average viewer, and why so many major news papers and reporting agencies are losing subscribers.

  • Neal Angel

    Bernie’s story reminds me of a case study long ago in B-school in which GM execs couldn’t understand the growing popularity of Japanese cars. Of course, these same execs drove GM company cars that were maintained by company mechanics. Virtually everyone else in Detroit drove American cars in those days, so in their minds-eye, there was no need to address quality or gas economy issues that were increasingly threatening the dominance of GM cars in those days. We all know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey was fond of saying.

  • Kevin

    Well done once again Bernie. But I use engineering to explain everything…because I’m an engineer. And guess what? I admit that I see things as an engineer, and I am biased that way. OK, so here is my engineering opinion. Liberals, in a manner similar to conservatives, follow the magnetic attraction of the gravitational field created by the energy emitted from like minded community members living in close proximity to one another, and become attracted to that geography like metal shavings to a magnet back in science class. Hence, regardless of your ideology, “we” live “here”, and “they” live “there”. I should never have an inkling in my mind who you, the journalist, vote for. Yet we all know exactly who the lamestream media like, liberal political and entertainment elites and other media elites like them, and who they hate, everyone else.

  • Kevin McDonald

    Nice work. Its hard for anyone to argue with facts now.
    Keep it up, we need your voice.

  • Tom S.

    I thought liberal MSM hacks all had their own zip codes, being the narcissists they are and all.

  • Michael

    Bernie, I think to say that they are biased is giving them too much credit. I think they are just snobs. They can’t feel good about themselves unless they are looking down their noses at someone else.

  • Kathie Ampela

    Let me see if I have this geography bias theory down correctly. I live in New York but on Staten Island not Manhattan. There are approximately 8 million people living in the 5 boroughs of NYC, but the only ones who count live on the Upper West Side, the rest of us are too stupid to know better. That’s at least 8 million potential consumers of news versus several thousand on the Upper West or Upper East side. The “geographical elites” are insulting and driving away their potential viewership. And they think WE’RE the stupid ones ;-)

    “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth, and
    they thought it was hell.”
    – Harry S Truman
    “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
    – Lenin
    “When there is universal deception, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” – George Orwell

    Have a good day :-)

  • MerchantofVenom

    So they put on their short skirts to go along with their pompoms and shamelessly became cheerleaders for Mr. Obama — and will probably do it again once the Republicans pick their nominee.

    PROBABLY?

  • Ron Kean

    “… they go to church twice a week. That when we look down our noses upon Wal-Mart, they see it as the only place to shop.”

    F@&# him as if Neiman Marcus isn’t everywhere and we from the midwest only shop at Wal Mart. I would guess that it’s Democrats who are most dependent on government hand outs that shop at Wal Mart the most.

    I’m having a problem holding back my anger at people in the media. It’s because they’re ignorant and they’re trying to influence people. It doesn’t always have to be bad that the blind lead the blind. In this case it is. Gingrich peaked in the polls when he blasted the media.

    Bernie, thank you again for repeating this trope. Maybe Chuck Todd will read it and even learn.

  • Linda

    Thanks, Bernie! How is it that YOU haven’t lost sensitivity to us “hayseeds!”

  • Sheryl

    No cheers for Chuck Todd.

  • Brian Garland

    Well said Bernie. But I’m sure Chuck will walk this back, rather than face the truth, once his buddies explain the flaws in his logic.

  • Bruce A.

    Thanks Bernie. For a moment I thought it was safe to turn NBC news on again.

  • EddieD_Boston

    My take on this, and I’ve posted it here before, is the privileged backgrounds most of these journalists come from gives them utter contempt for the working class. The same working class they claim to champion. Read Michael Barone’s recent column on working class vs. upper income voters and it’s clear the affluent vote democrat and the working class vote republican.
    Look at the liberal media’s general contempt for the military. Do you think any of Anderson Cooper’s childhood friends joined the service after graduating from their $40,000 a year prep school?