Media bias is a topic almost everyone seems to have an opinion on, particularly when high profile examples occur, such as the New York Times’s refusal to run John McCain’s editorial this week. Many people will get quite upset about big media’s “bias,” yet depending on a person’s political orientation, the alleged bias will typically land on the opposite side of the spectrum. For those on the same side of the spectrum, the typical response is a thorough scratching of the head and a response of, “Bias? What bias?”
If one observes this trend for a bit, it becomes clear that many of the complaints railing against bias in the media are not really concerns about bias at all. Instead, they are railings against the “wrong” bias. Yet, surely the fact that a particular media outlet or columnist supports my viewpoint should not mean they deserve a free pass to grind whatever axe interests them!
When the New York Times seems to take a tabloid quality stab at Sen. McCain’s character, as it did earlier in the year, or surprisingly rejects his editorial submission – those things should upset liberals as much as conservatives. Likewise, if Fox News is polishing up the conditions in Iraq to make things look better, conservatives should be on the front lines bemoaning that.
The interest of every truly fair-minded individual is not to hear the news the way he or she wants it to be, but to hear it the way it is. Demanding a truly “fair and balanced” media is a major key to successful stewardship of democracy. If things are going wrong, the last thing that one should desire is to be fed news from the American equivalent of the “information minister” of the old Iraqi regime, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf.
Unfortunately, the facts often get trampled in the name of providing what people want to hear because big media has become big business. News magazines on television have more to do with entertaining a populace not wont to engaging in critical thinking than informing the people who choose the elected leaders of our country. And we like it like that. Part of entertaining people is to tell them what they want to hear, or what the editors think the people want to hear, lest we ruin a perfectly entertaining show with something that shatters their views. Such a travesty might ruin their dinner – or, worse, cause their brains to shift out of neutral.
As hard as it is to reject the home team, the only way for this sort of problem to stop is for people to loudly and clearly assert that no bias is or should be considered acceptable – not even their own. If consumers of media actually did this, real reform would become possible and the Fourth Estate would again perform a valuable service.
With the advent of the information age, this becomes even more crucial than imaginable before. Today we have thousands of choices for news – the newspaper, dozens of local, national and international news programs on broadcast and cable TV, news web sites, and, of course, blogs, podcasts and vlogs. The electronic forms, especially, provide a vast wealth of information quickly, but all too often are mere soapboxes for activists of one stripe or another.
Never before has there been a time when the news could be tailored so easily and so well to fit our own preconceived notions. This is a serious blockade to any hopes for an informed electorate. Kings losing their kingdoms over hearing no one but the sycophants is the material of the historical tragedian. Let us hope a people losing its democracy for similar reasons does not provide the same sort of fodder in the years to come.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business.
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