Most media people are not ideologues, even those who are viewed that way by their opponents. They just want to earn a profit by selling papers, magazines or increasing viewership. We want profitable media companies, especially with today’s transition to the internet where everything has gotten more competitive.
There’s a difference between the opinion page or talk shows and news reporting. Good reporting is a difficult task with time deadlines. Writing a good article takes ten to twenty times longer than reading it, even for skilled journalists.
My blog posts are opinion columns, so they vary in controversy depending on the topic. My conservative political views might get in to a news article regardless of how objective I tried to be.
Worldview Seeps In
I know more conservatives than liberals, so it would be easier to get interviews with them. As a reporter, I might choose to write the story from a different angle: the reduced need for government assistance vs. the underuse of food stamp eligibility.
I have written some articles for GM’s Fastlane blog, including my first one where we thanked a car collector who bought the last DTS from Hamtramck partly because of its Northstar engine. A good reporter puts himself in the background and tries to be neutral.
Most people have never been to an SAE meeting, so I wrote an article about the Chevy Sonic meeting last fall. Automakers and suppliers describe the hard work they’ve done bringing a new product to market. Most people outside the industry have no clue how large a team is involved for the car to start when they turn the key.
Even volunteering to write for the Fastlane blog has a point: I want to put my employer and profession in a favorable light.
Media Ratings List – Left to Right
People think they are getting objective news, but they’re not. So here is my list, a consensus opinion with a coworker who is more widely read and neutral than me.
Far Left – MSNBC, Huffington Post, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews
Left – NPR, Atlantic, New Republic, Juan Williams
Leans Left – CNN, CNBC, Troy Somerset-Gazette, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, New York Times, TIME, Newsweek
Slight Left – NBC, CBS, ABC, Troy Times, Oakland Press, USA Today
Neutral – Bloomberg, Automotive News, Crain’s Detroit Business
Leans Right – Fox News, Detroit News, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Weekly Standard, WORLD (Christian perspective, follows the Bible on social issues), Dennis Prager, Tom Sullivan, David Webb
Right – Drudge Report, Breitbart.com, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck
Far Right – Mike Church, Andrew Wilkow
Given the longstanding media bias in favor of abortion rights and now gay rights (special rights if you’re a conservative on this issue), virtually all media leans left or directly advocates for leftist social causes.
The American Left has been better than conservatives at framing the language of these two issues in particular. Even conservative economic publications tend to be liberal on social issues, sometimes by intent, but also by the language used in reporting.
Bias Extent is Debatable but Existence is Undeniable
A liberal might take issue with the order of some of my ratings of liberal sources or shift everything a notch to the right, but no one can deny there is bias in coverage.
Editorializing with the Camera
It’s no secret in conservative circles that the media preferred Mitt Romney over the other Republican Presidential candidates. Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich cancelled a speech and visited a hospital instead. While reporting the story, the CNN cameras showed the large empty auditorium and his wife reading stories to children at the hospital.
If CNN had wanted to be neutral they could have had the reporter say the same words in front of the hospital instead of the empty auditorium. In the second case CNN showed several other cameras taking pictures of her, implying that this was a mere photo op and not a genuine effort. Granted, nearly everything during a political campaign is staged for effect, but showing it goes beyond reporting the news into editorializing!
When some Presidents have serious conversations with people, they ask the cameras to be turned off. Others invite the extra media attention to bolster their image.
Ignoring the Important While Reporting the Trivial
The lead story on CBS radio news June 6 was about the California ballot proposal to raise cigarette taxes a dollar per pack. It narrowly failed due to 4:1 outspending by Big Tobacco, according to a reporter live in California.
Despite the record $70M spent in a small state, outside lobbying by Big Labor and national implications for the fall elections and the future of our country, the Wisconsin recall got one sentence later in the broadcast: “Governor Scott Walker survived a recall attempt in Wisconsin.”
President Obama was absent from the fray there except for a Twitter message supporting the Democrat (who was not Big Labor’s pick, either). Scott Walker won handily; his 7% margin in the rematch was larger than in 2010. Talk radio hosts pointed out that President Obama was busy at fundraisers while ignoring the D-Day anniversary for the second year in a row.
Conservatives hailed this as a victory for freedom of association for public sector employees. It may embolden governors in other states to balance their budgets, but the longer term implications may be for educational choice. Wisconsin already has a successful voucher program in Milwaukee, and expanding it to other students may outlast any star power Governor Walker enjoys at the moment.
Selection and Frequency of Stories
CBS’ 60 Minutes was classic yellow journalism in the late 1970s; my roommate commented he wouldn’t even talk to those people unless he knew they were on his side. You look bad if you decline to be interviewed for the program, but there is not time to meet with every press outlet and still do your job. If they’re going to cut and paste the interview to make you look bad anyway, why bother?
The NPR program All Things Considered is notorious for selecting stories that evoke sympathy to promote a liberal point of view. Conservatives usually can find such a topic in every half hour program.
The frequency of articles on a certain topic is the most subtle and insidious. Editors decide if a topic is newsworthy and have large influence over public opinion with how long a story stays in the limelight.
The Internet makes it easy to link to past articles, so on-line viewers can be assaulted with past headlines in the margin each time a new story appears. With a newspaper each article stands on its own and is not linked to previous articles.
Even the way articles are written can be slanted. “His office did not return phone calls” sounds worse than “could not be reached for comment.”
NPR – A National Embarrassment
National Public Radio has thorough news coverage but is notorious for its story selection and the angle it approaches topics. It should be given its independence from government funding during these times when the U.S. government is overspending by 40%. This is a small part of the budget and will not solve our problems, but it is a start.
Like Planned Parenthood and other “charities” with controversial objectives, NPR could survive completely on its own with sponsoring companies and private donations from people who agree with its ideology. If we had a budget surplus, funding could be considered with oversight from people with all perspectives and veto power for controversial content that offends significant minorities. For now, NPR and Planned Parenthood should be given their freedom and defunded.
Most media people vote Democratic and hold liberal views, especially on social issues. Even when they try to be objective it is not possible.
A suggestion for discerning voters: spend some time listening to conservative talk radio or Fox News if you lean left in your views, or the mainstream media if you lean right. It may not change your opinion, but at least you will better understand how other people think and that they have reasonable opinions too.
Finally, don’t be deceived into thinking that you’re swimming in a neutral soup. There is no such thing.