The perception that the news media in the United States have a liberal bias is a phenomenon that animates conservatives and affects the ways in which they consider both media content and political discourse. Despite professional standards that have been put in place to prevent deliberate bias, conservatives would argue that the news media tilt deliberately to the left. Barry Goldwater, Distrust in Media, and Conservative Identity: The Perception of Liberal Bias in the News explores the origins of this perception of a liberal bias—while managing to avoid the highly subjective quagmire of attempting to measure bias—by instead positing a social identity explanation for the perception. Rich Shumate posits that conservatives’ need to foster and maintain social identity as conservatives led them to perceive content from elite news media outlets as biased when it did not validate the way they saw the world, deeming it hostile and, by extension, “liberal”. Shumate explores the formation of this perception during the period from 1960–1964, a critical juncture in the American political sphere when conservatives organized to elect Barry Goldwater as president and ultimately came away from the experience bitter with the belief that the news media had stacked the deck against their candidate of choice. Scholars of communication, media studies, journalism, political science, and American history will find this book particularly useful.
Rich Shumate is assistant professor in the School of Media at Western Kentucky University.
Introduction: Liberal Bias Rebellion
Chapter 1: Battle Lines
Chapter 2: Rebels Rise
Chapter 3: Rebel Pathways
Chapter 4: Rebel Vision
Chapter 5: Rebel Reflection
Chapter 6: Rebel Framing
Conclusion: Rebel Reaction
About the Author
Fascinating, well written, and timely. This is outstanding, original media history. Why do so many conservatives find liberal bias in the mainstream media when the journalists think they’re just doing their truth-seeking, democracy-sustaining job? Rich Shumate finds clues in standard social psychological principles that apply to any politically impassioned groups, but he enriches this with a detailed and eye-opening account of how conservative groups jousted with the media in the Goldwater presidential bid of 1960-64.
Is there liberal media bias? This book artfully sidesteps this popular—if unproductive and ultimately unanswerable—question, drawing much-needed attention to the role of media perception in the development of modern conservative identity in the United States. Shumate synthesizes the work of leading social psychology and cultural studies theorists, offering a useful framework for interrogating the conservative news reading strategies that result in perceptions of bias. This book is an important contribution to conservative news studies and astutely captures the growing disconnect between conservative audiences and mainstream journalists in the early 1960s.
This book provides a theoretically sophisticated, historically informed account of the claims of "liberal bias" during the early 1960s. The book is creative, insightful, and provides valuable context for current charges of "liberal bias," helping us see both where they come from and why they are unlikely to go away any time soon. It should be of interest to communications scholars, political scientists, historians, and ordinary citizens.
In Barry Goldwater, Distrust in Media, and Conservative Identity, Rich Shumate skillfully dissects the origins of the conservative belief in a biased, liberal press. By studying the political turmoil of the early sixties, particularly the coverage of the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, he delivers an engaging and comprehensive history of conservative antipathy to the media. Read it to understand not only the source of this belief system, but also to better comprehend our current, polarized media environment.
Despite a lack of evidence, the perception of liberal bias in the news media has persisted since the middle of the 20th Century. In Barry Goldwater, Distrust in Media, and Conservative Identity, Rich Shumate traces the roots of this lingering perception to the period from 1960 to 1964. He argues that mainstream media’s elite status, adversarial approach, and framing of politics as conflict – rather than an explicit liberal bias in content – led members of an emerging conservative movement to decode news coverage as hostile to their social identity. The result is a book that not only illuminates an important moment in the history of media and politics in the United States, but also provides a lens through which to better understand our contemporary moment.