Is Media Bias a Market Failure?
A couple of readers have raised this issue. If news media are so biased, why does the market not correct this?
My first thought is that there probably is no market for unbiased media. There is definitely a market for hard-core right-wing opinions. There is definitely a market for what we call mainstream media, where both the opinions and the reporting are biased to the left. There is also a market for something like the Washington Post, where the editorials are pretty centrist while the reporting strikes me as showing zero understanding of anything right of center.
One commenter on my earlier post wrote,
I think the notion of cutting teachers’ salaries is one of those “unmentionables” in the media. It’s like saying “I support the drowning of kittens.” People in the media wouldn’t touch it with a 50-foot pole.
Forget about left-wing bias or right-wing bias. Why is it that the idea of cutting teacher salaries invokes such a reaction? (I agree with the commenter that it does so.)
The phrase that keeps coming into my head is Robin Hanson’s “showing that you care.” I think that is what people expect from politicians and the media. Saying that teachers could be paid less really violates the imperative to show that you care.
I suspect that the market for media that does not focus on “caring” is really, really tiny. News organizations have learned to focus on what they call the human-interest angle. Coverage of something like the Olympics is all about getting you to care about these athletes as if you had some big personal stake in what happens.
It would be fine if “showing that you care” had the same effect as caring. But the policies that are undertaken to comply with the imperative to show that you care often hurt the people that you supposedly care about. I give you housing policy as exhibit A, where we set people up to fail, and the people we set up to fail the most were minorities and people with low incomes.