Archive for the ‘bias in media’ tag
I was going to write about something else tonight, namely Andrew Sullivan’s piece on torture appearing in this month’s The Atlantic magazine. I previously read most of it on The Atlantic’s Web site, but I got the hard copy version recently and took the time to re-read it. But I will save that for the next post.
I wanted to address a column by Matthew Cooper on The Atlantic’s Web site (I found the column in the process of looking for the online version of Sullivan’s piece, consequently). Cooper basically makes the case that Obama is not following through with his commitment to reach out to his enemies by snubbing FOX News when he “made the rounds” one recent Sunday on a number of TV news outfits. Coopers says that he
wouldn’t argue that Fox is “fair and balanced.” It’s a conservative news outlet, and to argue that it’s not is ludicrous. That said, there’s obviously a spectrum of bias ranging from the straight-style reporting of a Major Garrett at the White House to the rantings of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, and some anchors are more Foxy than others. I like it when Media Matters for America calls Fox on its bias, although it’s a little bit like calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for being anti-Israeli. — theatlantic.com, Oct. 20, 2009
The spectrum of bias (or, more accurately, a bias inside a full-scale bias) to which Cooper refers is true enough. At once, viewers find the traditional “news anchor” pretending to be “fair and balanced,” while, the clues to the contrary are all around (Here, I reference the documentary “Outfoxed“). At the other end, we find Beck and the maniacal, fear-mongering, nonsensical crew. True also, mediamatters.org isn’t much better; it just exists on the other-other spectrum. Maybe that should read: the other hemisphere.
Cooper goes on to say that for the Obama administration to ignore FOX News “seems small minded.” He then claims many Democrats and independents watch FOX News. I’m not sure about this statement. If Democrats watch it, it’s to find fodder for their blogs or other political discourse; if independents watch it, it’s probably because they’re inwardly Republicans or Libertarians. Or, more simply, those folks watch it to get a laugh or for the sheer entertainment value.
Nonetheless, I disagree that Obama should give it the time of day, however big its audience, which is another of Cooper’s arguments: that FOX News would offer a grand stage for Obama to, perhaps, reach some people he wouldn’t be able to otherwise. He claimed the “Obama charm” would work at FOX and said the president was “better off” for appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” last year.
Cooper then comes to this question:
As for reporters, are we enabling a bad animal by appearing on Fox?
He apparently answers “No.” I answer, “Yes.” His response to the question:
I’d appear on Fox and have many times. I’d do it again. It’s a big audience, and while there’s a range of bias, so what?
So what?!? There’s not just a range of bias (a range within the full-scale bias, as I said before). The station makes a mockery of both words, “fair” and “balanced.” To boycott such a mockery to journalism would be an understandable thing and would, at least, slow the downward progression of the fine institution. The continued agreement of “real” journalists and leaders to appear on the network fuels its fire. If journalists, government officials and advertisers who disagreed with the blatantly weighted approach of FOX News made a concerted effort to refuse to support it, the network would surely feel the effects, in the quality of its on-air product and in its revenue.
To answers Cooper’s final question: the “slippery slope” of boycotting the channel ends with the channel itself. We have no need to boycott The Simpsons or the NFL. Does anyone really think Rupert Murdoch cares one wit about what FOX News or any of his other interests are doing? There’s no need to feel the same way about FOX the major network or FOX Sports or any of the others. For Murdoch, as long as they are making money, it’s all gravy. FOX News, consequently, found a niche in the far right-wing demographic, and its running with the shtick to the detriment of journalism. The other FOX networks aren’t involved in this derailment. I can’t speak for Murdoch’s newspaper interests because I haven’t read them at length.
Another point: the idea that the Obama administration would somehow make inroads with the FOX News viewership is silly. Cooper says:
Wouldn’t the White House be better off flooding Fox with its opinion rather than engaging in a fight with news outlet?
No. Obama isn’t going to gain anything by going into that crossfire. Folks don’t watch FOX News to have their cages rattled or their opinions questioned. They watch it to have their views validated. The typical FOX News viewer is an inert, immovable object politically, hanging on the edge of her recliner, clinging to Beck’s or O’Reilly’s every utterance. They question nothing and let others think for them.
Finally, Cooper states,
If the White House can reach out to the Iranians and North Koreans, for gosh sakes, they can talk to Shepard Smith.
No they can’t because Shepard Smith and the gang, in their FOX News cocoon are doing their best, sometimes without even knowing it, to destroy journalism, and we should not support or accept it.
With major newspapers struggling to stay afloat these days, I thought it might be interesting to briefly take a look at a specific segment of the media: that of sports journalism, and attempt to figure how that branch of journalism is faring and the implications on the craft in general.
I was listening recently to the radio interview of an ACC Sports Journal writer, who mentioned that one reporter, previously working as the beat writer for an ACC school at an independent newspaper, had recently taken a position to be the official “vessel,” as it were, for that school’s football coverage. I wish I could remember the reporter’s name who took the position. I think it was for Virginia Tech. The fellow interviewed on the radio was making the case, I would say quite ably, that the face of sports journalism was changing toward more, not less, bias. That’s to say that, while you still have independent media organizations covering college and pro sports, you also have many schools (and, obviously, professional ball clubs now hiring reporters, i.e. Zach Eisendrath with the Denver Broncos) to come on staff and be the “official” voice of the Hokies, Cavaliers, Broncos or whatever. The person interviewed said this practice, in ways, presented challenges to independent news organizations because, while the independents fish for information, colleges or professional clubs have their “inside men” (my quote) who, at times, have unrestricted access to practices, the locker rooms and have no trouble getting news because they are employed by the school or ball club. Thus, the news we have coming out of those ball clubs, at least from the “filtered” reporters, is largely positive, at least upbeat, and never scandalous, is a far cry from the scrutiny to which these clubs should be subjected.
Ball clubs and colleges are well within their rights to hire journalists to attempt to “control the message,” as it were, and journalists are well within their rights to seek greener pastures. As the person interviewed from the ACC Sports Journal said, some consumers care about the distinction between beat reporters employed by the teams and writers from independent sources and some consumers don’t. But there is an important distinction, and it creates the issue of bias regarding the out-feeding of sports news that comes out each day. That’s why seeking information from multiple sources is important to getting the truth of what is really happening. While there is much truth coming out of denverbroncos.com on rote football topics like who’s impressing coaches in practice or which quarterback is likely to get the starting position, other topics get more complicated. For instance, how the official Broncos Web site handled coach Mike Shanahan’s ouster after the lackluster 8-8 season in 2008. I attempted to find old articles from the official site about the story, but came up empty.
The four major U.S. sports now have their own cable channels and Web sites and contracts with television networks. All major colleges have communications departments, which issue press releases with their “messages” via their Web sites or hard copy releases.
Some major newspapers also cast a suspicious shadow over their sports writing with their various interests in sports teams:
Several prominent teams are still owned by media companies; Cablevision owns the Knicks and Rangers, The New York Times owns nearly 18 percent of the Red Sox, and the Tribune Company, pending a sale, still owns the Cubs. The relationship between teams and the sources covering them has unsurprisingly led to suspicions of bias. — “Examining the Future of Sports Media,” July 2, 2009
It’s a fair question to ask, as this story does, “What happens when the people we cover start to control the news?”
This makes the idea of independent journalism all that more important, and quite unfortunately, as big newspapers continue to struggle, less and less space is available for that coverage. This is compounded by the fact that newspapers are still the best source for detailed news about topics of the day. Or, as The Times’ magazine article (linked above) puts it,
Newspapers remain the primary source of news-gathering in America. And unlike so many Internet “sites,” they are firmly grounded in a geographical place. To read a newspaper is to know what town you’re in.
We can know this to be the case when we find Sean Hannity (CNN is guilty of doing the same, wham-bam-style interviews and news pieces) and Christopher Hitchens debating God in a five-minute segment. Two hours of discussion could not do that particular topic justice, but such is the world of television and radio news. “Just give us the talking points and no details so we can all get on with our lives,” seems to be the rallying cry. Newspapers, and to some degree, magazines, depending on the publication, compel us to sit down and spend time with the news and with the issues facing us today. Newspapers in hard copy form will one day go the way of the dodo, but I think it’s important for us to recognize the service they provide in holding those in high places accountable for their actions with our tax dollars. It’s important, at least to me, as it should be for anyone who appreciates and loves information, that they continue as long as possible. Or, if not, at least their online counterparts. Sports journalism, perhaps, doesn’t hold the same immediate consequence as, say, government beat writing, but the trend toward closer relationships between sports teams and the organizations covering them is troubling, and it makes the work of The Associated Press and others more laudable. Here is a detailed study of four newspapers regarding bias compared to the AP.
It’s incongruous to me that the same company (Rupert Murdoch’s own tower of capitalism, News Corp.) that hosts The Simpsons, Family Guy and other gems of social commentary, also funds its flagship news channel, FOX News, which is simply awash with all things Republican, or at least, anti-leftism. This, by the way, would be A-OK, as long as lemons were called lemons and limes were called limes. But there at FOX News, “fair and balanced” is the calling card, yet over and over commentators have proven the coverage at that network to be something other than non-biased. So much so that there is no need to point readers to links here. It’s not an understatement that this network deserves none of our attention, unless you want to get good and angry and dissident about the state of the national media in America. Journalistic principals have long been tossed out the window, that is, if they were ever there to begin with. Once, journalism was a proud trade. Once, heck, even broadcast journalism was a noble field. Today, it seems as if we are, in some respects — and FOX News is taking us there quicker than many other outlets — returning to the 19th century version of newspapering that hinged around ideology rather than fact. On FOX’s inadequacies, Google any number of other examples for yourself.
Or, witness this video:
During a segment about how some were claiming the economy was sound, FOX News piped in a clip of Vice President Joe Biden (then Sen. Biden) saying, “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.” The problem is that Biden was not saying, speaking for himself, that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. He was relaying an earlier line from Sen. John McCain in order to speak against such a notion, and of course, to make a political point . See here: