Feb 11, 2022

How media bias works

An examination of where things are in the media space.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.” You're reading a special Friday edition.

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Where we are.

The current media ecosystem is broken.

There are many reasons for this, and a lot of Tangle readers have asked me why I believe this, but I've never fully sat down and laid it out. Given that my entire mission is to fix how we consume political news, I figured it was about time I explained what I see when I look out on the media industry every morning, and why I was worried enough to start Tangle.

The most obvious criticism — or perhaps the most common — is that the media is generally too liberal and out-of-touch. I think there was truth to the former and there are still grains of truth to the latter. Bias in the media is still the most cited reason people give me when they start reading Tangle, and I'm certainly not here to tell you that bias doesn't exist. It does, and it’s pernicious, and we'll talk about how and why in a moment.

But what I am here to tell you is that the forces driving much of what is wrong with our current media ecosystem are often more insidious and harder to see than simple bias. It’s not as straightforward as reporters being liberal hacks or living in a bubble — and even the political affiliations of reporters don’t often manifest themselves in the ways you may expect.

Hiring bias.

One of the greatest political divides in America is now the education gap. Especially among white voters, those without traditional four-year college degrees are far more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats (for whatever it’s worth, I don’t personally think this is a great way to measure “education” — but I do think it’s a useful tool for predicting political affiliations). The impact of this on the media space cannot be overstated: Nearly all journalists go to college, because that is typically how you learn to become a journalist.