The press was with the founders when they were still colonies and they well knew the power that newspapers, leaflets and books to influence the thoughts and culture of the day, and they used it to fight the repression from the crown and ultimately convince most in America that they would be much better off as citizens than subjects. The founders felt so strongly about a free press that the First Amendment specifically forbade any law “abridging the freedom…of the press.” Benjamin Franklin even printed a newspaper in Philadelphia in the mid-18th century.
A quarter of a millennium later, the press is part of a vastly larger landscape known as “the media”. And of course, the media comprises everything from big conglomerates to cheeto eating bloggers in their mom’s basement. Many bloggers will admit to having a conservative or progressive point of view. Breitbart, The Drudge Report, TheBlaze and others are unabashedly conservative, Media Matters, Salon and the Huffington Post spread across the left with everything from a lean to being unabashed socialist. But what about the “mainstream media”? That’s were it gets spikey.
Of the major outlets, conservatives say that the Washington Post, LA Times, New York Times, NBC, CBS and the others lean left. Those on the left often say that these organizations report fairly but that Fox News falls over itself to be on the conservative side. So who’s right? To one degree or another, they both are. According to Wikipedia, a Roper poll in 1964 found that 71% of those polled believed that the media was fair. In 1972 72% of those questioned believed Walter Cronkite. Do people still believe the media? Not so much.
A 2013 Gallup poll indicated that 55% of those polled have little or no trust in the “mass media”. While that’s down from the 60% with negative views in 2012, the trend has been upward since 1997 when only 46% held a negative view. The same survey asserts that 46% think the media is too liberal while 37% think it’s about right and 13% see it as too conservative. In 2011, US News and World Report reviewed the book Left Turn by UCLA political science professor Tim Groseclose included a rating of key news outlets on a scale of 0 to 100 with 0 being far right and 100 being on the left end. The New York Times and the CBS Evening News were regarded as farthest left and the Washington Times was most to the right. But that’s not proof. It’s perception.
There are so many examples of bias in media reports going back decades, including Ted Kennedy’s fatal accident in Chappaquiddick, the removal of Dan Rather and four others from CBS News for fabricating documents on George W. Bush’s time in the Texas National Guard to Brian Williams creating personal anecdotes from nothing more than his own imagination. The admittedly conservative site, WesternJournalism.com published a list of 50 acts of media bias from Walter Duranty’s support for the Josef Stalin to conflating Lyndon LaRouche supporters with the tea party. Is that list biased? And if so is it right or wrong? If the mass media is biased, and there’s an increasing mound of evidence that there is, then it is absolutely wrong. It violates nearly every aspect of good journalism which is fairly bringing forward all relevant sides of a story supported by the who, what, where, when and why. This is hard to do in a few column inches or 90 seconds of air time. As such, the bias in media is systemic.
Also contributing to media bias is the editorial decision on what stories to cover and what stories to not cover. A short post on MediaBias.com pointed out that NBC spent five minutes talking about bigfoot on the Today show while, in the same news cycle, a federal judge overturned the Chicago gun ban as unconstitutional. NBC never mentioned that story.
Unpacking Bias: An Example
The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2011 that California’s Sonoma State University had been delivering reports on what stories had been under or unreported every year for the past 35 years.Clicking through to ProjectCensored.org reveals that their number one under-reported story in 2014 was the acidification of the world’s oceans because they are absorbing increasing levels of atmospheric carbon-dioxide. The story cites only three references, articles on SeattleTimes.com, ScienceMag.org and MotherJones.com. Clicking through to those reports it’s revealed that the Science Magazine report cites no sources and Mother Jones provides a dead link to a single source, which translates to no sources. To the contrary, the Seattle Times report was littered with dozens links to government agencies, several scientific magazine sites, including Science Magazine, and to some of its own prior reports.
So, what does that mean for the Project Censored report? It means it was based upon two sources with no externally available references and one with extensive references although some of the links had no references and the majority of Science Magazine references were behind a pay wall. What all this does is make the conclusions suspect. Not necessary wrong or misleading, but suspect. When writing on scientific topics it is critical to have credible references to scientific data source, even if the author has a doctorate in the topic being written about. They also should be recent studies because the world of science constantly tests its own theories and sometimes rejects what was previously widely accepted. An example of this is that an increasing number of scientists are abandoning the “Big Bang” theory as the origin of the universe with some moving closer to the previously rejected “Steady State” view. A few of the many reports are here, here, here and here.
There’s a saying, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” A click on Project Censored’s partner section returned a link to CensoredNews.org where at the top of the page listed what they called, “Independent News Sources” which is odd because a few clicks revealed around some of the sites revealed almost nothing but bias, some of which can be quickly described.
A self described “Centre for Research on Globalization” that promotes pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, social justice and other socialist agendas. One article takes sides against both Kiev and D. C on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Originally known as Russia Today, it is a site and cable television network owned by the Russian government.
Begun as the Manchester Guardian in 1821 in the United Kingdom, it has broken stories before many US outlets most notably the Edward Snowden data breach.
Owned by the government of Qatar.
News outlet controlled by Cuba’s communist government.
As has been said before, “Follow the money.” Where the money leads to a government, outlets are usually spin machines to make a government look good. Where the money leads to organizations with agendas, news is usually bent to support the said agenda. Where the money leads to a capitalist entity, like The Guardian, there likelihood of unbiased reporting increases, it is in no way a guarantee.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines corporatism as, “the organization of a society into industrial and professional corporations serving as organs of political representation and exercising control over persons and activities within their jurisdiction.” Not the easiest phraseology to get one’s head around. User-contributor site UrbanDictionary.com makes it easier saying that it is, “A politico-economic system in which most power is held by large corporations, often mistakenly called capitalism.”
Much has been written about corporatism, particularly back when the “Occupy” protests were active, so rather than writing about it here, pieces from Forbes, DifferencesBetween.net and Examiner.com, a video from wn.com and a paper from Columbia University professor Edmund Phelps.
When it comes to the media, corporatism, and the symbiotic interaction that constantly exists between government and industry, plays a large but often hidden role. Business wants the government to do what they want and government wants business to do what they want
Arguments have been made that the mainstream media shows this administration and those on the left in a favorable light.
Reading only the editorials in the Wall Street Journal it would look as though it was a conservative paper. But read the news and some of the stories can wander into serious progressive territories.
Back in the 1960s it was widely acknowledged that the morning San Francisco Chronicle was the “republican’ paper and the evening Examiner was what democrats preferred even both were published by Hearst. It was like that then in cities big enough to have two papers.
Moving to television and radio, many claim to be impartial but Fox news shades to the right. What about the others? It gets interesting when knitting the ties the current administration has or had with the media. Former press secretary, Jay Carney has been married to ABC reporter Claire Shipman since 2008. An infographic on Pinterest and circling in the Twitterverse claim that Hillary Clinton’s former deputy secretary, Tom Nides is married to Virginia Moseley who is the president of CNN. Ben Rhodes, listed at WhiteHouse.gov as “Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting”. His brother, David, happens to run CBS. And Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who President Obama picked mid-2014 for Deputy Secretary of Energy, is a brother to Ben Sherwood who is at the helm at ABC. Where there’s smoke there may not be fire but it is helpful to keep a fire extinguisher handy.
It’s helpful also to know where politics fit into America. As it was in the founders’ time, politics is always downstream from culture, or more appropriate for these times, pop culture.