12/19/2007

On Media Bias: Part II (The Nature of Media)

(Note: This post is a continuation of my initial post on media bias.)

Let me address the nature of the media in general:

The news media like to focus on change. News would be very boring if everything remained static, right? Imagine if the media started reporting how many people did not die on the roads this holiday season. Nobody would really care about that because it's not news. There's no "change" involved. But if 3 people died in an accident, that would be news.

Here's another example: Everybody remembers Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. But how many people remember what was happening in New Orleans prior to Katrina? Probably not many because there was nothing to report. There was no "change" that had compelled us to pay attention.

By definition, "conservative" means "does not change" or "changes slowly." This definition alone pits conservatism at odds with the media, which focus almost exclusively on change. A lack of change would sound the death knell for newspapers, internet sites, and television stations everywhere.

Consider this: After being panned for months, the surge in Iraq is now producing positive results. And the media are covering Iraq more favorably. A "change" happened--that is, the situation in Iraq changed from ominous to more hopeful. Earlier, conservatives commonly criticized the media for focusing so much attention on car bombings, Iraqi civilian casualties, and dead American soldiers than on the rebuilding of schools, distributing toys to children, and repairing the country's infrastructure. Do you hear these conservatives complaining about "liberal media bias" now?

Changes in mass communication and Republicans' political success have also given rise to increased media scrutiny, which is often misidentified as media bias.

Regarding political successes, Republicans have won five of the last seven presidential elections and will have held the White House for 28 of the last 40 years by the election next fall. Republicans also controlled Congress from 1994 until 2006. And with the exception of a brief period in the Senate thanks to party-switching former Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Republicans controlled the Senate for six of President Bush's first seven years in office.

Since Republicans controlled all the levers of power in Washington for so long, it would naturally follow that Republicans made the most news. The media fulfilled their responsibilities to the public by reporting on these politicians' activities and scrutinizing them through interviews, extended pieces, fact-checking, and so on. Since Republicans had all the power, they should have received most of the scrutiny. Why would the media invest so much time in criticizing Democrats who had so little power and often had so little input regarding the bills that made it out of Congress? And if the media aren't allowed to provide negative coverage of political activities and legislation, then what's the point in even having political opposition or checks and balances? Or are we supposed to take these politicians at their word?

Now that Democrats control Congress, it is clear that the media have been tough on them as well once the initial honeymoon ended at the start of the year. Whenever Congress passes another funding bill for Iraq, the media report on how the Democrats "caved in and gave Bush what he wanted." The media have criticized the Democrats for acting like a weak opposition party for not holding members of the Bush administration accountable, not standing up to Bush, passing fiscally irresponsible bills laden with earmarks, and not following through on their campaign promises to enact sweeping ethical reforms.

So what about changes in mass media?

When Bill Clinton was president, the media dutifully reported his problems with Whitewater, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky, just as the media dutifully reported Reagan's problems with Iran-Contra and the amnesty bill he signed.

However, and this is very important, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were president before media demassification and new media became so influential. CNN was the only game in town for cable news throughout the 1980s and about half of the 90s. MSNBC and Fox News did not exist. Blogs did not exist. The internet was not the internet. And if you had said "YouTube" fifteen years ago, people would have thought you were talking to your television set. Most people still relied on traditional newscasts to find out what was happening in the world and on the campaign trail.

But 2007 is very different from 1987 or, even 1997. Media demassification has led to politics-only news sources, such as The Politico and Real Clear Politics. There are also influential blogs (Daily Kos, Red State), opinion shaping bloggers (Michelle Malkin, Arianna Huffington) and talk radio programs (Rush Limbaugh, Air America) that keep the heat on politicians of all persuasions. More media outlets mean more scrutiny, and politicians had better get used to it.

It seems that people who cry the most about media bias often don't seem to do so until it happens to their candidate or a member of their political party. And until that happens, these people seem content with gleefully sitting back and letting the media go after their opponents with their "hard hitting questions" and "tough interviews."

But this is not media bias, nor is it hardball journalism. More often than not, it's simply partisanship.

1 comment(s):

Thomas said...

I never hear conservatives say that Maureen Dowd won her Pulitzer Prize for lambasting Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Conservatives also criticize the New York Times for "always" being against the war in Iraq. Yet Dick Cheney quoted Judith Miller's reporting on WMDs back before the war started.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.