Robert Meyer
March 16, 2017
Mainstream media isn't just biased, it's partisan
By Robert Meyer

President Donald Trump's handling of the media makes him appear less than "presidential" Yet, ironically, his approach is exactly what's needed to counteract the prominence of advocacy journalism. The way Trump is vilified only leads to the conclusion that the media is unofficially, but completely partisan.

"Advocacy journalism" is reporting the news in way that either facilitates desired outcomes, or expresses a personal agenda. Many people will suggest that all journalism is advocacy by nature since you can't easily separate the message from the messenger.

Several years ago while waiting in a doctor's office, a man asked if I wanted to read the newspaper he had. I told him I was only interested in the editorial section. At that point he said "Well in that case you'll be wanting the whole paper." He had made a point that I had difficulty disagreeing with.

In a sense his observation is true, but the real issue is whether that advocacy tends to be monolithic or more diverse. Is the public getting a single note drone? One might consider that before the advent of Fox News there was scarce television reporting representative of the conservative viewpoint. It isn't a question of whether news reporting is, or should be perfectly objective, but whether the mainstream media represents diverse viewpoints.

Some people tend to dismiss this sort of observation the same way they do when the issue is judicial activism. According to them the issue is inordinately exaggerated by folks prone to conspiracy theory gullibility. Progressives suggest that decisions rendered by Originalist judges are just 'conservative judicial activism,' as if there was no way to interpret the Constitution in a more diligent and circumspect manner than an other methodology. They view media reporting the same way. But one need not be perfectly unbiased to present an even-handed production and reporting of news stories.

Decades ago, many with a conservative perspective could see the covert news bias bending in a liberal direction. Lately it has become so blatant that even politically disengaged people have little problem discerning the slant. The question of being outraged depends on whether you agree or disagree with the perspectives.

One person I encountered suggested that there was certainly media bias, but since all media outlets are corporate subsidiaries, the media slant is always prone to be pro-capitalist .Obviosly Orwellian thinking is alive and well. That observation reminds of the woman who once told me that the right to an abortion was a 'moral right.'

Consider the newly graduated journalism student who gleefully announces "I'm becoming a reporter because I want to change the world." While such a statement is apropos for a relief worker or missionary, it should arrest our concerns, since the only way news reporting can "change the world" is to influence opinions based on how news is presented to the public.

There are various techniques for altering public opinion which don't include outright falsity. First are the assumptions imbedded in statements, or wording used in asking important questions. This methodology is often used in opinion polls to shape public perception. Because people have become more wary, they are reluctant to give truthful answers to poll questions, which skew survey results.

Secondly, the decision to determine what stories or issues actually qualify as news. Somebody has to make those calls based on what they want or don't want to reach the public.

Lastly, the placement a story gets in publications is important. Does an article appear on the front page, or is it buried in an obscure location of a news publication? Does the headline on the story accurately reflect the actual content of the piece?

Though media is accorded an exalted constitutional status, the public must be a vigilant watchdog of the media.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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