Years ago (decades actually, but who’s counting) I was majoring in Mass Communications at Arizona State University. Several of the classes leading to that degree were of the journalism variety and one of the first things they taught us was that reporting the news required impartiality. (Are you listening, Faux Noise?………….Probably not!)
I remember hearing “A good reporter knows there are two sides to every story and tracks down both of them”.
Sounds great! Give the public both sides so that they can decide for themselves. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t even work in an “ideal world”, let alone the one we’re stuck with.
Let’s talk about “journalistic impartiality” as it exists in the “Tame-Stream Media”.
That’s “Tame-Stream Media“, not “Lame-Stream Media”. When Sister Sarah and her ilk use the term “Lame-Stream Media”, it’s usually in response to getting caught in another lie. That is, when someone actually has the guts to call them on it. Which brings us back to “Tame-Stream Media”.
To explain what I’m talking about, let’s start by examining a term that gets bandied about quite a bit (usually by wingnuts of the far right): “The Liberal Media“. This is a term that’s a prime example of “Orwellian double-speak” (You have read 1984, haven’t you?) It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sadly ironic.
The liberal media, other than a few outposts such as “The Nation”, the recently departed Current TV, some minor league alternative newspapers, and a few commentators here and there, doesn’t much exist. Practically all major media: broadcast and print, is owned by very large corporations with executives that tend to be pro-business (Surprise! Surprise!) and pretty conservative. And yes, that includes MSNBC! (Which explains a lot of the goings-on lately).
The New York Times’ masthead logo is “All the news that’s fit to print”, but that goes back to 1896. A more proper logo for most modern media is “Don’t rock the boat”! Besides the aforementioned corporate management, there are also advertisers to be considered.
Let me rephrase that a little more sharply: There is also advertising MONEY to be considered. If you expose Sarge’s Auto Service for using sub-standard auto parts and charging for brand names; or you get too aggressive after B-Pee kills a couple thousand square miles of sea life – well, they’re just not going to spend their bucks with your portion of the media, are they?
And, big media needs lots of bucks. All that gear and all that talent(?) and all those executive salaries don’t come cheap! So, best not to get too ambitious unless you are absolutely forced to. In other words, “Don’t rock the boat!” Distract the populi with garbage like the Casey Anthony trial or whatever part of her anatomy Britney exposed this time.
Then we come to reporters…………….
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t conscientious reporters out there. Hell! I was one of them critters many years past. Unfortunately, there are far too many that are either too time pressed or too lazy to do the job correctly.
Let me give you a quick example: A few years ago, I was working with a neighborhood poverty group that was part of a larger city-wide umbrella group (PMSC). Part of my job description required me to be involved a bit with PMSC.
A controversy came up in PMSC and the Feds came in to check out the situation. I spent my days working with my group, PMSC and the Feds. When I would go home at night and turn on the local “news”, what was reported had nothing at all to do with what was going on. The TV reporters would come to meetings, stay a few minutes, interview the loudest complainers (sane or not) and then leave before the meeting concluded.
Comprehending and explaining the situation required time and hard work. Interviewing a nut-case made for good video. Guess which one won out.
Speaking of local stations, almost all (if not all) of them are consultant driven as oppose to news driven. You know the type: “If it bleeds, it leads”, every hair in place, perfect teeth, inane chatter between the “news” stories, pile of mediocrity. Lots of human-interest items and “soft” news. Nothing too complicated to where the viewer might actually have to think about it.
In fact, most news departments seem to have two mottos:
- “If it’s news to (our town)….it’s news to us”.
- “Don’t piss our advertisers off”!
Btw, Social Programs Are Funded To Fail, but that’s the title and topic of a whole ‘nother post I’m working on. (Hey, give me a break! I’ve only got two hands and a partially functioning brain and these things take time to research and write.)
Then there are the political reporters.
I have no doubt that a number of them are extremely competent and not at all like the type I described a couple of paragraphs back. However, let us take a look at a basic fact: Whether they cover local, state or national politics, success is built on access. Reporters spend their careers cultivating relationships with politicians. For that matter, politicians spend their careers cultivating relationships with reporters.
If the relationship clicks, the reporter gets lots of information. Information mostly of the “hurrah for me and/or my party” or “the other politician and/or party is an agent of evil” variety, but information nevertheless.
The politician, in return, gets a number of things. First and foremost he/she gets publicity. Not only publicity, but free publicity. not only free publicity, but self-directed, self glorifying free publicity. The very best kind! And, did I mention that it’s all free?
Reporters also come in handy for politicians in other ways. For instance, if a politician’s side is losing an argument legislatively, he can always leak “vital information” that just happens to bolster his particular side. That’s where a lot of those “unnamed sources” come from. Hedrick Smith, a world-class political reporter himself, describes the process with numerous examples in his book “The Power Game”.
Meanwhile, back to the reporter. In fact, for this exercise, you’re the reporter.
Here’s the situation: You’ve spent years developing a relationship with Senator Sam. It’s paid off numerous times when the “scoops” he gave you turned to be actual news. And, of course, you always made sure he came off well those times in which he wanted to be credited.
Then one day, you come across verified information that he regularly indulges in several activities he publicly condemns. It’s nothing really criminal (depending on which state it occurred in) but it does run contrary to the base that he’s built his career on.
His supporters, in this case, do have a right to know. But if you go with the story, you lose the relationship and a major source dries up, even if he wins the recall vote.
Do you go it or do you blow it?
You’re gonna go with it? Congratulations! You got guts, kid!
You write up (tape) the story and hand it to your editor (producer). He checks it out and since it’s “explosive” and about Senator Sam, he runs it up the ladder to the publisher (station manager).
Well, it just so happens that the newspaper’s (TV station’s) corporate owners have some business coming up with one of Senator Sam’s committees and the last thing they need is an irate senator asking embarrassing questions. So, maybe they’ll just let the story simmer for a bit. You know, just to see if anything else pops up.
Oh, and there’s this great opening at their Fargo N.D. paper (TV station) that you’d be just perfect for.
And then, of course, there are the “headline sluts” like Sister Sarah. (aka more populi distractions)
Most of the time when someone like her says jump, the media not only asks “How high?”, but also “Can I jump even higher?” Case in point: her little east coast political vacation stunt. She had the media jumping all over while she was publicly laughing at them for doing so.
And, when she brings up something like “Obama’s Death Panels” which were actually federally subsidized “end-of-life” conversations with doctors (something Republicans used to be in favor of), very few reporters called her on it. Of course, unless you’re a Faux Noise reporter, she probably wouldn’t talk to you. (Her Katie Couric interviews taught her that much anyway.)
Now, the unspoken (except Rodger Ailes did let it slip once) rational behind the coverage that she, and others like her, receive is that “SHE SELLS“! She sells more copies of the morning edition, the weekly news mag, the paparazzi publications, the talk shows.
She, and the others are “good for business”. Notice I didn’t say “good for the country” or “good for anyone at all”. Just good for the old bottom line. And, btw, “the old bottom line” is more of a conservative principle than a liberal one.
Oh, and on a side note – there really are “Death Panels”. They’re the private insurance committees that decide whether or not they will pay for life-preserving care.
So, what we have in the good old U.S.A. is a conservative corporate media structure that’s adverse to making waves (i.e. tattling on their money sources) and reporters whose careers (and salaries) depend on keeping a cozy relationship with the very people they’re supposed to be reporting on. And that’s just he regular media. Propaganda machines like the Murdock media empire (Fox News, NY Post, Wall Street Journal, etc.) are a whole breed all to themselves and really deserve a separate post.
With all this, the media still has to maintain the aura of impartiality and that’s where the “two sides to every story” angle comes in.
In many, many cases there really are two (or more) sides to a story, however in some cases there’s really only one side that’s actually based on fact.
What’s a poor “impartial” media outlet supposed to do in those situations?
In far too many cases, they simply seek out someone with an opposing viewpoint. Does it matter that the opposing viewpoint is based on misconceptions, distortions, outright lies, nit-picking and self-serving interests?
No. Not really. That just gets in the way of being “fair & balanced”.
There are several hot topics that fit in this category. The Theory of Evolution vs The Mythology of Creationism (aka Intelligent(?)Design) pops into mind, and I cover that in its own post. (Just a click away.)
For this post, I’ll use global climate change. Notice I didn’t say global warming. Whoever thought up that term ought to be left outside naked in a baseball sized hail storm. Yes, the overall global temperatures will rise, but not everywhere. It’s even possible that Europe may slip into an ice age.
OK, on one side of this story, we’ve got the consensus of the vast (and I mean VAST as in 97%) majority of climate scientists armed with observations, studies and measurements. And we have the evidence right in front of us if we pay attention.
I’ve lived in the Portland, Oregon metro area for going on 40 years. I can look out from my deck directly at Mt. Hood. In those 40 years, I’ve watched Mt. Hood’s glaciers shrink a lot!
And it isn’t just here. It’s Alaska, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
Plants and animals are migrating farther north (or south in the southern hemisphere) every year.
Summer begins just a wee bit earlier and lasts a wee bit longer almost every year. Long term weather patterns adjust and intensify. The American south, southwest and mid-west areas have been witness to that lately.
On the other side, we have individuals and groups that just might have a vested interest to protect. You know – like coal and oil companies, auto manufacturers, chemical companies. In fact, every industry that releases chemical emissions into the atmosphere, and of course, their paid-for scientists and politicians.
Speaking of politicians, there is also the type that see political as well as financial gain in claiming that it’s all a scientific and/or liberal hoax. A certain senator from Oklahoma comes to mind. And you know, I just realized that Oklahoma is an oil state. You don’t suppose…….
So anyway, here we have the two sides: One armed with verifiable facts, the other with unverifiable fiction.
Yes, media should examine both sides for veracity. However, media should not bestow a false equivalency to the two sides.
They do this by giving far too much air time or print space than the fictional side merits. Of course, the fact that most of these polluters just happen to be heavy advertisers has absolutely nothing to do with it. Or does it?
In their pursuit of “perceived impartiality”, saddled with vested interest conflicts, media has more or less abandoned objectivity and/or honesty.
Btw, there’s a lot more to be said about climate change and I will later. But, this post was supposed to be about media “impartiality” and I think I’ve at least scratched the surface on that one.
As always, your comments and criticisms are welcome. The intelligent ones will be responded to. The dumb ones will probably be ignored, mostly out of pity.