Where do you go for news? Do you rely on a single source? Do you read beyond the headlines? Do you take the time to explore beyond the sound bites? Do you take the time to fact check statements by politicians? Do you check the veracity of chain emails and posts on social media?
Most people realize that news media can be biased. But do you know the extent of media bias? Of the 152 Fox News Channel statements checked by Politifact.com, 118 (77%) were found to be half true, mostly false, false or pants on fire lies. And, of the 21 statements made by Rush Limbaugh, none were true. Most other conservative radio hosts fare no better. Yet these people represent more than 90 percent of talk radio.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to any but the most partisan among us.
And if you think the mainstream media are liberal, you’ve been listening to far too many conservatives. Studies have shown that an overwhelming majority of the guests invited to appear on the Sunday morning network news shows are conservative. Most newscasts and newspapers are no better. Even when the media try to be objective they fail. What passes for journalistic objectivity these days consists of presenting both the Teapublican and Democratic sides of an issue. There are seldom any follow-up questions. No attempt to provide context. No attempt to get at the truth.
In states like Arizona, the only way a Democrat can make headlines is if he or she gets caught doing something wrong. Yet the same media constantly cover and promote conservative initiatives and points of view. The same is true for stories about government entities, such as the VA or the EPA. The media love to portray the government as the enemy. As mentioned in a previous post, most media reported on the toxic spill in the Animas River. But few took the time or effort to find out the causes for the spill and to put it into context with regard to other environmental accidents. For most media, the fact that the spill was caused by a contractor working for the EPA – the agency that is supposed to protect the environment – was the story. The entire story.
You can see the same mentality at work with regard to the Hillary Clinton email “scandal.” Almost all of the media have led with the story. But how many have mentioned that Clinton did nothing illegal? How many have mentioned that when Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were Secretaries of State, they also used private email servers? How many have mentioned that the Bush White House funneled emails through the Republican National Committee’s email server, then deleted more than 20 million emails after they were requested by Congress to learn more about the outing of Valerie Plame and the run-up to the Iraq War?
You can also see conservative bias in the time and space devoted to coverage of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They have similar poll numbers. Yet, even though Bernie Sanders has drawn larger crowds, Sanders is largely ignored while Trump is constantly in the headlines. The problem is made worse by the news editors’ desire to promote ratings or readership. Donald Trump is a celebrity. Bernie Sanders is not.
And, as long as we’re on the subject of polls, never underestimate how the media can influence issues by the way they ask questions. For example, CNN recently asked half of its poll respondents if Congress should approve or reject the Iran deal. At the same time, CNN asked the other half how they felt about a deal that would place major restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and greater international inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities. CNN chose only to report the results to the first question which showed that a majority think Congress should reject the deal. It chose not to report the results to the second question which showed that the majority was in favor of the deal.
Only 6 companies now own the vast majority of television networks and cable or satellite carriers. 5 corporations control the majority of radio. 5 corporations control most large newspapers. And 5 corporations control a huge portion of online media. These corporations have one agenda – to make money. They demand higher ratings and greater numbers of subscribers. If it serves their interests to distort the news in order to increase those ratings, they’ll do it. And, these days, people want to hear from angry conservatives. They want to blame their problems on undocumented immigrants. They want to read stories about an out-of-control government. Who cares if the stories are unfair and untrue?
Yet, if our news media are not accurate and fair; if they do not provide context; if they prioritize facts over truth; if they are swayed by ratings, they do not practice journalism. They are merely engaging in propaganda. And if you rely on them to make decisions, you are a victim of that propaganda. So is our nation.
You simply can’t sit back and expect the media to inform you. You have to work at it. It may be frustrating and sometimes boring work. But, with the availability of online news sources and fact-checkers, it’s not that difficult. After all, our nation was founded on the expectation of an informed voting public. Indeed, it is the most important principle on which the nation was built.