There is some evidence that the mainstream news media workforce leans liberal, or at least towards democratic party candidates. There are many examples. One from the 2008 general election:

The Democratic total of $1,020,816 was given by 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks, with an average contribution of $880.

By contrast, only 193 of the employees contributed to Republican candidates and campaign committees, for a total of $142,863. The average Republican contribution was $744.

Other publications like The Media Elite (1986) and Press Bias and Politics (2002) also come to the same conclusion in very different political times and climates.

The question here is not whether or not that holds true. I believe and know personally many left leaning people who would readily admit to it.

My question is why? Is there any conclusive reasoning out there identifying why media positions would be more desirable for left leaning ideologists, or some other reasons I can't hypothesize?

EDIT: The comments have gone way far off topic. This is not about the media workforce's influence or power. It is simply the ideological lean of those who work in the media. A comment said donations in 2008 isn't proof that the media as a group leans left. Here is the infamous 96% in 2016 and before we call that an anomaly, 2012, a very moderate election, holds the same.

If three successive elections doesn't form a solid basis for the original question, please make it known. Again to reiterate. The question is why the media workforce is left leaning. What are factors that lead to that?

  • 2
    The media elite has a Wikipedia page that does a good review of the book and it's findings. The press bias and politics is a study done by Jim A. Kuypers. You can also see the synopsis with a quick Google search.
    – discodane
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 5:36
  • 2
    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 21:11

3 Answers 3


Is the media liberal leaning?

To be precise the evidence is that the media is moderate Democrat leaning. As per Pew Research, moderate Democrats find the least bias in the media of any group and conservative Republicans find the most. Moderate Republicans and Liberal Democrats find a middle amount and about the same.

This suggests that the news media is mostly targeted to moderate Democrats, somewhat left of center. That's why they're happy and don't see bias (because the bias matches theirs). Meanwhile, liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans do see bias, but disagree about the direction.

Why liberal?

  1. The Democrats are an urban-dominated party; the media is predominantly located in urban locations.

  2. The journalistic career offers mostly non-financial rewards: approval of peers, etc. Yes, there are a few people who do very well, e.g. Megyn Kelly (who incidentally is a lawyer by background, not a journalist). But there are a limited number of top-paid anchors and personalities. Most media people are middle class. They would have made more money going into other careers. People who value non-financial rewards over financial rewards tend to be liberal for much the same reason that conservatives favor low taxes more aggressively.

  3. The people who want to become media personalities (anchors, journalists, etc.) tend to have experiences that shade towards liberal priorities.

    • They are college educated, so they value college education as a path to success.
    • They spent an apprenticeship period making relatively little money trying to get into the business. So they empathize with poverty.
    • They have wildly varying compensation. And in particular, the wealthy ones aren't necessarily harder working than the poorer ones. So they distrust inequality, especially in the middle ranks (the ones who see others making more than them even though they feel just as, if not more, qualified).
    • They have little experience working for small businesses, particularly as owners. Even a media company with few employees tends to have a large capital investment to manage, e.g. the broadcast or publishing equipment. And most media people work in larger organizations. They are used to showing up at work and getting paid regardless.
    • Their jobs are not really exportable, so they are less personally worried by trends like offshoring or immigration. And they live in diverse urban environments, so they tend to know people who are immigrants or international travelers.

    By contrast, Republicans/conservatives tend to

    • Be less likely to have gone to a four-year college.
    • Be more likely to own their own business or to work at a business in a capacity where costs and/or sales matter. I.e. they have more insight into how hard it is to run a business.
    • Be more likely to work at a job where competition from foreign workers or immigrants may limit pay or lead to loss of employment.
    • More likely to be rural and/or a church-goer.

Urban media

A commenter said:

Media also covers wide regions. A newspaper often covers solid blue city centers as much as solid red suburbs.

Sure. But they are located in the solid blue city centers and not the purple suburbs (suburbs are Republican-leaning, not solid; it's rural areas that are solid red). You're really just reiterating the problem. The media is almost entirely located in urban areas while its readers and viewers are more spread out.

National papers:

  • New York Times. New York City.
  • Wall Street Journal. New York City. Note that this is a conservative paper.
  • Washington Post. Washington, DC.
  • USA Today. Washington, DC (McLean, VA).

Local papers are often the same. The paper is published downtown and distributed to the suburbs. Most rural papers are much smaller and perhaps not coincidentally, many are more conservative.

Cable news (national):

  • CNN. Atlanta, GA.
  • MSNBC. New York City, NY.
  • Fox News. New York City, NY. The token conservative network.
  • The Blaze. Irving, TX (city-sized suburb of Dallas). The conservative talk station; only available from some cable providers.

Network news (national):

  • ABC News. New York City, NY.
  • CBS News. New York City, NY.
  • NBC News. New York City, NY.

Same thing for the local affiliates. They are overwhelmingly located in some city (e.g. NBC). There are some rural cities like Dothan, Alabama and Lima, Ohio, but most are larger cities.

Radio stations tend to have more conservative listeners than other outlets. They also tend to have fewer journalists or correspondents (NPR is an exception, and it's quite liberal). It's not surprising that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have national radio shows.

Neither Hannity nor Limbaugh is a network though. Glenn Beck is (The Blaze), but it does not have complete coverage. Many cable providers do not offer it. But even if we include it, as Pew did in their graphic, that's only three conservative media operations out of eleven. And all eleven are located in cities. Seven of the eleven are located in the same city.

Fox News and The Blaze were founded specifically to be conservative networks. Fox located in New York City, like most other networks.

The Wall Street Journal is an outlier here. Note however that it has always been primarily a business paper. Its journalists are more business savvy than average. And its relatively liberal readership suggests that it's not as conservative as its editorial positions might suggest.

Other media

Certainly there is other media beyond print and television. But a substantial portion of the news is still from television. Print is less so, as much of the news is from online sources. There's something of a split among

  • Traditional media with a web site.
  • New media; web only.
  • Social networking. Many people find their news via recommendations from friends rather than by seeking it out.

But I do not believe that when most people talk about the "media" that they mean blogs and Twitter. When I use the term, I mean magazines, newspapers (even if online), television, and to a lesser extent radio.

Even there though, note that of the eight internet sources on the Pew Graphic, only two are what I'd consider conservative:

  • Breitbart. Conservative.
  • Drudge Report. Conservative.
  • Yahoo News.
  • Google News.
  • Politico.
  • Huffington Post. Openly liberal.
  • BuzzFeed. Openly liberal.
  • Slate. Openly liberal.

Three are openly liberal. Three are purportedly neutral, as are, say, CNN, the broadcast television networks, and the Washington Post. As noted earlier, "neutral" tends to go to a moderate Democrat view.

  • 1
    This could use some citations
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 5:12
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    There's some inaccuracies here to. "The media is located" isn't terribly accurate. Much of the media in this country is highly consolidated...spanning all sorts of demographics. Media also covers wide regions. A newspaper often covers solid blue city centers as much as solid red suburbs.
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 5:31
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    As for point 2...is there data that republicans value money more than liberals? (I don't know...maybe there is?)
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 5:32
  • And as for point 3...I dunno...when we're talking about news media personalities (which isn't quite the same as news media, but that's a different debate)...there seems to be just as many successful left wing ones as right wings. In fact, in some media (such as radio) there appears to be many more successful right wing personalities.
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 5:33
  • A reasonable ans well-done answer to a challenging question +1 Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 4:19

There isn't hard evidence that the media leans in one particular direction or the other. There is plenty of soft evidence that media leans. In all directions. This is nothing new in the US. Historically, the press was quite biased politically. In fact, there were often sparring newspapers in each city that would lean in heavily opposite directions. Wikipedia has a nice list of historical examples.

At the present time, it appears there is an overall lean more to the left than the right, but it's by no means a huge discrepancy. PEW has a nice visualization of who watches what:

enter image description here

But note that this shows the political leanings of the audience not necessarily of the media outlet. There's not necessarily a direct correlation there (though likely a strong indirect one).

Why is there this current spread of political leanings? That's likely a question that would be hard to answer with any certainty. But it's valid to say that in the US, political leanings of media outlets is nothing new and has ebbed and flowed throughout the history of this country.

  • 7
    @discodane it's actually a really small subset. Media is a big thing. TV, Radio, Newspaper, Internet. A lot of national news is now also disseminated via conglomerates. One recent example being all the local TV stations being purchased by Sinclair: money.cnn.com/2017/05/08/media/sinclair-buys-tribune-media/…
    – user1530
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 6:05
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    This is about the audience, though. The political leanings of the audience do not necessarily align with those of the journalists and editors. Also, it's quite weak, they just had some questionnaire online and looked at responses - not representative to the population at large.
    – janh
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 9:04
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    Out of interest, does anyone know how it was decided where to put the origin on that figure?
    – origimbo
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 9:29
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    This answer is the usual leftist misrepresentation. (1) No, you can't compare 3 big broadcast networks to small stations. Counting by # of media outlets without weighing for reach/influence is extremely misleading. (2) audience is NOT indicative of newspaper. I can't help but read NYT and WaPo and buzzFeed and HuffPost, for a variety of reasons (including some interesting non-political content). Leftists rarely need to read right wing leaning sources - as per #1 they have overwhelming majority of main ones. (3) Aside from #2, the question was about MEDIA leanings, not audience.
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:38
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    The post clearly has a United States tag in an effort to not make a global claim. Again please thoroughly read the OP before responding.
    – discodane
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 18:36

Two mutually exclusive hypothetical answers:

  1. If reality has a left-leaning bias, and mainstream US journalists are generally trained to report on what they see: that could account for the results of the research cited.

    A related hypothesis is that since busy individuals owning much property, (e.g. media proprieters), have always attracted courtiers to help them interpret their world, and since courtiers are generally evolved to report on whatever seems most pleasing to their hosts: then such ownership has an unreal bias.

  2. If reality has a right-leaning bias, such that only captains of industry, (e.g. media proprieters), and their trusted lieutenants are truly capable of seeing things as they are, as proven on the battlefronts of business.

    Whereas journalists digging around like scandal-eating shrews in the valleys and grottoes of the world see mainly that which is low and base, and therefore develop a cynical political bias that favors the limited prospects of their servile class.

In either of the above hypotheses, the media proprietors are leaning one way, and the journalists are leaning another.

Variant hypotheses would be united leanings, either with delusional proprietors and pandering journalists, or ideally sensible proprietors and scrupulous journalists. In a crooked world, the latter ideal group might appear very biased in the popular mind.

Another thing. Measuring donations might be less than half the story, without considering how those donations were earned...

Sometimes criminals donate to charity, which may assuage their guilty consciences and also, (if the charity is public), render themselves less hated by their communities. In the same way, since the day-to-day work of journalists often results in them reporting on what their bosses tell them to report on, (puff pieces, routine doings, free publicity for some local celebrity or business, etc.), to the neglect of more serious and useful reporting, (the prevention of catastrophes by early warning), maybe left-leaning journalists feel guiltier, and can't face themselves in the mirror without donating to something.

Example: monetary estimates of the value of the media's having provided virtual free publicity for the Trump campaign in 2016 range as high as $4,900,000,000, (versus $3.24B for Clinton). A left-leaning journalist who was paid to write such stories might devote part of their paycheck to undo the harm they felt they had done at work. Whereas a right-leaning journalist might feel happy to report on their favored candidate, and not feel so great a need to donate to a right-wing cause, since they "already gave at the office".

The dollar amount of any journalist's donations to left-wing causes is probably less than their take-home pay from providing media value to causes which they despise. (Exemplar: "Trump: The Art of the Deal" author Tony Schwartz). The political effect of such penitent donations are probably smaller than the effects of the work done to earn it. So the net political effect might be "negative", (i.e. on the whole a mainstream left-wing journalist might move the nation further right), just as the net moral effect of gang leader donating to an orphanage would probably not offset the overall harm to their community done by them.

  • This is interesting but i think again sways away from the intent of the OP. I'm not interested in what the media produces and the bias that contains, I'm interested in why those in the media on a individual basis highly favor, at least by $, the left.
    – discodane
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 17:49
  • @discodane, Please refine your terminology, it's needlessly confusing. When you say "the media" but you mean media personnel or journalists, please just say journalists.
    – agc
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 17:57
  • The above is not meant to imply that lefty-donating journalists working for righty moguls are the moral equivalent of grafty gangsters. The comparison is more of a high-contrast simile.
    – agc
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 19:01
  • Journalists also promote liberal causes through exposure.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 3:26
  • @Obie2.0, Journalists also fail. Imagine you're a scandal hound staffer working for the National Enquirer, and suppose you've got a fine scoop on owner David Pecker's most eminent friend, now at best perhaps there's a pat on head and a minor bonus for indirectly showing who to pay off, but you really need this job, and it's not like back in the '90s, or like there's any rival supermarket tabloids to sell it to.
    – agc
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 5:43

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