Message to readers: Wow, this one is getting a lot of traffic and comments. I tried to do an objective assessment – as much as I am able given my former background as a journalist. I personally believe we never really had an objective media, but when I was a news anchor, I certainly tried to keep my beliefs out of it. It was definitely difficult, given opinions in the news room. Here I tried to cover the issue from every side. It’s interesting to see all the views on this, so please keep the comments going. I’m certainly not afraid of dissent, so if you feel I’m wrong on a point, do tell me. I’d love to see others’ opinions on this.
Some will argue that the media – objective media that reports the news with a keen eye for detail and a respect for the truth – has either been dead a long time, or never existed in the first place. While our Constitution and Bill of Rights strive to protect the freedom of the press, it’s easy to see that the relationships between those in power and those in the media have bred a press that is anything but free and anything but objective.
There are several reasons for this self-censorship in the media.
Access. Exclusive stories. Access to candidates and politicians. Idealism and the desire to promote an agenda. Currying favor with editors. Profit. All play a role in ensuring that what we see and hear in reporting isn’t always the complete truth – or at least twisted in such a manner as to promote a certain view.
Government officials are also complicit in this control of information flow. No, we’re not Russia, where media outlets are funded by the Kremlin and tightly controlled by threats and intimidation. That said, the government does control media outlets’ licensing to do business, as well as their access to policy makers, and we do have some historical precedent that shows our protection of free press hasn’t been as ardent as we like to pretend.
A long time ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was working on my Master’s degree in National Security Studies, I took a class called “Media and National Security.” The professor, a former high-ranking Pentagon official, had us read two books: “The Captive Press,” by Ted Galen Carpenter and “Manufacturing Consent” by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. If you know anything about the authors, you realize that politically, they’re fairly diametrical opposites. Carpenter is more of a libertarian, while Chomsky… well… you know. Nonetheless, they seem to come to similar conclusions when it comes to the press. From the Alien and Sedition Acts, to the Espionage and Sedition Acts, our country’s history shows we haven’t been exactly friendly to adversarial speech and reporting. And today, more than ever, the media is in the pockets of those in power.
While traditional news outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times like to pretend they’re non-partisan in reporting the truth, I can’t imagine a single person who actually believes that crap. No rational human being will claim that Fox News does not skew in favor of the GOP, just as no one with more than two brain cells to rub together will assert that MSNBC is in any way objective and unbiased toward the left.
This phenomenon is even more apparent with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. It’s pretty amazing to see just how deep in Trump’s pockets Breitbart really is, for instance. After Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski allegedly manhandled tiny little Michelle Fields from Breitbart and proceeded to first lie about it, and then engage in a character assassination campaign, and after Breitbart threw Fields under the bus in a transparent attempt to retain their access to the candidate, four journalists resigned in protest.
Now former Breitbart journalist Jordan Schachtel wrote he was repelled at the level of bias at the “news” outlet.
“Breitbart News is no longer a journalistic enterprise, but instead, in my opinion, something resembling an unaffiliated media Super PAC for the Trump campaign,” Schachtel said in a statement first reported by Politico. “I signed my contract to work as a journalist, not as a member of the Donald J. Trump for President media network.”
My concern was, and still remains, about how people in power – even potential Presidential administrations – treat the press. Will they cut off access to media outlets not deemed friendly to their policies? Will they bar journalists from interviews and press conferences based on the type of reports they have written?
And subsequently, how will the press treat its own journalists and opponents of an Administration’s policies?
Another report, which CNN apparently ardently denies, points to CNN president Jeff Zucker’s stated strategy to paint anyone who opposes ObamaCare as racist.
“And according to two sources, CNN sources — on the 9 a.m. editorial call, he said all of this bashing of HealthCare.gov and the Obamacare thing was in the end — come on, take a guess — racist. That people are just saying Obama couldn’t build a website because he is black and you know, they hate him. That’s the president of CNN. That’s Jeff Zucker. That’s his guidance to the troops.”
Remember Candy Crowley’s dispute of Romney’s contention during a debate with Barack Obama that he failed to call Benghazi a terrorist attack? CNN went on a full defensive of Crowley a few days later, claiming that she was, in fact, correct, and that Romney was mistaken. She claimed the President’s speech at the White House the day after the attack used the term “act of terror,” and she’s technically correct. The problem with Crowley’s twisting of the truth is that the President did not specifically refer to Benghazi as an “act of terror,” but referred to those acts in a general sense in that speech.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
The reference can certainly be left to interpretation here. CNN continued this line later in the year, claiming that the phrase “act of terror” was used repeatedly after the attack, and while they were correct, I will once again point out that the phrase wasn’t used to directly describe the attack on Benghazi. In fact, the Benghazi attack wasn’t described as an act of terrorism until September 19, when NCTC Director Matthew Olson specifically replied to a question by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about the attack. This is according to CNN’s own accounts of the use of the “terrorism” description.
“They were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy. … At this point, what I would say is that a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly the Benghazi area, as well we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, in particular al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
So yes, Virginia, there is media bias. It exists on both sides of the political aisle. It permeates every report and what journalists write is just as significant as what they omit, and the words they use are indicative of their biases. More often than not, I wind up having to research every report I read for corroborative information – be it CNN, NBC, New York Times, or any other outlet. I’m lucky, because I can read news in several other languages, so I can also examine how the world outside our borders views our current events and compare those reports to what I see here.
Many people can’t and, frankly, most don’t have time to do so anyway. We are a society that likes everything handed to us at once. Get to the bottom line. Give me the elevator speech (if you were taking the elevator with me, what could you tell me in that time that’s important and relevant?). Give me a five-second soundbite that will tell the story. Give it to me faster and more concisely. It has lead to what I like to call “McNews.” We like our information like we like our fast food – quick, tasty, and on the run.
Unfortunately, that type of information has less substance and actual depth. Most current events are more nuanced than a quick headline, but most people don’t have the time to read or hear it.
That’s partially why Trump is so popular. Most of his supporters don’t understand his policies, how they would be implemented, or what consequences they would bring. He says he will build a “beautiful wall” and force Mexico to pay for it. He blathers something about a $58 billion trade deficit. And his frothing acolytes applaud wildly and believe every word he says without understanding that a trade deficit won’t pay for a wall, and has little to do with government revenues or will, for that matter.
He claims he will force manufacturing back to the United States, and his followers crow with froth-flecked glee without understanding the increase in the price of production that is involved, which will ultimately be passed on to the consumer, consequent reduced profits for the company due to higher prices, and resulting job losses due to said reduced profits. Not to mention the deterioration in foreign relations that results from these trade wars!
He mentions China’s currency devaluation, and doofuses applaud the use of big economic terms, without actually understanding what currency devaluation did to, say, the Chinese economy, causing record capital flight, coupled with the fact that the Chinese can’t seem to control the freefall of the yuan. And while propping up Chinese manufacturing would seem to be a good idea, its causes consequences, including a possible deflationary reaction in the rest of the world, which would make it tough to buy those Chinese products, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “It could also complicate China’s efforts to get the yuan added to a basket of currencies tracked by the International Monetary Fund – efforts aimed at giving the yuan greater acceptance abroad” – something they’ve been trying to accomplish for a while.
No one cares about that. Buzzwords and platitudes rule the day in today’s political environment, and the media seems to be facilitating it and at the same time is being killed by it.
The media is supposed to report facts. It’s supposed to inform us, to help us learn about current events, so that we make intelligent decisions about the kind of government we want.
Instead, it either acts as promotion vehicles for political candidates, or props up political agendas. Few people today can even recognize the difference between reporting and opinion pieces. It takes so long to get to the truth, that many people are simply giving up on trying, and instead become part of Generation Stupid™ casting their votes and promoting their support based on nothing but social media memes and 140 character Tweets.
It certainly appears that the Fourth Estate is dead – for how long is debatable. Question is, what replaces it?