Thursday, January 13, 2005
Even though you might not be aware of it, there is a bias in the media, no matter which way you lean on the political spectrum. There will always be a spin or a slant to the news, because people from both the red states and the blue states are biased. For every book like Bernard Goldberg's Bias, which argues that the media is biased in favor of liberal causes and issues, there is a book like David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine, which says there are organized right-wing Christian voices dominating the media. It seems liberals want to blame the conservatives and argue that there is a conservative bias in the news and vise versa. It all depends on where you stand on the issues being mentioned in the news.
I do not believe that bias occurs only from the left or from the right, but that there is a general bias because people, who have opinions and views, report the news and no one single person is completely unbiased. EG: Lou Dobbs or Ann Coulter. Although books like What Liberal Media?, The Republican Noise Machine, and Bias, shows strong instances of when liberal biases and conservative biases have occurred, they do not prove an overall bias that is solely liberal or conservative that is dominating the media today. Instead, these books with their varying views reinforce the fact that bias can be seen on both sides of the political spectrum.
Ben H. Bagdikian writes in his book, The New Media Monopoly , "In 1983 there were fifty dominant media corporations; today there are five. These five corporations decide what most citizens will--or will not--learn." Since billion dollar corporate conglomerates control the outlets that supply America with news they also have the ability to manipulate what is shown and not shown, affecting public opinion based on what is beneficial to their monopolies. "They manufacture a social and political world," writes Bagdikian who hints at another bias besides conservative or liberal-- a money bias. He shows how the dollar and ratings have a stronger effect on news reporting than political agendas but how they can also go hand in hand.
Organizations are now making a conscious effort to battle bias and to report more fairly. The media tries to give the varying opinions a voice, but striving for balance in their reporting at times has led to there being more soft news and journalists being afraid to state their opinions as strongly as they once did. Being afraid to offend readers and take sides on an issue has led to the popularity of pundits and activist journalism, because there is a need for a critique on the media and news in general. After all, it is a Journalist's responsibility to be critical of people in political power and to analyze what is true and what is not, that is what American democracy and free press is about.
The idea of whether or not bias exists in the news is moot: it does. The bias is not in every report, but it has a presence, because people are biased even when they think they are not. Where people live, what they do, who they spend time with, where they live, all of this and more shapes their views and it is hard not to give more attention to your particular views and put a slant on them. I think the bigger question is not what kinds of biases are out there, but how much does it really affect public opinion, you are either one way or another already, how much will bias in the news change an opinion? In What Liberal Media? Eric Alterman writes, "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
Yet, just because bias is already in the media does not mean we should accept it. I do believe the pursuit of objectiveness is noble and can be achieved. Every story should have two sides and journalists should strive for balance even in blogs, but obtaining even reporting will not eliminate bias totally.
(These are excerpts from an essay I wrote in my Media Ethics graduate course at NYU.)
Rush Limbaugh? Don't get me started...