Something fascinating is happening within the national
For thirty years, we conservatives have been frustrated by the
Dominant Media Culture, to coin the term of Arnaud de Borchgrave.
We watched, helplessly, as the left within the so-called objective
so-called news media championed and advanced one liberal cause
after another, knowing they had the power to not only frame the
terms for national public policy debate, but also implement
By and large, the left enjoyed a monopoly in the national press.
To be sure, most cities had more than one newspaper, yet few would
be classified as conservative. U.S. News and World Report
presented a far more balanced picture than its competition,
Time and Newsweek, but trailed them badly
in circulation numbers. Radio was a declining business proposition
as the industry and the public turned increasingly to television.
Three networks controlled virtually everything we saw. Everything
we heard. Everything considered "newsworthy."
And what was "newsworthy?" According to Leslie Midgley, Walter
Cronkite's long-time producer at CBS, "In the print media, news is
what the editor says it is... In television, news is what the
producer says it is."
There was no conservative network to challenge the liberal
press, no magazine powerful enough to compete with the increasingly
liberal tilt of Time and Newsweek.
Conservatives had their periodicals like National Review and
Human Events, the combined circulation of which might compete
with one edition of The New York Times, assuming a natural
disaster launched most of that paper's fleet of trucks into the
Challenge to the Media
Liberalism's unquestioned control of the news media was
finally broken in the 1980s. Ted Turner brought an entrepreneurial
genius which revolutionized the industry; Ronald Reagan a
revolution with which the industry was forced to contend; and media
critics an end to the left's unquestioned promotion of a liberal
agenda under the guise of objective news.
In 1980, Ted Turner launched Cable News Network and soon
followed with a second network, Headline News. But Turner was ahead
of his time, and foresaw the public's hunger for increased news
coverage. His vision-a 24-hour news source-slowly took hold, and
triggered the explosive growth of cable television which today has
relegated the three networks to dinosaur status. Turner saw
something else: conservative spokesmen and conservative values were
not represented on television, and therein lay the opportunity to
compete with the Big Three.
Now, one could say, and I would agree, that Mr. Turner does not
possess a conservative bone in his body. In recent years he has
moved steadily and dizzily to the left, embracing one strange cause
after another, using his networks to promote them. From his
Orwellian glorification of communism in "Portrait of the Soviet
Union" ("Siberia is the place where young people go to realize
their dreams")to his pro-abortion documentaries like "Abortion for
Survival" to his political indoctrination cartoons-yes,
cartoons-like "Captain Planet and the Planeteers,"
Turner is promoting a radical left world view.
Why in the world, then, should conservatives be grateful to Mr.
Turner? One, the man is intellectually honest: as opposed to so
many of his peers in the press, Mr. Turner usually is quite
straightforward in his biases and, I think, a good role model for
those in journalism who ought to be equally forthcoming. Two, by
and large (yes, there have been some exceptions) he has refrained
from promoting his personal agenda on his two news programs, CNN
and Headline News; instead, he usually uses his other properties,
WTBS and TNT. Three, he has allowed conservatives to participate in
his endeavors; by championing, open political discourse with
credible spokesmen on both left and right, Mr. Turner has not only
given a voice to conservatives, he has demonstrated a commitment to
balanced political programming.
The Reagan Revolution
In 1980 also came the Reagan Revolution. Ronald Reagan was
Rambo: the liberal media's worst nightmare. The more momentum he
gathered, the more problematic his vision became for the liberal
media; the more the media challenged his views, the more openly
hostile and biased they became; the more openly biased their
programming, the more they energized conservative opposition to
their agenda; the more mobilized the conservatives, the stronger
President Reagan became.
By defining conservatism (and by extension, redefining
liberalism), Ronald Reagan magnified the media's agenda while
marginalizing their impact. When he denounced the Soviet Union as
an evil empire, many were quick to condemn him as a du-eat to world
peace. In fact, every time Reagan confronted communism, from the
placement of Pershing missiles in Europe to the refusal to drop his
Strategic Defense Initiative program, Reagan was denounced within
the national media. Yet the more the media attacked Reagan, the
more the public gained an appreciation for the foreign policy of
the President-and the media's bias against it.
Reagan's Economic Recovery Program was pure heresy for the
social scientists in the press and they launched a fierce
counter-attack. Bill Moyers, then with CBS, (now enjoying a
comfortable living at our expense at PBS) tried to debunk the fairy
tale of supply-side economics with his 1982 'documentary' "People
Like Us." So misleading was this piece of propaganda-allegedly an
objective review of Reagan's economic policies-that the chief
sponsor of the program refused to pay the advertising bill. When
interest rates, which under Jimmy Carter had topped 21 percent,
began finally to go down, NBC filed a report warning of the
impending savings losses facing senior citizens. If economic data
revealed an explosion of economic growth throughout the West and
South, the networks filed reports showing economic problems in the
North. Seemingly whenever the government released positive economic
data, the networks looked for something-anything-negative to
Shameful as the media's performance toward Reagan was
during his presidency, it pales in comparison to their
dishonest-yes, dishonest-reporting since. Just how many stories
have we seen on the networks or read in the printed press detailing
the "massive" social cuts under Reagan when social spending
actually rose during his tenure? How many reports have been filed
describing how "the rich got richer while everyone else suffered"
when economic data available to everyone in the press shows that
average family income grew for every segment of wage-earners during
the Reagan years?
How many stories must we see blaming Reagan for the three
million and growing homeless in America before the national press
devotes just one report explaining that the three million
figure was invented by the late Mitch Snyder as a publicity
Let's try another media favorite: the environment. The media's
panic reports during the 1980s on topics ranging from Alar to Times
Beach to acid rain cost the American taxpayers hundreds of millions
of dollars to disprove, and not before private business had lost
hundreds of millions of dollars more. Now that these scares have
been disproven, where are the media? Rather than concede their
errors, the media simply ignore them and look for new reasons to
denounce conservatives as environmentally insensitive. Welcome to
the wetlands controversy.
That is where the third element of the equation, media watchdog
organizations, comes into play. The godfather of the movement is,
of course, Reed Irvine and his Accuracy in Media organization.
Formed in 1969, AIM was for years virtually the only group which
dedicated itself exclusively to the fight against the liberal
press. In the '70s others began producing credible studies
documenting the liberal tilt within the press. To counter the
growing evidence, the press cynically fell back to another line of
defense: Our coverage of Topic X may have been biased, but
this does not scientifically prove we are
Media Bias Exposed
This argument collapsed in 1982 when Drs. Robert and Linda
Lichter and Stanley Rothman published "Media and Business Elites,"
a survey to determine the personal persuasions of the press itself,
and the evidence clearly demonstrated just how leftist the national
media were: From 1964 to 1976, the media had voted for the
Democratic candidate at least 81 percent of the time; 90 percent
favored abortion; 76 percent found nothing wrong with
homosexuality; only 47 percent believed adultery was wrong; 50
percent had no religious affiliation. Rather than admit their
biases, reporters retreated to their final line of defense: OK, the
media may be biased, but I'm not. With that in mind, the
Media Research Center was launched to restore political balance in
the media by exposing and neutralizing the liberal agenda within
the so-called objective press.
The cornerstone of the MRC is its research capabilities. Today
the MRC has the most sophisticated research operation ever
assembled, more advanced than any university or media organization.
Researchers tape, analyze and input into a computerized database
summaries of every single network news show, including virtually
all ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and PBS news broadcasts, weekly news shows,
political talk shows, and special reports.
The MRC research capabilities are virtually boundless. Does
CBS's Ray Brady have a liberal, anti-Reagan economic agenda? Ask
the computer and it will tell you everything he has said on this
topic since 1987. (He does.) Does ABC use its "American Agenda"
series regularly to promote left-wing causes? (It does.) Were the
networks neutral observers during the 1988 Democratic Convention
only to become outspoken critics of the Republicans at their
convention the following month? (They were.) Do journalists have an
unbiased attitude toward abortion? (No.) Are political figures like
Senator Jesse Helms and political institutions like The Heritage
Foundation regularly labeled "conservativ6"-or worse-while their
liberal counterparts like Senator Kennedy and The Brookings
Institution are usually not labeled altogether? (Yes.)
Oftentimes this research will provide extraordinary evidence for
conservatives long convinced of a given situation but heretofore
unable to prove it. Let's look at an example. Conservatives who
watch ABC's weekly "Person of the Week" segment on the nightly news
have long suspected a left-ward tilt to these reports; now we can
document it. By reviewing every broadcast from January 198 8
through December 199 1, we documented how liberals outnumbered
conservatives 27-to-5. Moreover, some conservatives, like
then-Secretary of Education William Bennett, were criticized rather
than applauded; liberals were always applauded. And who were some
of the liberals? "Law professor" Catherine McKinnon. "Environmental
leader" Denis Hayes. Tom Hayden. Betty Friedan. Wait a minute, you
say, McKinnon is a radical feminist who once wrote that we should
"compare victims' reports of rape with women's reports of sex. They
look a lot alike. Feminism stresses the indistinguishability of
prostitution, marriage, and sexual harassment." Hayes is an
environmental extremist who has advocated the banning of all
automobiles. Hayden and Friedan are... Hayden and Friedan. How in
the world can ABC glorify these people in the face of their radical
beliefs? Easy: ABC chose not to discuss them.
In 1989 the MRC launched its Entertainment Division to confront
the increasing leftist political activity of entertainment
industry. New database systems were installed and researchers began
recording, analyzing and inputting summaries of every single prime
time network entertainment show, made-for-TV movie, and
entertainment talk show. Researchers also review major motion
picture releases, the recording industry and entertainment
With the research systems in place the task became to present
our findings to the public through both retail and wholesale
marketing. On the retail level we began with our flagship
newsletter, MediaWatch, an eight-page monthly report on the
news media. Our second venture was Notable Quotables, a
bi-weekly compilation of the most outrageous utterances in the
so-called news media. Each year a panel of conservatives nationwide
is assembled to select the most outlandish quotes of the year-,
when the votes are tabulated we release "The Linda Ellerbee Awards
for Distinguished Reporting." To document the left-wing antics
within the entertainment industry, in 1989 the MRC launched a third
newsletter, TV, etc.
The MRC regularly releases other major studies to further
document the media's biased proclivities. And That's The Way It
Is(n't): A Reference Guide to Media Bias contains 47 studies by
a host of experts proving beyond a shadow of a doubt the slanted
nature of news reporting. The Revolving Door: The
Connections Between the Media and Politics cites examples of
hundreds of political activists, both left and right, who have gone
in and out of the media. Works in progress include How to
Identify, Expose and Correct Media Bias, a manual for
grassroots conservatives on the local level; The Politics of
Hollywood, a detailed probe into the politics of the
entertainment media; and Free Enterprise, Government and
Television, a year-long examination of both the news and
entertainment media's coverage of the free market system.
The real impact of the MRC, however, can be found through the
wholesale marketing emphasis we place on our work. One key audience
consists of opinion makers: hundreds of elected and appointed
government officials and conservative leaders-usually the targets
of biased reporting -receive complimentary issues of all
publications. A second category is comprised of conservative
editorial writers, columnists, and radio and television talk show
hosts who can use the materials provided to reach millions more. A
third category includes over five thousand members of the
mainstream press, at every level of journalism.
As well, we place our research at the disposal of any
organization, regardless of political affiliation. We have provided
research for organizations as diverse as the Republican and
Democratic National Committees; The American Spectator and
Mother Jones; representatives from Israel and Syria. As a legal
concern we are an archive and obligated to do so; as a practical
matter the research speaks for itself, can be used to help our
friends, and might educate the rest.
More often than not you won't see the MRC name on much that
appears on the subject of media bias. The recent Washington Post
Magazine cover story devoted to the rising political power of
Hollywood made no reference to us, but the author of the piece used
our research for her article. The late Warren Brookes never cited
us, yet we provided him with much of his research on the media (and
it goes without saying that he provided us with research on
virtually everything else). David Shaw of the Los Angeles
Times, who wrote the masterful series on the media's promotion
of the pro-choice movement, spent considerable time at our offices
conducting research for his piece. Indeed, I will go so far as to
warrant that 90 percent of the stories in both the electronic and
print media which deal with the political bias in the industry have
their origins in the Media Research Center.
The Future is Bright
Why should conservatives be optimistic about the media?
Because our future is bright, but only if we take advantage of
Today, the public is no longer buying, figuratively and
literally, the media's liberal agenda, and the evidence is
First and foremost, history is proving Reagan right. The Soviet
Union is gone, communism is on its last legs, and socialism is on
the run worldwide. While the media were beatifying Mikhail
Gorbachev in the U.S., the people of Russia were throwing him out;
while they glorified the socialist miracle of Sweden as a role
model for America, the Swedes voted their socialist government out,
too. The media continue to sing the praises of Fidel Castro; it is
only a matter of time before they eat their words about him as
In late 1988 Time declared its intention to become more
interpretive in its reporting and ushered in a blatantly leftist
editorial spin to the "news" magazine. Six months later,
Time had witnessed a loss of 300,000 subscribers.
Undaunted, it capped the year by naming Mikhail Gorbachev its "Man
of the Decade." Three months later it had lost another 300,000
readers. The non-political Media Insider Newsletter analyzed
these numbers, and concluded Time's slide was a direct
result of the public's rejection of its liberal agenda.
Gulf War Revealed Bias
The Gulf War presented liberals in the media the
opportunity to pursue their agendas aggressively. Unfortunately for
them, the Vietnam syndrome was indeed dead, and this time the
public didn't buy the message. CNN's Peter Arnett filed one
disgraceful report after another, while that network's anchor,
Bernie Shaw, refused to be de-briefed by the U.S. military,
pronouncing himself "neutral" in the conflict. Wherever, and
whenever, a critic of the war could be found, that person was put
on the air to denounce the U.S.
It mattered not a bit to the press that professional
anti-military leftist activists, like Center for Defense
Information leader Eugene La Rocque, were presented as impartial
military experts; that anti-war radical demonstrators who appeared
regularly on press reports represented but a blip on the screen of
public opinion; that "anguished victims" of the war were paraded
regularly on our television screens when it turned out some were
official Iraqi government agents. Do you remember the distraught
woman whose tearful cries of "...it's the West! Mea culpa, the
blood, she is on your head!" were shown for days on CNN after the
Allied bombing of the alleged baby milk factory? It turns out this
lady was a professional multi-lingual bereavement machine: CNN was
forced to report, several days later, that she was actually the
assistant to Iraq's Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs;
Newsweek reported she was seen also on French television
wailing in French; and later she was found on Italian television
crying in Italian as well.
Conservatives were outraged at this coverage, and made an issue
of it. Who carried the day in public opinion? ABC conducted a
survey to answer the question "Are the media fair and balanced in
their coverage of the war?" 96,000 people responded and an
overwhelming 83 percent said "No."
What about the media's contention that the U.S. military was
dishonestly manipulating public opinion through censorship? ABC's
Judd Rose said it best when he proclaimed on "Prime Time Live" that
the war-within-the-war was being waged between the U.S. military
committed to censoring information from the public and the media,
which were committed to the opposite. In fact, said Mr. Rose of his
profession, "We are really the conveyors of truth in a very
critical time and people need to know that truth."
So cynical were the media that some ignored Allied security
concerns altogether. At 10:30 PM on February 16, Secretary of
Defense Richard Cheney announced the beginning of the ground war,
and practically begged the media not to disclose Allied troop
movements: "Allied military units are on the move. Their positions,
movements, and plans must be carefully safeguarded. We must assume
the enemy is confused about what is happening on the battlefield
and it is absolutely essential that we not do anything ourselves to
clarify the picture for him." At 10:39 he repeated the same
message. It took CBS and Dan Rather just six minutes to report: "As
part of our CBS News live coverage of the beginning of the ground
war offensive, we're talking to Bob McKeown, who's one mile from
the Kuwati border. Bob, any indication of how far up you think the
Allies are now?"
Again, the public rejected the media's complaints of military
censorship. Asked their opinion on the subject in a Times-Mirror
Corporation survey, 57 percent of Americans wanted even more
censorship by the military on the press.
More data? In 1990 alone, CBS News reportedly lost 10 percent of
its audience and suffered a reported $26 million loss in revenues.
Meanwhile, NBC and ABC have posted major financial losses as well.
Now, the networks will quickly respond by pointing to the growth of
the cable industry as the driving force behind their woes, and
there is considerable truth to that. But they cannot ignore another
truth: their credibility today is in ruins. Recent surveys report
the public today holds the media in lower esteem than even the U.S.
Leftism on the Defensive
The Dominant Media Culture today is clearly on the
defensive. The conservative movement ushered in by Ronald Reagan is
the driving cultural force on the American scene. Conservative
organizations like the MRC have demonstrated the ability to
neutralize the national media by exposing their agenda to an
increasingly skeptical public. The explosive growth in cable
television and conservative radio talk shows demonstrates that the
public is willing to go elsewhere to receive a more balanced
presentation of the news.
The media have no choice but to contend with this new reality.
Some in the mainstream press recognize the problem and, I think,
are now committed to the proposition of a balanced playing field.
Others are reacting like cornered rats, lunging for the jugular of
conservatism in a shameful attempt to derail the movement that has
marginalized their impact on the body politic. It is up to
us to distinguish between the two: to work with the former,
confront the latter. To that end, I offer several
1) Demand balance, not objectivity. Human
nature being what it is, there is no such thing as pure
objectivity. To be sure, objectivity is what the media ought to
strive for, but the best way to achieve it is through balanced
It follows, then, that we ought not to be in the business of
passing judgment on who should or should not be allowed to
participate in the business of news reporting. From a strategic
standpoint, we open ourselves to the same level of censorship; on a
practical level, the media are simply not going to listen.
But we do have every right to demand balance. Whether it is in
terms of time allocation, "experts" cited Oust who are these
"experts," and if they are "experts" why aren't they cited?),
labeling, or even topic matter, the conservative voice demands a
hearing. As well, be it reporters, editors, directors,
producers-in short, at every level of the media-conservatives ought
to be employed to balance the existing liberal forces.
2) Acknowledge Your Biases. Conservatives who
denounce the liberal press in the name of objectivity
are as misleading as the pundits they condemn. I am convinced that
one reason the MRC enjoys a good relationship with many in the
press is that we openly acknowledge my own biases.
3) Distinguish Between Biased and Sloppy
Reporting. When we disagree with the direction of a news
story it is a temptation to accuse the reporter of a political
bias, yet sometimes it is simply the result of poor research or
careless writing. We must be accurate in the charges we file.
Moreover, a journalist who might otherwise have been befriended
will turn against you if you accuse him unfairly of a political
4) Distinguish between the ideological liberal in
journalism and the journalist who is a liberal
ideologically. The former is your enemy, the latter is
not, and I will cite examples of both. A few years ago I met with
one of the top reporters at the now-defunct LA. Herald
Examiner. Pony-tail and all, he berated conservatives while
openly proclaiming, "we liberals are the social conscience of this
country and we have an obligation to use the press." He is the
enemy--happily for us, an unemployed enemy.
ABC's John Martin, on the other hand, is a journalist who
happens to be a liberal (he might disagree: this is my opinion). He
has earned our coveted "Janet Cooke Award" for the worst story
of the month, and has been cited more than once in our pages
for biased journalism. Yet Mr. Martin has also been the keynote
speaker at our annual Board Meeting, and I was honored to have him.
Why? Because while his tendencies may be to the left, Mr. Martin is
an excellent journalist, and has always been open to discuss the
conservative perspective in stories with which he is involved.
5) Help journalists do their job. Conservatives
who believe they simply cannot work with the press ought not to be
surprised when the press ignores them. The John Martins of
journalism are knowledgeable about liberal issues, know the players
(both on a professional and often social basis) and naturally
gravitate in that direction. Add to the equation the deadline
factor-sometimes journalists simply do not have the time to
research the conservative perspective-and our side is left out.
We have learned that many in the media are quite open to the
conservative perspective if it is presented properly. We provide
journalists with the conservative argument on a given issue, lead
them to the organizations expert in it, and recommend qualified
spokesmen. Do liberal organizations have to do this much work, and
isn't this a double-standard? Tough. It is amazing how very
receptive some journalists are to this assistance, and we should
6) Wholesale your product. When possible, try
to get the most appropriate mouthpiece of public information to
cover your story, as cited above.
On the other hand, if the media attack your issue (or you) in an
unfair manner, and it is a function of biased journalism, give that
story to conservatives in the media. One column by Paul Harvey will
reach millions around the country in several hundred papers; one
story by Rush Limbaugh on the radio will reach millions more. These
conservatives relish this kind of information.
7) Remember your sense of humor. Like that poor
unemployed social conscience from the LA. Herald Examiner,
some in the liberal media have absolutely no sense of humor (and,
my guess is, no personality either). Barbara Reynolds at USA
Today is another. Dan Rather, a third. Let's face it: some in
the press do come up with some of the most outrageous utterances
this side of Morton Downey, Jr.
If you want to neutralize them, do not confront them by
responding to their stupid statements. When Jerry Adler of
Newsweek tries to solve environmental problems by writing,
"It's a morbid observation, but if everyone on earth just stopped
breathing for an hour, the greenhouse effect would no longer be a
problem," do you take him seriously? No, you laugh. Never
underestimate the common sense of the public; they will laugh along
with you. And you win drive those oh-so-serious liberals nuts.
.8) Help train the next generation. It is rather
meaningless to demand that the media balance their programming by
including conservative voices if we don't have a stable of
journalists prepared to enter the work force. They certainly
will not come out of the major journalism school which, studies
show, are even more liberal than what we have at present.
Last year the MRC published the first annual National Press
Directory for Conservatives to enable aspiring conservative
journalists to network with their peers as they search for
employment. Stan Evans of the National Journalism Center has
performed yeoman's work to train young conservatives. I understand
Morton Blackwell and his Leadership Institute are going to
begin training seminars for broadcast journalists. They
ought to be supported strongly.
Do not believe for a moment that conservatives have won the day
in the battle to restore political balance within the national
press. Far from it. The left still controls the press and
continues to wield their power relentlessly in order to shape the
political conversation. But the tide may have begun to shift
against them. If that is so, it is critically important that
conservatives understand the reasons behind it and rededicate
themselves to the effort like never before.
Imagine, if you will, a future wherein the media willfully
support the foreign policy objectives of the United States. A time
when the left can no longer rely on the media to promote its
socialist agenda to the public. A time when someone, somewhere in
the media can be counted on to extol the virtues of morality
without qualifications. When Betty Friedan no longer qualifies for
"Person of the Week" honors. When Ronald Reagan is cited not as the
"Man of the Year," but the "Man of the Century."
The news and entertainment media will continue to effect the
cultural health of America. If we succeed in our mission to restore
political balance to this institution, future generations win
benefit and thank us. It's worth fighting for, now.
L. Brent Bozell, III is Chairman of the Media
Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
He spoke on January 21, 1992 at The Heritage Foundation in
the Resource Bank series of lectures featuring leaders of
conservative education and public policy organizations.
ISSN 0272-1155. ©1992 by The Heritage