Imagine that you’re the head of a consumer products company, and it’s revealed to you that about half the people in the country don’t like some aspect of your product. Is there any chance that you wouldn’t try to address that problem?
It is, of course, a rhetorical question. So what, then, explains why the CEOs of the parent companies of the so-called mainstream media (MSM) – whose news operations are seen by Republicans as politically biased – do nothing about it?
Several theories come to mind: It’s not a new problem; the “firewall” that separates the editorial side of media companies from the business side dissuades and/or impedes editorial reforms that issue from corporate management; the people who run the business side of these companies approve of their news departments, whatever Republicans think of them.
Taking them in order, it’s indeed true that rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives have seen bias in the mainstream media for many years. But in earlier times this antipathy wasn’t as great as it is today, and for all their unhappiness there was no other place for them to go. Pretty much the whole of the news business nationally was the province of the Big Three TV networks, the wire services, the newsweeklies, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
These days, though, according to a Gallup survey released last September, 75 percent of Republicans think the media are too liberal, and all the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have expressed similar criticism, some with brio and to roaring approval. Moreover, there are many places – from talk radio to FOX News to Republican or conservative websites – where they can, and do, go for news and commentary more to their liking these days.
The editorial firewall, a useful convention that prevents the wholesale marketing of news to advertisers, is a better explanation, though still not compelling. Publishers, after all, have dominion over editors, not the other way around.
Then there’s the discomfiting idea that media company CEOs like the editorial slant that Republicans believe is biased against them, either because they don’t share the Republicans’ political views, or because they believe that the Republican/conservative criticism is without foundation.
Though this may play a role with some of the MSM, it too seems too farfetched to be a controlling factor. After all, the MSM are for-profit companies, most all of which are publicly owned and traded. It would be strange indeed if the CEOs of these companies would put their own political views ahead of their companies’ profitability.
So what, then, explains it? The view from here is that it may be a little bit of all these things, but that it's primarily something else.
The lugubrious truth about the MSM these days is that all of them are suffering, to one degree or another, from lost readership/viewership and diminished advertising revenue. And that, in a nutshell, may be why journalism per se is not front and center in the thinking of media company CEOs.
In the face of threats like that posed by the ad-grabbing tactics of Google, and the ubiquity and popularity of the social media, it’s likely that the CEOs of the legacy media don’t have much appetite for involving themselves in what – especially because of the editorial firewall – would be a contentious and quite possibly futile effort in any case.
So that, perhaps, is an explanation, though almost certainly not enough of one to satisfy Republican critics. Plus ca change, plus c’est pareil.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.