Media Bias and Other Fairytales

27 Jan

I have been paying attention to politics, and this to political reporting, since Nixon’s resignation. That whole time a debate has raged about Media Bias; whether it exists, and what might be done about it. I’m sick of it.

The very idea that UN-biased reporting is desirable, or even possible, is poisonous. It keeps us, as a people, from dealing with facts and has us chasing phantasms. Unbiased reporting would necessarily involve reporting all the facts associated with any story. That simply isn’t possible. There isn’t time to collect them. There isn’t time or space to report them to the public. And the public isn’t going to have time to digest them. You say there’s been a home invasion and murder over at 1426 West Elm Street? What brand of car did the murdered man drive, and what kind of tires did he have on it? What’s that, you say? That isn’t relevant? Well, that’s your opinion. Or, from another angle, your bias. ANY reported version of ANY story will involve the reporter, and then the editor, making hundreds of decisions about what facts to include. And that doesn’t even get into the decisions involved in picking which story to report.
In the heyday of American Newspapers, between the Civil War and World War Two, newspapers didn’t really try to hide their bias. Everyone who had the sense that God gave an inbred spaniel knew what those biases were, and either reveled in them or adjusted accordingly.
There is another myth about media bias; that there was a time when every major town had at least two papers, each one trumpeting the line of one of the two major parties, and that this changed as the markets would no longer support more than one paper. Most cities of any size did have at least two papers, that much is true. But reading H. L. Mencken’s accounts of his days as a newspaperman reveals the truth of the matter; most towns didn’t support two profitable papers. For the most part (and there were exceptions, like New York City) a city would have one profitable paper. It would, usually, be the one that supported the party in power, and (not coincidently) also the paper that got the government printing contracts. There might be one or more other papers, but unless they were ‘immigrant papers’ like the German Language papers of Mencken’s Baltimore, they lost money and were supported by men with political ambitions.
And that’s is the key to the present situation. The modern media is said to self-report as 79% Liberal. I have problems with that; for one thing, like the mythical surge in wife-beating said to happen on Superbowl Sunday, the number gets quoted a lot, but I’m by no means sure of where it comes from. For another, it sounds low. The idea that reporting could be un-biased is very handy to Liberal reporters and editors who don’t want to be troubled by an opposition paper telling the other side of things. Any other side of things. They may even believe that the reporting they do is un-biased. They don’t, frankly, strike me as particularly bright.
I have been listening to the political Right and the Libertarians (and, for that matter, those far enough to the Left to consider the New York Times to be Right Wing) whine about Media Bias for thirty five years. It’s high time they wised up and started buying newspapers, television stations, and so on, to get their own bias out to the public. Naturally the Established Media will complain bitterly about the Bias that such sources host, but the proper response isn’t getting defensive (as Fox News has tended to) but to laugh in their faces.
The Establishment Media is fighting a desperate rear-guard fight against losing their preeminent position. They are attacking the new distributed media – the blogs and other aspects of the internet – as not legitimate. And they are desperately hanging onto the idea that Media can be unbiased, and that they are unbiased. Because without that illusion they would have to admit that they are just one point of view; not The Anointed Truth. And then they might actually have to get down off their collective high horse and have a fair scrap with the rest of us.
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