The Media—Neutral, Liberal or Conservative?

The media—has it changed? Of course. In what ways? The major evolution over the past decade has been delivery of content to reinforce the views of their audience, rather than an attempt to be neutral and impartial. These changes have been clear in all forms of media: broadcast TV, cable channel TV (so many people now are on cable or satellite that it hardly makes a difference any longer), blogs, Internet sites, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Newspapers long have taken an editorial position, however the op-ed page was separate from the general news coverage. Once the FCC allowed a single owner to have multiple TV and radio stations as well as newspapers in a single major market, the effect of a corporate position often became apparent from the op-ed columnists and editorials, even the slant on the news coverage.

AM radio stations exhibit a particularly stark example of a common programming strategy to reinforce the views of their audience (as well as convince as many others as possible). AM stations can have a very broad reach, since their signals "skip" at night, unlike FM. Thus a powerful station that is the only one on a particular frequency can cover up to half the country at night. At this time, there are 89 stations in the U.S. that run the maximum power allowed, 50,000 watts. Of these, 27 are non-directional, meaning the antenna pattern is omni-directional, a giant circle. 62 have a directional pattern. All of them reach out hundreds of miles in the day, and thousands of miles at night. The programming, according to the latest information in The Worldwide Listening Guide is as follows:

35 Conservative Talk

16 Local/Diversified Talk and Sports

11 Sports

7 News

5 Christian Evangelical

5 Non-English (4 Spanish, 1 Navajo)

3 Liberal Talk

3 Country Music

4 Other (Farm/Agriculture, Business, Disney)

In addition to these powerful (often called clear channel) stations, the "next level" of licenses include "regional" AM radio stations, with at least 5,000 watts and often more (but not the maximum of 50,000 watts). These stations provide excellent daytime coverage to an area of between 25 miles to 100 miles, depending on the antenna system and the frequency. Nearly every medium-sized community has at least one of these stations, and many of them carry the "conservative talk radio" format with syndicated national figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity anchoring the format, along with local hosts, nearly always with compatible viewpoints. Limbaugh and Hannity each are carried nationwide over approximately 600 total stations, counting both AM and FM, and in many areas, the stations hosting them have the best coverage.  At this time, there is little argument that commercial talk radio now is the heart of conservative political views and sports coverage.

Non-commercial radio, primarily FM radio, supported mainly by contributions from listeners, is the province of NPR (National Public Radio), religious programming, and specialized music (jazz, bluegrass, classical, and alternative/college). A Harris telephone survey conducted in 2005 showed NPR (federal and local grants account for around 15% of its funding) was the most trusted news source in the U.S. NPR's domestic reach has expanded to approximately 980 stations in the U.S. alone. At this time their international news teams work from 17 foreign news bureaus, topping many other U.S. news organizations in terms of scope and reach..

The explosion of cable channels on TV present some of the most obvious examples of content that takes a definite position on politics, making no pretense of neutrality. CNN, the original cable news channel, which still strives to be "unbiased," has lost much of its original ratings dominance to Fox News, which is conservative leaning (even though it uses a "fair and balanced" tagline, clearly a marketing gimmick), and MSNBC, which has taken on a liberal (now called "progressive") position.

Blogs and Internet sites are exploding in number and content. Check out the Political Blogs Directory,

for a menu of approximately 450 different blogs. A few Internet sites have reached critical mass based on content excellence and marketing. These include the Huffington Post, a news website, content aggregator, and blog founded in 2005 as a liberal commentary and alternative to other Internet news aggregators such as the Drudge Report, considered a conservative viewpoint.

There is a full range of political viewpoints available in the American media. The only area that is slanted overwhelmingly to one position is AM radio, which clearly has a conservative bent. Some criticize non-commercial radio, based on the dominance of NPR, as a liberal voice, but at least as many, if not more, argue the opposite. Newspapers traditionally have reflected a conservative, business-oriented editorial position, with the Wall Street Journal heading the list, however the Journal keeps news separated from their op-ed page.

Take your pick. It's all out there.


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James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.

Available in  Hard Cover, Soft Cover, and all eBook formats on the Internet from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all other Internet retailers, as well as in print format from any book store. In stock at several book stores, including Book People in Austin, Texas, Tamarack on the West Virginia Turnpike, and Hearthside Books in Bluefield, West Virginia.

Several book clubs in Central Texas have read Reunion, and/or have selected the novel for the first half of 2013. The author will be glad to attend your book club for discussion and to answer questions regarding book and the publishing process. Contact him at <> for additional information and scheduling.

9 Responses

  1. Skid
    The subject needs far more consideration than possible here, perhaps an entire book. I do have some ideas which I will try to address when I have time. Basically I think we give too little attention to the hidden/undercover effects on our opinions that the vast majority are don't see or care about. I meet weekly with a group of very liberal men and am astonished at the limited sources of info they access.
  2. Jim Davis
    I am a friend of John Jackson. I believe we met at a concert. I taught journalism for 8 years are 3 different universities and spent the rest of my career at major newspapers, including 18 at the Philadelpia Inquirer [ass't ME for Features among others] and 13 at the Fort Worth Startlegram. I find you comments on the media to be too general and too bland to really be worthwhile. By implication you seem to be making the mistake that is now commonplace of equating Fox News and MSNBC. That's somewhat akin to equating a dump truck to a Porsche [one is a slow, functional vehicle, its opposite is fast and less practical. The GOP is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fox News. It funds [and controls] major voices in the party that it wishes to promote and/or exploit. It has no interest in "the news" per se, only as it relates to promoting its politics. MSNBC is mostly progressive, but there is a wide range of views therein. Rachel Maddow, just to take the most obvious exception, is one of the best reporters on TV and perhaps the single best political interviewer. I dare anyone to show me a single instance of her being unfair to anyone because of their political views. She has not hesitated to take on Obama when her views differ from his. An example of her reporting skills would be the interview with Richard Engel after his escape from kidnappers. It was the best report of its kind I had ever seen, a model for teaching young journalists how to break from conformity. Chris Hayes has weekend shows on Saturday and Sunday that consistently are the best political discussion shows on TV. All of the others pale in comparison. He avoids the trite and usual suspects and tries to have some balance with contrary views well represented and given a fair airing. Lawrence O'Donnell is clearly a Democrat, but he has exceptional insight into the political process and doesn't hesitate to call out stupid Dems of all stripes. In short, these two networks offer a wealth of differences that could be enlightening to why the GOP is just lame and pathetic and the Democratic Party is far below ideal.
  3. Bonnie Tull
    Jim, thanks for your insightful analysis of news today. I respect it coming from someone with your particular experience. My personal opinion is that the conservative talk radio and Fox news have had a very negative and pernicious influence on our society. Perhaps if we had a more responsible electorate who were not so eager to be spoon fed, this might not have happened. Until the advent of MSNBC, there was no counter of which I was aware. Many say that MSNBC is no better, but I beg to disagree. They do some research and analysis that appears nowhere else except the Internet, and they base their opinions on facts. I find them a refreshing antidote to much of the rest of the news. I think the Right has successfully shifted the center line in politics so far to the right that what used to be considered normal is now far left or so it seems. It seems to me that we used to be a pragmatic country where all options for decision making would be laid on the table for consideration, and we would choose the best one. Now, everything is ideologically driven, and it has caused gridlock and worse in the necessary function of our government. Bonnie
  4. sally Vance
    Jim, First, although I knew that the conservative voices on the radio, such as Limbaugh's, were out there, I had no idea the expanse of AM air waves they control. The ratio of 35 conservative stations compared to 3 liberal ones seems a bit stacked against the Democrats. Where and when did our political discussions become so divisive? I would enjoy hearing others thoughts. Each time our government has another showdown, it continues to erode our faith in our democratic system and respect for our elected officials. Without moving to Canada --or wherever the new escape might be -- let's hope that there will be an olive branch offered from each side to help us move on to a better America. It has to be there. Right?
  5. Nice post. You might want to check out a book called "The Republican Brain" (which really should have been titled "The Political Brain") by Chris Mooney, which goes into the hard data strongly suggesting neural dispositions leading to this-or-that worldview. - I was even toying with the idea of selling environments to reinforce various worldviews: from friends/neighborhoods/clubs to pre-selected news outlets and media. In the past we tended to go with what we were surrounded by. These days we seek what we are surrounded by wired up for.
  6. Locally in our valley, 120 mi North of San Francisco, KBLX, a low power station, is a time warp . . Bill Moen, the head DJ at KBLX, was the highest ranked SF Bay Area disc jockey for at least 20 years on KABL in Oakland CA in the 70's and 80's. KBLX plays the old favorites from Sinatra to the Beach Boys, mixed with hockey and Oakland A's baseball interspersed with a few locally produced talk shows. Also, there's been a recent development in classical FM radio in California. The Bay Area's long time classic music station KDFC developed a programming partnership with So. California's outstanding KUSC. At the same time KDFC installed several adjunct transmitting sites and frequencies to spread the normally local FM transmissions widely throughout Northern California. Their station array includes a transmitter in the small town of Angwin, CA in the hills above Napa Valley. So we can listen to some good radio with neither a liberal or conservative bombardment.
  7. Wow, six replies to this blog. Jim Davis points out that my comments were bland. Perhaps, since they were factual in nature, including the non-contested fact that AM talk radio clearly is dominated by conservative talk radio. The blog also went on to point out that "Once the FCC allowed a single owner to have multiple TV and radio stations as well as newspapers in a single major market, the effect of a corporate position often became apparent from the op-ed columnists and editorials, even the slant on the news coverage." I did label Fox News' tagline of "Fair and Balanced" as a marketing gimmick. But overall, my own views were subjected to a presentation of some data, perhaps a hearkening back to my engineering background. I happen to agree that Fox is a mouthpiece of the Republican Party. They suffered an embarrassment of the first order when they continued to feature "guests" who offered their own polls showing that Romney was in various forms pulling even, leading, etc. To Fox's credit, the actual Fox News polls did reflect the overall lead of the president, however Fox's fawning news anchors as well as Sean Hannity kept putting on what amounted to no more than election shills with pro-Romney data. We can criticize Fox for a one-sided presentation, but they do have professional personnel in places, and they do rake in the ratings, besting both CNN and MSNBC. I agree with Mr. Davis that MSNBC now has a terrific lineup (with the exception of Al Sharpton, whom I find irritating and grating). Rachel Maddow undoubtedly is the best political reporter, with a show that is well put together and a presentation that is lively and entertaining. She's the class act of all the networks. The rest of the line-up also is good. My own don't-miss program on the network is Morning Joe, which clearly is the best morning show on television for those who find the fare on Today, Good Morning America, and the like too frilly and shallow. My wife and I stumbled onto MSNBC when she was confined to the hospital following her stroke, and we have stayed with the network. So there, you have my personal opinion.
  8. Skid
    Sorry to have taken so long to get back with a more complete response. We have both been under the weather for a couple of weeks but are feeling better now. I will try to read the other responses and get something more to you soon. The subject is certainly worth a great deal more thought. BTW, if possible move the check box to the top of the comments area. Both times I have posted the check box was overlooked because it was off the bottom of the page.
  9. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog! My page - <a href="" rel="nofollow">cccam source</a>

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