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