April 18, 2013

The Sad State of the American Media

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It is my humble opinion (like all views expressed in this blog), that the state of the American independent media is stagnantly lackluster and alarmingly biased. I purposely qualify this statement with “my opinion,” because it seems that some readers have chosen to not differentiate between fact and opinion, even going so far as to take it upon themselves to create (and enforce) arbitrary guidelines on how to write an opinion blog post. I refer to my personal critic who, two weeks ago, so lovingly devoted a “response” article in my image, using my name 22 times, and our president’s name only 13 times. However, let us move on from such petty squabbles and address the current state of the media.

According to Gallup 2012, 60% of Americans have “little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, or fairly.” However, trust in the media is not uniform across the political spectrum; of those who have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the mass media, 58% identify as Democrats, 31% identify as Independents and 26% identify as Republicans. Similarly, in 2011, Gallup reported that 60% of Americans perceive bias in the media, with 47% of them stating it’s too liberal, 13% saying it is too conservative and the remaining 36% saying it’s “just about right.” It’s certainly difficult to quantify media bias, but it is apparent that most Americans do not trust their media. More importantly, it seems that liberals are more content with the media than conservatives and independents. Does this mean that the media definitely has a liberal bias? No, but these statistics do reveal that for some reason, conservatives are more likely to perceive an imbalance in the news and this should not be disregarded with the notion that reality “has a liberal bias.” Furthermore, the media has not made significant efforts to rectify the public’s dissatisfaction, as distrust in the reporting of the 2012 election was higher than in any election in recent years.

Perhaps this discontent is due to that fact that media bias is not simply “left-right” political bias, nor is it represented by partisan networks like Fox News or MSNBC. As S.E. Cupp (’00) detailed in her speech at Cornell on April 8, Fox News and MSNBC are very direct in their biases. There is no mistaking what you will receive if you tune in to either of these networks. However, networks or organizations that claim to be independent, such as CNN, hold structural biases that warp our reception of the news because we believe them to be neutral. And these biases are not simply political; they are based on several other factors, such as class, sex and religion.

While quantifying what is essentially unquantifiable is difficult, I can anecdotally say that many conservatives quickly see classist biases in the media that many liberals are comfortable with. For example, referring once more to S.E. Cupp’s presentation, in late 2011 Politico ran a headline that asked, “Is Rick Perry Dumb?” This appeal to the stereotype that Southerners are stupid is one that (in my opinion,) the American media is extremely comfortable with perpetuating. Deceptively innocent “questions” like this reinforce stereotypes by influencing us to have our very first question about a Southern politician concern whether or not they are too dumb to hold office. And perhaps these are the biases that many independents or conservatives see in the media, biases that are not attacks on the beliefs of these individuals, but who they fundamentally are.  It’s a “comfortable” bias, one that evokes humor, rather than discomfort or anger (at least, to those who are unaffected by it).

To those who may say this form of bias is insignificant, I pose these two questions: Would Politico have published the same question about an African American politician? And if they did, would it be as socially “comfortable” as the question posed to Rick Perry (Or Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, etc.)?

And yet, despite rising discontent, it seems the neutral press is not changing their course. It may take more obvious and frequent examples of bias to invoke a professional and ideological reevaluation. One instance of this is Barack Obama’s recent interview by Steven Kroft on 60 Minutes, the news-magazine show that “offers hard-hitting investigative reports.” This interview was widely criticized across the political spectrum as being shamelessly benign and supportive of the President, especially in a stark contrast to Kroft’s interviews of President Brush. As Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal commented, “The Kroft interview was truly scandalous example of the genre. It was so soft, so dazzled, so supportive, so embarrassing. It was that way from the beginning, when Mr. Kroft breathlessly noted, ‘The White House granted us 30 minutes.’ Granted.’ Like kings.”

In response to these criticisms, Kroft admitted his leniency on the president when he defended himself on CNN by saying, among other things, “I think [Obama] knows that we’re not going to play gotcha with him.” The best way to express this sad state of affairs is with the words from Commentary Magazine’s Peter Wehner, “This interview was symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: the unprecedented swooning and cheerleading by the press for Barack Obama.” It certainly was symptomatic, but not all hope should be lost. I believe that, slowly but surely, all Americans (not only conservatives) are beginning to see the ridiculous displays of unprofessional affection that the press gives to constantly support Barack Obama, and hopefully this will spur some reform. On this note, I should point out that my critic’s strangely personal response article (ironically) demonstrated this phenomenon (and vindicated my previous argument) by showing how members of the media will take it upon themselves to emotionally defend the president at the drop of a hat.

So clearly, there is something wrong with the press. While bias is not the only issue plaguing the news media, it is one that a majority of Americans perceive and take issue with. From implicit, systematic biases to overt displays of presidential love, the professional ethics of the neutral press must be held to a higher standard. We live in the information age, where any person can find news to reinforce their preconceived notions. What we need is an independent press that casts aside their own agendas and provides sources of truly neutral news.  They must acknowledge public’s discontent and make an effort to either give us nonpartisan reports and interviews or admit they are no longer unbiased. And while I hope that we can regain trust in the media, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’ve trained the next generation to accept this as the norm and I should get with the times.  Maybe I’m just ideological and delusional, looking into the past for something that can never exist again (or even existed in the first place). In the words of the Simpson’s Ned Flanders, maybe “I just wish we lived in a place more like the America of yesteryear that only exists in the brains of us Republicans.”

Original Author: Kyle Ezzedine