Thursday, June 17, 2004

Media Bias?

As someone who has been on both sides of the political aisle, I have heard the allegations of media bias from every angle. For years, the Right has alleged a pervasive media bias against conservatives. And, there is data (too lazy to look it up right now) that shows the vast majority of the media self identify as Democrats. However, recent years have brought more and more allegations of bias from the Left, who see the media as nothing more than a lap dog to the GOP, failing to ask the tough questions.

I would have to say that there is probably a kernel of truth in each side's argument. I do sense a certain hostility among media elite to "traditional values" as defined by the Right. But I have also seen the media roll over and play dead in the face of Republican policy proposals.

However, I would stop short of the bias allegation. If anything, what it reveals is the media's laziness. It is laziness that allows the party with the best spin to succeed in each news cycle. It is intellectual laziness that allows one's own beliefs to permeate purported hard news stories. As someone who has interacted with the media, both as an elected official and as a consultant, I have seen first hand how the media operate and how easy it can be to manipulate.

I am not sure if this can be chalked up to the type of people who are attracted to the field as a career or lack of training or something else entirely. But I would tend towards, at least in part, an explanation of lack of knowledge about subject matter. Aside from some specialized journalists, most folks in the media do not know much about what they cover. They have degrees in journalism or broadcast or english, not economics or political science or biology. It is similar to the old model of teaching, where prospective teachers had a degree in education, but very little training in substantive disciplines.

Perhaps the pushback argument is that we want people who have no particular or specialized knowledge because the audience they write for also does not, by and large, have that knowledge. And we would want to avoid highly technical, wonkish reporting that readers or viewers would not comprehend. But I think this is a cop out. A good reporter, journalist or broadcaster ought to be able to take the highly technical and make it come alive to the average person (cf. Linda Greenhouse's reporting on the Supreme Court). However, most of today's media are completely unable to fulfill this task and instead fall back on spin produced "news" and their own biases.


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