|November 18, 2004|
Cut on the Media Bias
A local club recently held a forum titled "Media Bias Are Important Public Choices Being Ignored?" with four current and former local journalists. The current journalists agreed that the reporting done by local media well, at least their media was just fine, thank you. Perhaps the alternative weekly, with its "troubling" progressive advocacy journalism, wasn't fine, but hey, they weren't even represented on the panel, so why think about them so much? (Perhaps, just perhaps, it's advocacy journalism to paint everything an alternative weekly does as advocacy journalism? Just asking.)
Are public media choices being ignored? How are things going in your local media? And in the national media, for that matter?
A former PBS journalist, now an activist for civil liberties, got a little time to speak. She spoke about the "narrow channel" of views that are reported in mainstream media, the large amount of relevant detail or analysis that's left unsaid, and the retreat into black/white, "he said, she said" journalism that is now the trademark of the corporate press. These qualities were evident in some of the panelists' subsequent responses.
Apparently no critique or exploration of modern journalism relates to one of the local network affiliates or their representative reporter's practice of journalism. Unlike the rest of us, there's nothing to be improved or scrutinized, except with praise, in their work. The reporter said she is "always striving to be fair", is "nice to everyone", undoubtedly a primary tenet of the Fourth Estate, and her point of view "makes no difference" in her reporting, an especially remarkable feat.
Believing that one's point of view makes no difference in one's reporting is, I believe, a significant point of view.
She says she's called the "Barbara Walters" of her station, because she "can get anyone to talk to her." These things seem to constitute "fairness" to this reporter. No matter that many of the things people have talked to her, or Barbara Walters, about have little or no relevance to what's really happening in this country or this county. She's unwilling to entertain the notion that perhaps her choices are not our choices. How does one discuss differences with this sort of reportorial mindset? Inquiring minds want to know.
It's not her fault if depth is lacking in her stories, because in television there's "no time". So don't blame her if you're unsatisfied by her reportage she, like the Bush administration, is not open to questioning. It's not a reassuring quality in leadership or journalism.
This sort of apologia, bristling with defensiveness when no attack has been launched, is not a pretty sight. It was compounded when the same reporter responded to a question about the extreme consolidation of media and media power that has occurred in the last 25 years in this country, all with your government's blessing.
The reporter is unconcerned
about the collapsing of points of view into those of only six media
giants some of whom, unlike her,
cannot be counted on to be very nice, or curiously investigative into
anything that might upset their financial or political apple carts.
Did anyone see the mainstream broadcast
of "The Reagans"?
The in-depth on the peace movement? The coverage of Dennis Kucinich's
presidential campaign? Of the coffins and the wounded returning from
Iraq? Dan Rather admitted to the BBC, which he knew wouldn't receive
coverage in the US, that all American media are compromised by their
fear of a retaliatory government. Likened it to "necklacing" with
a lit gasoline-soaked tire.
This sort of disingenuousness, or even worse, lack of awareness of what's going on in the media, does not lend itself to a deep trust in the media source. Marshall McLuhan observed that "all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values." Does anyone know what's really going on in Iraq today, and why? Or even in their own City Hall?
Speaking of investigations, an editor of the local paper felt that the future of investigative reporting is "bright", and that all reporting is essentially investigative. He pointed in comparison to the "stenography journalism" of thirty years ago. But this belies the fact that we haven't had any national investigative journalism since Woodward and Bernstein uncovered Watergate - thirty years ago.
The editor likened investigative reporting to digging up the "red meat" of "scandal" "editors love scandals", he joked. But good investigative reporting is much more than scandal, much more than the latest on Scott and Lacey Peterson. It's rational, in-depth reports on issues that matter to our lives, like what's happening to our environment, what's happening to our civil liberties, what's happened to our democracy and our elections. Reporters are being "pulled back" from this sort of journalism now. Not only is there no time - there's no money. There's no bottom line, no net-net in it.
The editor of the university newspaper said some wise things, like "objectivity is subjective, and not obtainable." That's what I learned in journalism school, too. One's point of view colors everything true for all of us, journalist or otherwise.
That's why it's important for a reporter, a network, a newspaper, a TV or radio station to be stringently aware of and honest, at least to themselves, about their point of view. They get to be willing to speak about it and answer direct questions transparently, rather than protesting that it doesn't matter. That's part of what makes public choice possible, rather than ignored by private interests who hold the power, and the point of view, close to their chests.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Dianne Lobes, Ed.D., is a writer and the community networker for Helios Resource Network (www.heliosnetwork.org), a communications major, and a lifelong media buff.
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