Complaints about “media bias” usually boil down to uninteresting charges that the news media tilt their reportage in favor of one party—usually, but not always, the Democrats. So say the Republicans, with some justice, but put this way the indictment is somewhat superficial. Conservatives more keenly accuse those media of being “liberal”—that is, principled enough to prefer a liberal Republican candidate to a notably corrupt Democrat.
I have studied the news media for many years, from afar and from within, and I know that most journalists do try to be impartial. When they fail, the failure is usually unconscious. The code of political neutrality survives its frequent minor violations.
“The style of your own time is always invisible,” the critic Hugh Kenner used to say, citing the true story of a statue, a supposed Etruscan horse that turned out to be a forgery. How was it detected? The 19th-century forger had endowed it with every ancient Etruscan mannerism he could see, Kenner explained, but also with every 19th-century mannerism he (and his contemporaries) couldn’t see. Finally, in the mid-20th century, its 19th-century style gradually “rose to visibility,” and a keen critical eye urged carbon dating, which confirmed suspicions of its true age.
So what unconscious prejudices of our time are passing largely...