A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
This week, Vivian Schiller, the head of NPR (National Public Radio) resigned. This was immediately after Ron Schiller (no relation) a worker bee at NPR was caught on tape telling a couple of reporters — disguised as members of a fictitious Moslem organization — that the Republican Party had been hijacked by the Tea Party movement. He went on to say that the Tea Party membership were “sort of white, middle America, gun-toting …. seriously racist, racist people.” Not satisfied with that, he intimated that most Americans were “uneducated” bumpkins. (This isn’t exactly the way it happened, but it’s close enough.) You can see the actual tape, if you want. It’s all over YouTube.
This whole series of events fanned the flames under the ever-popular accusation that the media has a leftwing bias. I’m going to lay this controversy to rest right now. It does. However, to be fair, it also has a rightwing bias. It all depends on who you’re listening to this afternoon. The fact is the media is slanted. There is no such thing as fair reporting. Journalists and editors construct news stories in such a way as to elicit a preconceived response from you the public. This bias is in every news source from the mega circulation New York Times, CNN and Fox right down to the smallest community radio station and alternative newspaper. Anybody who tells you anything different is either very young, delusional or lying.
Every news agency — from Al Jazeera to The Jacksonville Bugle — makes a big show of being committed to fair and balanced reporting. They all say, “We don’t make the news; we just report it.” This is crap.
First of all, news agencies decide which stories they’re going to cover and which get a miss. For example, as Gaddafi battles for his place in the sand have you heard anything about the economic trouble in Greece or Ireland lately? I doubt very much that either one of them has gotten its financial house in order and is currently living happily ever after. So — where did they go? No, reporters don’t make the news; that’s true. But they do pick and choose. This is not a nefarious plot to deceive the public. It’s just trying to cram 24 hours’ worth of unholy mayhem into two-and-a-half written columns or Top of Hour headlines (complete with traffic, sports and weather.) There just isn’t enough time. So editors and reporters decide — in advance — what they’re going to tell you.
Next, somebody has to write the story. Regardless of how it’s presented, somebody’s got to pound out the words. Any journalist will tell you that every news story consists of Who, What, Where, When and Why. Obviously, Who, What, Where and When are easy — a German Shepherd with a thumb can figure those ones out. The real problem for journalists is Why, because without Why, you don’t have a story. The unfortunate thing about Why is it’s endless. You can connect Colonel Gaddafi’s current problems back to Cleopatra and the Ptolemy Dynasty — if you have enough time. But there’s the rub. Ordinary news stories are about six minutes long, at best. But there is no way in hell anybody can explain the situation in Libya in less time than it takes to make Kraft Dinner. Even Bill Shakespeare couldn’t do it. Journalists, therefore, pick a side and turn Why into blame. If you’ll notice, in most social or political news stories, somebody always ends up wearing the black hat. It’s just easier that way — especially when you’re working to a deadline. And all news comes with a deadline.
Finally, journalism is a tough job, and most journalists simply aren’t up to the task. They have little or no experience outside the media, and they don’t have any particular expertise. It’s interesting to note that when the CNN crowd appeared on the Celebrity Jeopardy Invitational, they all lost. What kind of credibility is that when you get your intellectual ass kicked by the guy who played “Lenny” on Laverne and Shirley? Furthermore, it’s difficult to explain to the general public what’s going on in complicated places like Libya, for example, when you have no idea yourself. It’s quite a bit easier to trot out Gaddafi — looking like a lunatic — and then cut the camera to jet trails and explosions. Nobody (outside of the nutbars at Fox) has actually come right out and said Gaddafi’s a maniac, but everybody gets the idea.
Most journalists work on this same principle. They have no background on the subject they’re covering, so they bring their opinion to the story, instead. It’s quick and easy. The unfortunate thing is then they have to manipulate the story to support their original opinion; whereas, in fact, it such be the other way around – the story should dictate the opinion. For example, Dan Rather believed George W. Bush was a bad president, so when evidence showed up to support his belief, he didn’t bother to check it. He rushed it through to the six o’clock deadline. It was a bad mistake.
So how do we escape the media bias? We don’t. There is only one way to avoid being swept along the path of least resistance that most journalists take. We have to start listening to the people we don’t agree with — even those fools at Fox. If we don’t, we’re just as bad as they are. For example, I don’t think Ron Schiller, the guy who started this storm, ever stepped outside his comfort zone in his life. Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t have become such a bigot.