Tax-Funded Media Bias

This morning on Anti-Marketplace Radio–heard on tax-funded NPR stations–there was a fine example of the quiet, unconscious liberal bias that pervades NPR and other mainstream-liberal media. Host Scott Jagow interviewed Jody Heymann, director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, who had just published a report on paid leave around the world. The segment began, “The U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to workplace policies such as paid maternity or sick leave.”

Then Jagow asked, “Where else is the U.S. falling short?” Noting that no federal law mandates paid vacations or sick leave, he asked, “How much are states picking up the slack and how much is the private sector picking up the slack?”

So where’s the bias? Let us count the ways. First, of all the studies in the world, only a few get this kind of extended publicity. It helps if they confirm the worldview of the producers. For instance, I don’t believe Marketplace covered this Swedish study (pdf) showing that the United States is wealthier than European countries (perhaps most provocatively, that Sweden is poorer than Alabama – perhaps because Europe has the kinds of laws the Heymann study advocates). Second, Heymann was allowed to appear without a critic. Third, the interviewer never asked a critical question. He never noted that the countries that Heymann was praising are poorer than the United States and in particular that many are suffering from high unemployment brought on by such expensive labor mandates. Fourth, look at the language of the questions: “lags behind,” “falling short,” “picking up the slack.”

The unstated, perhaps unconscious, premise is that countries should have mandatory paid leave and other such programs. If we don’t, we’re “falling short” and someone must “pick up the slack.” Language like that, which is very common in the media, posits government activism as the natural condition and then positions any lack of a government program as a failure or a problem.