To get it out of the way and to be fair, liberal media bias is real. The complaints in recent weeks have mostly been anecdotal, but quantitative studies prove it. A 2005 study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics measured bias by examining the number of media outlet citations of various think tanks and policy groups, then weighing that data against the political stances of Congress members who cite the same sources. The study found that, even excluding editorials and letters, most news outlets were to the left of center.
Media bias exists, and it contributes to problems of confirmation bias across the country. However, the recent GOP criticisms of media bias after the Oct. 28 CNBC primary debate are taking the conversation about media bias in the wrong direction. Instead of asking for kinder treatment from moderators, candidates should be asking for the toughest questions possible.
According to a Newsweek article published on Monday, Republican presidential candidates demanded to control everything in the debate’s format and execution, from the room temperature to screen graphics to opening and closing statements, all in order to control their message. Giving into these GOP demands would create a positive feedback loop, allowing the candidates with the most clout even more leeway to gain traction with audiences.
The candidates who are most popular could have their demands met for the sake of debate ratings. Then they would have more control over the narrative and their presence, which makes them even more appealing and powerful. The job of journalists is to expose what candidates don’t want to talk about and show them in their true light, not simply to relay the images candidates want to project.
During the fourth debate on Tuesday, Republicans shifted their strategy. Instead of dodging difficult questions, they answered them. So we got to hear to substantive policy stances and divisions in the party from the candidates.
Frontrunner Donald Trump heaped praise on Tuesday’s Fox Business debate, but were the questions actually less tough? As a USA Today article from Monday pointed out, the real problem in the CNBC debate wasn’t the lack of tough questions but the generic, flimsy questions like, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and the chaotic environment peppered by frequent interruptions. The real difference between the two debates was that Fox Business’s questions were substantive, yet tough.
Republican candidates are confused about their demands. They seem to make excuses when they don’t perform well and ignore the media issues when they do. The GOP is asking for less scrutiny and whining about hard questions. What the American people need in order to be informed voters, however, is equality in criticism, not equality in weakness.
Liberals shouldn’t be silent on this issue. Getting an unfair leg up from the media is nothing to be proud of. If the Democratic candidates want to be on the correct side of this media bias debate, they should be calling for tougher questions in their own debates.
If candidates truly think they are capable of holding the highest office in the country, they should not be complaining about hard questions or silently accepting an unfair advantage, but rather saying to the media, “Hit me with your best shot!”
Annie Cappetta is a sophomore majoring in ecosystem science and policy and political science.
Featured image courtesy Pixabay user succo