Are Fox News and Donald Trump Right? Are the Mainstream News Media Biased?
By Tae-hyun Kim, Dan Erickson and David Demers (Chapter 2 excerpted from How the Mass Media Really Work, Marquette Books, 2014).
During the final weeks of the 1996 Presidential election race, Republican candidate Bob Dole accused the national news media of having a "liberal bias" that favored Democrat Bill Clinton. If the media could shed this liberal bias, Dole implied, he could beat Clinton.
Many conservatives agreed.
They believed American mass media have a strong liberal bias. In their book, And That’s The Way It Is(n’t): A Reference Guide to Media Bias, L. Brent Bozell III and Brent H. Baker argue that
America’s most influential media outlets report the news through a liberal prism. With reprints, excerpts and summaries of more than 40 studies conducted over the past decade, (this book) provides the most thorough analysis ever compiled proving the liberal political slant in the national press.1
Not so, say the liberals.
They accuse the media of having a conservative bias. As media critics Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon put it:
One of the most enduring myths about the mainstream news media is that they are "liberal." The myth flourishes to the extent that people don’t ask pointed questions: If the new media are liberal, why have national dailies and news weeklies regularly lauded those aspects of President Clinton’s program that they view as "centrist" or "moderate," while questioning those viewed as liberal?2
And a third perspective comes from the journalists themselves. They maintain that the news is neither liberal nor conservative. It’s objective, or neutral.3 As former ABC News President James Hagerty put it:
We’re trying to be objective ... we are reporters! We get interpretations from other people and present them. If anyone on this network is expressing his own opinion — well, if I catch him [sic] I won’t permit it.4
So who’s right?
The conservatives, the liberals or the journalists?
None of them, we will point out in this chapter.
The news does contain a bias.
But when viewed from a detached perspective, it is neither extremely liberal nor conservative, nor objective in absolute terms.
It is mainstream, centrist, or middle of the road.
In fact, that’s why mass media in America are often called "mainstream media."
KU Administrators Fail to Appreciate Uncivil Speech Some National Rifle Association members went viral after reading a tweet from University of Kansas professor David Guth, who, in reference to the shootings at the Naval Yard in Washington D.C., declared that "blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters."
But some journalists and professors across America are even more disturbed about the response of Guth’s bosses to the controversy.
"While the First Amendment allows anyone to express an opinion, that privilege is not absolute and must be balanced with the rights of others. That’s vital to civil discourse," Ann Brill, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a prepared statement. "Professor Guth’s views do not represent our school and we do not advocate violence against any group or individuals."
USA Today columnist Ken Paulson, appropriately, disagreed with Brill’s interpretation of the First Amendment.
"The right to express a political opinion is absolute in America. While there are very narrow exceptions to First Amendment protections, they largely involve speech that is inherently criminal, including distributing child pornography, inciting violence and making a true threat against someone. This (Guth’s tweet) was not a threat. The professor was not saying that he would harm anyone, and tastelessness is not a crime."
As Paulson points out, Brill overshot with the statement that free speech "must be balanced with the rights of others."
Brill also should not have said that discourse be civil. Civil means polite, and the origins and history of America show that impolite speech has often produced more positive political outcomes than polite speech (consider, for example, the rancorous debate over adoption of the Constitution and Bill of Rights). The U.S. Supreme Court also has embraced uncivil speech in several major decisions.
What Brill should have said in the statement she issued is that "the KU school of journalism supports and defends the right of all citizens and employees, including David Guth, to express their opinion on any topic at any time, even if that opinion does not reflect the views of the administration, staff and faculty at the University of Kansas or society at large."
There is no need to tell the world what the KU School thinks about the Guth’s opinion. After all, a lot of liberal professors in that department probably agree with the thrust of Guth’s criticism, even if they disagree with the way he expressed it.
Certainly the comments of Timothy C. Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs at KU, can be interpreted as even more threatening to Guth and other KU professors.
"The contents of Professor Guth’s tweet were repugnant ... Like all Americans, he has the right under the First Amendment to express his personal views and is protected in that regard. But it is truly disgraceful that these views were expressed in such a callous and uncaring way. We expect all members of the university community to engage in civil discourse and not make inflammatory and offensive comments."
Caboni’s first responsibility should have been to defend Guth’s right to free speech. Instead, he sent a message to everyone in the university community that Guth was wrong and that uncivil discourse is not appreciated at KU and may even be punished.
There is nothing wrong with civil speech. But to imply that uncivil speech does not deserve free-speech protection shows that some university administrators are more concerned with controlling employees than in protecting their Constitutional rights.
Paulson provided the logic for protecting those rights at the end of his commentary.
"Ensuring academic freedom is critical to the health and vitality of America’s campuses," he wrote. "Free expression and quality education are inextricably linked and our country is stronger for it."
David Demers September 28, 2013
How We (Faculty) Almost Lost Shared Governance (But Still Could)
This is not a time to be overconfident about free-speech rights for faculty. This is a time for action; for asking the question: Why are WSU officials trying to destroy shared governance?
By David Demers*
American Center for Civil Liberties
October 8, 2013
I was into my tenth year of teaching at Washington State University when on May 30, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Garcetti v. Ceballos that public employees do not have free-speech rights when acting in their official duties.
Seven months later I was crafting a 7-Step Plan, as I called it, designed to improve the quality of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, where I was a tenured associate professor.
Like most other professors, I assumed that, under the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, we professors had the right to criticize administrators’ policies and offer our own plans for reorganizing an academic unit without fear of retaliation.
But, at the time, I was unaware of the Garcetti decision.
A conservative majority of five justices — led by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — ruled that an assistant prosecutor could be punished by his superiors even after reporting that police had fabricated evidence to obtain a search warrant. Government employees, the majority opinion stated, only have free-speech rights when they speak as citizens, not employees.
In dissent, Justice David H. Souter wrote that he hoped the Garcetti ruling did not apply to public universities, “whose teachers necessarily speak and write ‘pursuant to official duties.’”
Kennedy’s majority opinion seemed to agree: “We need not ... decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching.”
Free-speech-for-faculty advocates were relieved.
“I am very pleased that even the majority has recognized that distinctive constitutional considerations apply in the academic context,” David M. Rabban, general counsel for the American Association of University Professors and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
But someone forgot to tell the nation’s federal judges about the academic exception.
Over the next four years, federal appeals courts denied free-speech rights to professors who criticized administrators for hiring too many adjunct faculty, made comments in support of a student during a disciplinary hearing, and criticized the use of grant monies.
By early 2011, the American Association of University Professors was urging faculty “to defend their academic freedom ... not through the courts but through clear university policies.” Several universities drafted such policies.
Then, in early April 2011, a glimmer of hope from the courts.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington that a professor who converted to Christianity and wrote a book critical of political correctness on campus had the right to speak without fear of retaliation.
The headline in the Chronicle blared: “Appeals Court Hands Big Win to Advocates of Free Faculty Speech in Ruling on Pundit-Professor.”
“A ringing victory for academic freedom,” added David A. French, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that helped defend Professor Michael S. Adams.
But the bell was cracked.
Turns out the 4th Circuit Court did not expand or even deal with the issue of on-the-job-free-speech rights for faculty. The court simply said that Adams’ speech was protected because it was not related to his job as a criminologist. It was private speech, or citizen speech, and his university could not deny him a promotion based on those writings, even though he submitted them to the promotion committee.
The Adams case did not break new ground. It reinforced Garcetti, which only gave free-speech rights to citizens.
On Nov. 4, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard my case (Demers v. Austin, et al.). Given the ruling in Adams, my attorney tried to argue that my 7-Step Plan was private speech, because I submitted it on my business letterhead and offered to donate $100,000 of my own money if the university implemented the plan.
Lead judge William A. Fletcher didn’t buy it.
“I have trouble ... treating that 7-Step Plan as cleanly private speech,” he said. “[I]t originates when he (Demers) is a member of a committee. It's clearly undertaken in tight relationship to his job and the things that he cares about in his job. He is suggesting an important restructuring of two departments.”
After hearing that comment, I was 99 percent certain that I was going to the lose the free-speech battle.
But I was wrong.
In the unanimous opinion, Fletcher wrote on Sept. 4 that my plan was protected speech, because it involved an issue of public concern (the quality and structure of a public university program).
“Teaching and academic writing are at the core of the official duties of teachers and professors,” Fletcher wrote. “Such teaching and writing are ‘a special concern of the First Amendment.’”
Faculty-rights advocates heralded the decision. The Chronicle even published a commentary several weeks later from two top-level non-WSU university administrators (the kind of administrators we faculty like because they support shared governance) under the headline: “For Faculty Free Speech, the Tide Is Turning.”
But don’t go near the water just yet.
WSU officials have appealed to the full 9th Circuit Court, arguing that my 7-Step Plan is “professional speech,” not speech related to teaching or research, and therefore does not deserve First Amendment protection.
Fletcher and proponents of free-speech for faculty might argue that the quality and structure of an academic unit is intimately tied to the teaching and research roles. Separating them is problematic, maybe even impossible.
But I concede that my 7-Step Plan is service-related speech, which means it falls under the rubric of shared governance and, thus, deserves free-speech protection.
Hard to say how the courts will rule from here on out.
But one thing is certain: If the high courts rule against service-related speech, then shared governance will cease to exist as a meaningful concept in higher education. I’m not sure many faculty and free-speech advocates understand that.
My lawsuit is no longer about a little plan to improve an academic unit. It is about the future shared governance and the distribution of power on campus. It is about the possibility of turning the university into a full-blown corporate organization with a more rigid hierarchy of centralized power and control that can threaten the search for truth and knowledge.
This is not a time to be overconfident about free-speech rights for faculty. This is a time for action; for asking the question: Why are WSU officials trying to destroy shared governance?
*David Demers is founder and director of the American Center for Civil Liberties and an adjunct professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where he teaches a course on law of mass communication. In this article, he speaks as a citizen, not as an ASU employee. Demers is available at no charge to talk about the implications of his lawsuit and the future of shared governance and academic freedom.
What Would Ed Murrow Think of NSA Spying and Snowden?
The lasting legacy of broadcast legend Edward R. Murrow wasn't his integrity or his journalistic skills, as many journalists assert. It was, as I have argued elsewhere, his belief that the key role of journalism in society was to promote and protect due process and other civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Murrow died in 1965. But were he alive today, what would he think of the National Security Agency's secret campaigns of spying on the e-mails and telephone records of U.S. citizens and the actions of Edward Snowden, the computer systems analyst who exposed the campaigns?
Before I answer that question, let me provide a little background for readers unfamiliar with Murrow.
Murrow worked for CBS News from 1935 to 1960. In 1954, he broadcast a TV news show which implied that U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had falsely accused hundreds of Americans of being communists and had violated their due process rights in and out of senate hearings. The U.S. Senate agreed, censuring McCarthy late in 1954.
Murrow wasn't the first to criticize McCarthy, who made national news in 1950 when he claimed several hundred communists worked for the U.S. government. But many historians believe Murrow's broadcast was the tipping point that brought on McCarthy's downfall.
Broadcast journalists then, as now, revere Murrow for his courage. But biographers later revealed that some of Murrow's CBS colleagues wondered why he had not acted years earlier. Some suggested it was because Murrow was afraid to lose his $1 million salary (in today's dollars) and his two homes. Murrow was an easy target for McCarthy, because Murrow had many connections to left-leaning political activists, including known communists.
I believe Murrow was afraid, especially because he had a family to support. But to his credit, Murrow broadcast the exposé on McCarthy, which helped remind Americans that due process and civil liberties are the principles that separate democratic states from totalitarian ones.
So what would Murrow think of the recent NSA spying campaigns and Snowden?
The public Murrow -- that is, the journalist who wrote and broadcast interpretive news reports (he didn't think much of objective journalism) --tended to be cautious in making judgments about controversial topics. He thought it was better to be right than first. He also identified with the power structure in American politics. Murrow was no radical, even though he had many radical friends.
So his interpretive news reports, I believe, would not outright condemn the NSA spying campaigns. Murrow would have recognized the right of the government to protect its citizens from terrorism. However, his reports also would point out the inherent danger that the spying technology poses to due process and privacy. He clearly would support efforts to have more public oversight of the NSA campaigns.
Murrow, the cautious commentator, also would not accuse Snowden of being either a patriot or a traitor. Rather, he would urge people to be slow to judgment, as the whole story has yet to come out.
Away from the microphone, the private Murrow -- the one known to his friends and colleagues -- would be deeply troubled about the NSA spying campaigns. He would speculate that government bureaucrats have already violated the rights of Americans by listening in on conversations without a court order.* As such, Murrow would assign several reporters ("Murrow Boys") to dig much deeper into the story. Those reporters would scour Capitol Hill and the NSA, and would try to arrange an interview with Snowden and pro-civil liberty groups.
Behind the scenes, Murrow would admire Snowden, even though Snowden technically broke the law when he turned over the spying records to news reporters. Murrow would take a balancing approach, arguing that people working in a bureaucracy have a moral obligation to report on others who violate the civil liberties of Americans.
-Dave Demers, 8/21/13
*Note: This article was written the day before The New York Times revealed that "a federal judge sharply rebuked the National Security Agency in 2011 for repeatedly misleading the court that oversees its surveillance on domestic soil, including a program that is collecting tens of thousands of domestic e-mails and other Internet communications of Americans each year ... ." (Charles Savage and Scott Shane, "Secret Court Rebuked N.S.A. on Surveillance," The New York Times, August 22, 2013).
WSU's Appeal in Demers v Austin Is an Affront to Free Speech Letter to the Editor published 9/30/13 in the Washington State University Daily Evergreen
Why are the WSU Board of Regents, Dr. Elson Floyd's administration and the Washington state Attorney General's office trying to kill shared governance? And why are the WSU Faculty Senate and Edward R. Murrow College of Communication professors allowing them to do that?
These are two questions that professors across the country are asking in the wake of a Ninth Circuit Court decision on Sept. 4 that said faculty have a First Amendment right to criticize administrators and offer their own plans for restructuring and improving programs (Demers v. Austin; I am the plaintiff in the case).
The 3-0 decision is being hailed by the American Association of University Professors, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as a major victory for faculty who cherish academic freedom, free-speech ideals and shared governance.
Yet WSU is going to appeal this decision and, it if wins, every faculty member at WSU and those in nine western states (the Ninth Circuit) will lose the right to publicly criticize administrators' policies without fear of retaliation.
As John Stuart Mill once remarked: "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing."
Domestic Spying: Security Will Defeat Freedom Once Again
By David Demers*
June 22, 2013
"Do people prefer freedom or security?"
I will never forget the moment in 1990 when George A. Donohue, one of my professors of sociology at the University of Minnesota, asked me and a half dozen other students that question during a graduate seminar.
We students — full of idealism and a desire to believe that Americans embraced Age of Enlightenment ideals such as liberty — desperately wanted to say "freedom."
But we sensed a setup.
"Security," several of us blurted out at the same time.
Professor Donohue’s face broke into a big, approving grin.
After watching people in action in social institutions for more than four decades, I believe Donohue is generally right. People do prefer security over freedom.
Even in the liberal social sciences and humanities, faculty rarely challenge administrators who engage in anti-democratic decision-making or disrespect the free-speech rights of faculty or staff. Faculty fear retribution or ostracization.
However, some leftist libertarians believe the case of Edward Snowden — the U.S. government contract employee who revealed that the United States government was spying on its own citizens — may prove to be an exception to the security-over-freedom theory.
Five out of eight major public opinion polls conducted since Snowden blew the whistle show that a majority of Americans disapprove of the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet domestic spying program.
Although the question wording varied from poll to poll, the results clearly show that, at a minimum, Americans have not given up on freedom as an ideal. This is especially true for young people, who, by a 2-to1 margin, believe that Snowden was right to expose the spying campaign. To some extent, the findings for young people remind me of the anti-Vietnam War movement, when college students embraced Enlightenment ideals more than any other generation before them.
But the story of Snowden and NSA’s domestic eavesdropping program has yet to be played out.
My bet is that security eventually will win.
Public opinion, I predict, will swing solidly against Snowden and in support of controlled domestic spying partly because American news media reports and talk shows are failing to provide a balanced perspective. They are failing to include intelligent news sources who are defending Snowden and civil liberties.
For example, I have yet to see a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union on one of those shows, even though that organization has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA program.
The vast majority of news sources, as usual, are mainstream governmental bureaucrats and politicians, who are framing Snowden as either a traitor (Republican John Boehner) or, at best, as an individual who has violated anti-espionage laws (Democrat Nancy Pelosi). I have yet to see one mainstream official declare that Snowden should not be prosecuted if it turns out that the NSA over-reached its authority.
The mainstream bias of print and television news has been well documented by mass communication researchers for more than four decades. Shortly after 9/11, for example, ABC news staff screened potential on-camera news sources and rejected those who it thought would provide an understanding of the possible motives of the 9/11 attackers, according to one academic research study.
The turning point for public opinion regarding Snowden and civil rights will come when he is put on trial or when it is clear he cannot be extradited. American bureaucrats will make an example of Snowden, hammering home the point that the oath not to reveal government secrets is more sacred than the act of violating American’s civil liberties.
Rules will trump values and security will defeat freedom once again.
Are WSU Murrow Administrators Digging Their Own Anti-Free Speech Grave?
By David Demers, executive director, American Center for Civil Liberties
Demers is the plaintiff in a federal free-speech lawsuit that could determine the future of shared governance in higher education. He teaches a mass media law course in the Walter Cronkrite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes this commentary as a citizen, not employee of ASU.
When I began my career as a professor two decades ago, it never crossed my mind — not even for a nano-second — that I did not have the right to criticize administrators and their policies.
In fact, I assumed that was part of my job.
The production of knowledge and truth thrives best when faculty can question without fear of reprisal whether administrators (and fellow faculty) are making good decisions about programs, budgets and curriculums.
That is, of course, the logic behind shared governance.
But the leadership at Washington State University, where I taught for 16 years, is trying to kill shared governance.
In fact, it is going to ask the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to declare that a three-judge panel of that court got it wrong when it ruled September 4 that I (and professors like me) have the right to criticize administrators and submit alternative plans for reorganizing administrative units (Demers v. Austin).
The panel overturned a U.S. District Court ruling which declared that professors, as employees, do not deserve free-speech protection.
“Teaching and academic writing are at the core of the official duties of teachers and professors,” Judge William A Fletcher wrote for the panel. “Such teaching and writing are ‘a special concern of the First Amendment.’”
The WSU attorneys representing the four administrator-defendants are expected to argue before the entire Ninth Circuit that my 7-Step Plan for improving the quality of the Edward R. Murrow journalism and mass communication programs at WSU falls outside of “teaching and academic writing” duties.
Quite frankly, it fits better in the service category, even though decisions about the quality of a program are not independent of teaching and research. Of course, that’s why the concept of shared governance emerged in the first place — to protect faculty from retaliation when acting in their service roles.
I am dumbfounded as to why any university administration would want to go down in history as the killer of shared governance.
But what is even more disturbing here is that the anti-shared governance stance is casting the Murrow College as a bully of free speech.
Murrow, a broadcast journalist who promoted free-speech causes all his life, is no doubt turning in his grave.