On Institutional Bias

This isn’t specifically about any one instance of BBC bias, but it is directly, 100% relevant to our ongoing debate about whether or not it’s possible for there to be an institutional bias at the BBC even though there’s no deliberate conspiracy to push an agenda or narrative (except, you know, when there is: e.g. 28-Gate and the deference to Islamic sensitivities and multiculturalism).

Will Bloomberg Challenge the New York Times

Now that Nanny Bloomberg is done with trying to use political power to directly control the personal behavior of New Yorkers, he’s aiming bigger. Despite his previous claim of not wanting to get into editorial control of Bloomberg News, well, that’s what he’s now doing.

Is Mike Bloomberg the next William Randolph Hearst, a tycoon who mixes media and politics, influencing the course of the nation? Bloomberg has the money and the opportunity; we know he wants a seat at the policy table.

In a recent piece, The New York Times says that the former New York City mayor is involving himself in the editorial activities of Bloomberg LP. The Grey Lady sounds concerned, and rightly so. Just as Mr. Bloomberg won unlikely election as mayor of a heavily Democrat city by skipping through the political middle, he could also steer Bloomberg’s news operation in between the left-leaning Times and right-sided Dow Jones, ending up where a great many Americans reside. It would be a fitting and satisfying next step for the successful financier and politician, who is clearly not ready to retire.

Anybody who thinks Bloomberg is going to seek the happy middle hasn’t been paying attention. I’m not sure how the normally fairly sensible Liz Peek thinks Bloomberg was anything other than a life-long Democrat dressed up first in Republican sheep’s clothing, and then pretended to be an Independent, and it’s worrying that she can look at the track record of his third extra-legal term in office and see anything even remotely resembling the middle ground where most Americans live. But that’s another story. The story here is that Bloomberg News has grown to be much bigger, staff-wise, than the WaPo, and is rivaling the NY Times. I’m bringing up this article because of the following:

But, it’s not all about numbers. It is also about positioning. The New York Times has become more liberal over time, derided on the right these days as a virtual mouthpiece for the Obama White House. The paper has not endorsed a Republican for president since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956; the nod has gone to the Democrat candidate in every election since.

It’s not just those on the right that see the paper as tilting left — former ombudsman Daniel Okrent wrote a farewell piece in 2004 describing the paper as slanted liberal, especially on topics like gay marriage. As he said, rather gingerly, “On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires.” He noted that the paper unintentionally tends to “tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear,” but adds that “negligence doesn’t have to be intentional.”

Another departing public editor, Arthur Brisbane, made a similar confession as he exited the paper a year and a half ago. He admitted “the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds,” a “kind of political and cultural progressivism” that leads to “developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage” being treated “more like causes than news subjects.” And, this is from the inside.

Emphases mine.

This isn’t the wittering of some angry, fat, old, single white male (or whatever other pejoratives defenders of the indefensible like to hurl at us) ranting because some media outlet publishes opinions he doesn’t like, pretending to read their minds and reading things that aren’t there. This is a case of two different professional, highly experienced journalists (three if you count Peek as well) saying that there is an institutional bias in a world-class, long-lived news organization, and that it happens quite naturally due to the personnel involved.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s what I’ve been saying about the BBC for years. For evidence of the hive-mind at the BBC, one need look no further than the “In Their Own Tweets” page. For more evidence, look at the “In Their Own Words” page. Then read the last line of this feature on the BBC’s “North America editor”, Mark Mardell. Then consider the evidence of 28-Gate, Robin Aitken’s book, Peter Sissons’ complaints, and Jeremy Paxman’s statement on using the World Service to “spread influence”. These are only the tip of the world’s largest media iceberg.

I submit that the evidence of this hive-mind which causes the institutional bias at the BBC is irrefutable. And professional, experienced journalists know that this is a very real phenomenon in media organizations.

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16 Responses to On Institutional Bias

  1. Richard Pinder says:

    Inquiry Manager of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is asking for more information, as they are holding further sessions with the BBC.

    You can email: cmscom@parliament.uk: or write directly to the: Culture, Media and Sport Committee, 7 Millbank, House of Commons, London, SW1P 3JA.


  2. Dave says:

    Nothing to do with the BBC, not even indirectly. The BBC isn’t owned by one individual.

    When people here talk about an ‘institutional bias’ they never distinguish how its instituional as opposed to just biased. It seems to me its just become a phrase thrown around after the Macpherson Inquiry found the Met, ‘institutionally racist’.

    There is kind of ‘hive mind’ though and its here:



    • Thoughtful says:

      If you ever find out what ‘institutional racism’ or a ‘Canteen Culture’ actually is would you please let us know as MacPherson who coined the phrase wasn’t able to define what it was !


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      Strawman, Dave. The NY Times is the organization with the institutional bias, not Bloomberg News (yet). The institutional bias is not due to being owned by a single individual: it’s due, as explained by professional journalists, to the personnel within the organization, not any single owner.


  3. Deborah says:

    For institutional bias we only have to look how the drop in unemployment has been covered today. Certainly my local news programme allowed a local Labour MP on to talk uninterrupted about the cost of living crisis, Nick Robinson on the 6pm BBC news to dispute the figured that people don’t feel as ‘rich’ (emotive word deliberately linked wth the Conservatives) and WATO full today of opinion re the employment figures. Either James Parnell (head of vision?) directs his troupes on the line to take, or there is group think, ie institutional bias. Yes, David P , we have the evidence you quoted that you are not allowed to be a Tory, admit it and still work for the BBC.


    • Frank Words says:

      Ah. James Purnell. Labour MP 2001 – 2010. Before that he was BBC Head of Corporate Planning. From 2013 he has been BBC Director of Strategy.

      Apparently as a “senior” BBC employee he had to resign his membership of the Labour Party “for the time being” (quote Wikipedia).

      Well, I suppose that is balanced by Tory Lord Patten…….

      …or one time “Oxford Uni Conservative” Nick Robinson…

      PS: Yes I am joking

      PPS: But Alastair Campbell wouldn’t


  4. Dave says:

    That may be bias but how is it ‘institutional’? As I say, the phrase is used without understanding it, and you’ve illustrated that.

    And ‘rich’ is an emotive word now!??


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      “Institutional” is a euphemism for “widespread and endemic”. The concept is that, rather than a conspiracy or explicit editorial directive from in high (except when there is, e.g. 28-Gate and diversity/multiculturalism), there exists a consistent Leftward bias and approach to various issues happens across the spectrum of BBC broadcasting.

      Aside from the sort-of understandable reality that there ought to be at least some consistent approach in news and current affairs shows to specific issues, there is a shared ideology, a shared set of approved thoughts among the majority of journalists, producers, presenters, and titled editors. This occurs naturally because of the personnel. It manifests not only in the unconscious use of advocacy language in news and current affairs broadcasting, but in the output of all the titled editors (e.g. Economics editor, North America editor, Political editor for Newsnight, etc.) as well as drama and comedy shows, even if the latter are mostly produced by third-party production companies.

      If you consistently hire political activists, people who believe journalism is about changing minds and spreading influence, along with ideological extremists, and the vast majority of your personnel (Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson’s distant past don’t balance out thousands of people) comes from the same Left-wing, Progressive personal politics regardless of whether they’re Oxbridge managers and producers or working class background radio talent and BBC News Online journalists from sainted Northern regions, you will get an organization which has self-selected itself into an institutional Left-wing bias.

      Remember, this isn’t a unique concept invented by people here or by critics of the Metropolitan Police. This is something explicitly stated by world-class, professional journalists who were hired in part to examine and discuss this phenomenon. So acting as if this is something I made up or is used by enemies to attack an institution they don’t like isn’t really a valid argument at this point.


  5. chrisH says:

    Good points above re the use of words 24/7 at the BBC.
    “Bedroom Tax” ” Cost-of-living crisis”….I am sick of these Labour slogans being parroted by the BBC, as if they have any meaning to those except the BBC and Labour, with the supporting caste of the broadsheets-The Guardian in particular, with the Independent in cahoots.
    Tell a lie often enough, and it becomes a truth-so they think anyway!
    I know the likes of Benefits Street don`t listen to these liberal codesand cliches-but those who process them and mind their children at the BogComp certainly do.
    If we don`t detoxify these paid parrots before the election-by arguing or snapping at the Beebs racy heels, then they`ll think it`s even more of an given than they do already…as I say, they don`t think or thrive outside the hives(which is what Labour selected them for…compliance)


  6. Sudo says:

    I don’t think BBC bias is ‘institutional’, that suggests it happens accidentally. I think it is intentional. They believe they know best and they want to re-educate us non-believers.

    The BBC is unique in that it gets a guaranteed income through taxation.
    Most media organisations have customers they need to please in order to make sales. In the UK the Telegraph and Mail newspapers make money because people want to buy. The Independent and Guardian both lose unsustainable amounts of money because not enough people are buying what they are selling.
    The editorial position of the BBC is indistinguishable to those of the Guardian and Independent. So if the news part of the BBC was open to market forces it would be out of business by now.


    • The General says:

      All socialists (be they politicians or politically inspire organizations such as the BBC) consider they know better than the population who they seek to control. If that means providing false and misleading information then they convince themselves it is for the benefit of the vast majority of the population who are not clever enough to see the world as they see it and who just don’t know what is best for them.
      Of course due to their efforts in so ‘educating’ the population, they reward themselves in a suitably extravagant manner.


  7. stuart says:

    when your a self superior leftist presenter at the bbc educated at the universitys of marxism bias is in your dna when it come to discussing topics like immigration and the eu,i am getting sick and tired of bbc presenters and there arrogant atitudes on radio 5 live denying they are biased when callers and texters point out to them there bias,the worst offenders on radio 5 live are nicky campbell and stephen niolan,they make me sick with there blatant left wing bias.


  8. Andy S. says:

    An organisation can become institutionally biased by only employing people who possess the same political ideology or world view. That’s why the BBC only seems to employ ex-Guardian or Independent journalists (yes, I know James Harding is ex-Times, but he obviously shares the BBC hive mentality. Why else would they take on an ex-employee of the hated devil, Murdoch?). That’s when they bother to advertise posts. It appears that under Tony Hall’s directorship posts are offered directly to Labour Party pals or ex-colleagues from his previous jobs. And NOW they, in turn, are offering jobs to THEIR mates, without first advertising the vacancies as is legally required by every other organisation and business.

    Is it any wonder that the BBC is institutionally leftist when no other viewpoint is wanted or tolerated.