The media is biased, and is doing a horrible job of covering the presidential election. That is perhaps the only statement you could make that both liberals and conservatives would applaud. A new Gallup poll finds that just 32 percent of Americans surveyed said they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media—an all-time low. Coverage of Donald Trump’s norm-shattering candidacy apparently strikes Republicans in particular as unfair: Their confidence in the media has plunged from 32 percent last year to just 14 percent. But in recent weeks, worried Democrats have become just as vocal in their anger, blaming the media for “false equivalence” in its coverage of Hillary Clinton’s various self-inflicted wounds. (See Talking Points.)
So is the media biased against Trump or against Clinton? First, let’s consider the term “the media.” It used to refer to the country’s major newspapers, magazines, and broadcast TV networks, which strive for fairness—admittedly imperfectly. But “the media” now includes websites, talk radio, and cable TV networks that are openly partisan and cater to a bitterly polarized nation’s prejudices. If you have your sensibility shaped and reinforced by MSNBC, Paul Krugman, and Vox.com, then you have no doubt that the rest of the media has placed far too much emphasis on negative stories about Clinton. If your worldview is based on what you hear and see on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Breitbart.com, you are certain that the media is out to get Trump. (One complicating factor: Most of the columnists at National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and other traditional conservative publications are horrified by Trump.) Every week, I get emails from the Trump tribe with “bias” in the subject line, and another bunch from hyperventilating Clinton supporters slugged “false equivalence.” What does this tell us? Draw your own conclusions. But bias, methinks, is often in the eye of the beholder.