On Media Centrism

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A current default chart from Ad Fontes Media.

Ad Fontes Media is “famous” for their “Media Bias Chart”, an ever-changing chart that is now in version 6.0. The charts are customizable, so that you don’t have the thicket of media logos printed on top of each other as in the image you see to the right.

I took a closer look to see if I agree with the chart, and I believe that the spectrum of opinion depicted here is too narrow. Even if you go the the fringes on this chart — what is considered “the far left” and “the far right”, it is my opinion that all media outlets depicted operate within certain paradigms, and offer similar viewpoints. The problem is, though, much of what is “far left” appears to amount to opinion and little actual news; whereas what is on the far right is similar, with an added dose of misrepresentation and fabrication.

The definitions of “left” and “right” themselves are suspect also. Am I to believe that MSNBC is in the nearly identical part of the political spectrum as Democracy Now? I am a fan of both news sources, and I can say that this is a bad comparison on many levels. For one thing, DN! is a single news program dealing with politics, labour and peace issues; while MSNBC is an entire cable news network. Even individual programs within MSNBC will have a range of opinion to the right of DN. I would even consider Rachel Maddow to the right of DN, but not terribly far. DN is a newscast, branding itself variously as “The War and Peace Report”, and “The Quarantine Report”; while MSNBC is more than 70% opinion, and talking heads. DN earns its leftist cred by its choice and angle of its news; not necessarily by  opinion. Where MSNBC, like all major networks, would discuss war by bringing in military generals and politicians; DN will bring in medical personnel, and peace activists.

In addition, DN and MSNBC are lumped together as the “hyper partisan left”. DN hasn’t really had much nice to say about either party; while MSNBC has actually been the Cable News answer to Fox’s Republican cheerleading. MSNBC has advertisers to answer to and have to colour inside the lines; DN is donor-driven, and has its viewership to answer to, and are not answerable to capitalist forces in any important way.

Another curious mention is Jacobin, probably considered “hyper-partisan left” because even their subscription instruction suggests: “If life has treated you well, you should feel guilty about it and subscribe at the high-income rate for the cause. Your help will allow us to subsidize subscriptions for others”, offering separate rates for the financially priveleged and for the disadvantaged. I am given to believe they are what right-wingers often think about as forming “the socialist agenda”. These people, who genuinely are solidly leftist, are lumped in the same “hyper-partisan left” pigeonhole as MSNBC. Would MSNBC have an interview between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian? Or use the phrase “class struggle” in a sentence? Jacobin did both in their most recent issue.

There are other things that make me scratch my head. Is The Atlantic, a magazine which has on its staff a former Republican presidential speechwriter considered “left of centre”? On what planet? Also not sure what TMZ and Vogue are doing anywhere on this list. Is there now such a thing as “right wing” or “left wing” fashion and celebrity gossip? Also, I see that The Weather Channel is at centre, perfecting the art of telling us the temperature outside while walking the tightrope between left and right. Thank God.

Bloomberg, Financial Times and MarketWatch are considered “dead centre” in this distribution, but I wouldn’t expect articles from these financial market publications to ever publish anything that questions the capitalist system. It is clear what is meant by centrist is just a reporting of business news that does not favour Republican or Democrat. After all, investors need a tolerably balanced news source to know where to invest their money. But partisan balance is not the only kind of balance. Would they give equal time to union leaders in reporting labour disputes? Would they interview wildlife biologists or indigenous leaders when reporting about pipeline construction? Or the construction of anything? Would they give equal time to protestors who have good reason for a project to not go ahead?

Kinky muckraking journalism without the messy controversy.

I decided to be a bit adventurous and go for the looniest lefty publication I could find in the distribution. That would be a website called Wonkette. I never heard of the publication before researching this article, although I have heard of publications on the far right of the spectrum, since their association with Trump had generated much publicity (Brietbart, Fox News, and InfoWars are examples). What can I say about Wonkette? I think it is MSNBC with much more colourful language. They introduce a Trump tweet with: “Here’s old shithead, so you you can see him lying.” Colourful invective and f-bombs aside, their articles appear to show evidence of research from more mainstream sources like Forbes and The New York Times. Their merch suggests support for the usual Democratic party suspects: Face masks depicting Kamala Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for example. They also sell clothing with messages along Democrat themes. In other words, it appears uncertain whether they really are an alternative voice, once you go past the colorful language referred to earlier. While they are sometimes a hilarious read, I have yet to read an article that uses the phrase “class struggle” in a sentence or read a report on labour issues of any kind.

The numerical nature of the rating system on the Media Bias Chart is also suspect. It gives the illusion of scientific precision to what is essentially subjective data, resulting in a placement on a purportedly partisan basis that is incosistent. They rate individual articles as well. It is also not clear what specific criteria they are using to rate articles and websites.

“Partisanship” is implies support for a political party, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as “balance”. Labour groups, environmental groups, youth groups, civil rights groups, anti-poverty groups, have all been frozen out of public discourse in nearly all major media, whether in print, online, or on television or radio. To read the New York Times, one would be excused for thinking these groups didn’t exist at all. Same for MSNBC, although they will support nearly anything along Democrat party lines. While CNN is less partisan, they are just as silent about groups organized in the public interest such as these.

The only way the major media could be called “left” (as right-wing people love to label them as) is if the voice of the public is shut out of public discourse, reducing news reporting to little more than the he-said-she-said banter between pundits, politicians and other highly paid talking heads, as these media has successfully done.

What are your thoughts?