Liberal bias in the news media is scarcely news. The general preference for Democrats among elite national journalists in particular is amply documented, and too many reporters and editors let their personal views color their reporting -- whether that means slanting a story or simply declining to cover a story that doesn't suit their agenda.
That bias showed up clearly in a recent analysis of news coverage of President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential hopefuls who want to replace him in 2012.
A watchdog group, the Media Research Center, reviewed all of the 723 campaign segments that appeared on the weekday morning programs of the three broadcast networks from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 of this year.
One of the most interesting findings from the analysis pointed out the disparity in how reporters label the president and his GOP opponents.
In almost 50 cases over the months of network programs that were studied, the Republicans were labeled "conservative." But in only one instance was Obama labeled "liberal."
Now, to be sure, the Republican candidates are more than happy to be called conservative -- as well they should be. A recent Gallup poll found that 41 percent of Americans identify themselves as politically conservative, compared with 36 percent who call themselves moderate and only 21 percent who consider themselves liberal.
But the networks' unwillingness to call President Obama liberal at the same time that they are calling the GOP candidates conservative is telling.
With so few Americans identifying themselves as liberals -- and twice as many calling themselves conservatives -- it appears the news media are trying to shield the president from the unpopular, but very accurate, "liberal" label.
That unequal coverage is sadly predictable, but it's still wrong. If reporters are going to label conservative candidates as such, they should do the same with obvious liberals such as Obama.