Friday, September 10, 2010

A sourced Report on Media Bias.

Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.
Benjamin Haydon

We've all heard of media bias. Essentially, media bias is the thought that a piece of media, be it a TV show, magazine, movie, or most recently, news network, has it's own personal, sometimes hidden agenda. In some cases this is admitted and accepted. Republican Weekly is a publication for Republicans by Republicans. We tend to get into trouble when it comes to media that either hide their beliefs: Movies such as “In the Valley of Ella” or TV shows like “The West Wing” tend to get flack for an obvious bias towards one political party or agenda. Even some bloggers have been known to show bias.

Fox News is pretty much the hot bed for this sort of thing right now, with The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert poking fun at it's rogues gallery of commentators'. Glenn Beck is a drunken idiot, Bill O'Rielly is full of hot air, Fox and Friends might as well be monkeys throwing poo at the TV screen for 2 hours a day. So, that said, what's the deal with Media Bias on Cable Televison?

First and foremost, Media Bias can exist in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Before the dawn of political punditry, media bias was a hidden thing. Articles purported to be about a subject would instead show one side of a story particularly harshly, or worse, leave out important facts, propaganda is a form of this. This was a much more insidious version of media bias than we're aware of today, particularly because the question of agenda was rarely brought up, and motives were rarely questioned.

Then with the dawn of 24 for profit cable news coverage, the question of bias became a much larger issue. One important thing to consider is that that accusations of bias against CNN and FOXNEWS are typically limited to political parties and elections. When it comes to other news; Crime, current events, and entertainment, there's little complaint of distorted facts. Bias is typically limited to a question of red state vs. blue state.

In a study done by Harvard University of CNN coverage during the most recent political election, the numbers were quite intriguing. In fact “CNN programming studied tended to cast a negative light on Republican candidates—by a margin of three-to-one. Four-in-ten stories (41%) were clearly negative while just 14% were positive and 46% were neutral.” (Harvard).

Currently, the big dog in media bias is the Fox News Channel's bias toward staunch conservatism. It's obvious it's there. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and the Fox & Friends crew all share conservative thoughts and beliefs. And it works! Ratings for the Fox News Channel are through the roof. More people watch Fox News at 3am then they watch CNN at 8pm. (MEDIAITE).

So, why be bias? Why push a political agenda? Is it to appeal to viewers of a particular party, to score favorable guests and high profile former politicians? Or are there more sinister motives at work? From the perspective of Fox News, it's important to know that a large corporation that encompasses dozens upon dozens of companies and thousands of products, NEWSCORP, owns the station. It's often speculated that Fox News hammers home it's right wing agenda specifically for the purpose of helping Republicans, who are notoriously pro big business. Yet they maintain their trademarked tagline of “Fair and Balanced”.

This for-profit model of political bias is referred to as the “Herman and Chomsky Propaganda Model”. The model goes on to state that if you have a lot of journalists/producers/commentators who share common political beliefs you can pay them less. Also people with similar beliefs typically have a better, more efficient working environment. Promoting this half in the closet bias has many benefits. Besides lobbying capacity and the ability to land interviews with party players who view the network as a home base of sorts, people enjoy watching television they disagree with or find irritating. Thirty percent of Fox New's audience is democrats (Economist) a higher number than MSNBC and CNN combined. On the hit show 20/20, John Stossel commented on this kind of news bias; “Where I work at ABC, people say ‘conservative’ the way people say ‘child molester.”

The good news is that about 70 percent of television viewers recognize that pretty much any story can, and often is bias (MRC). One of the growing sources for news coverage among young people is “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. The openly liberal Jon Stewart would be the first to tell you he doesn't and shouldn't influence anyone. However, according to CNN.COM, more people watched The Daily Show than Hannity and Combs, Nightline, Meet the Press, and averages a higher rating for it's half hour show then most programs on CNN do at all (CNN). Jon Stewart's show has become something America's bullshit detector for the news coverage of a given day. The show will routinely calling shenanigans on a variety of Fox News stories and douchebaggary. recently going as far as to break a story about Sean Hannity's show doctoring footage of two separate days together to create the appearance of a much more successful tea party protest, leading to retractions and apologies from Hannity's people. In addition, The Daily Show will often times start media wars with the likes of Jim Cramer or Neil Scarborough, who willingly get involved because nothing boosts ratings like a controversy (See: Boy, Balloon).

In addition, A recent Indiana University Study concluded a half hour episode of “The Daily Show” covers as much content as a half hour of CNN or Fox News (IU). Another study by concluded that the viewers and fans of The Daily Show were the most intelligent of the group (it's worth noting that Bill O'Reilly came in third, and Jim Lehr came in second.). So obviously the best and brightest are turning into these programs

Fox News and The Daily Show in one way or another admit their bias. Fox News saying they do have an agenda toward conservative values, but their bias is limited to just it's opinion programming (O'Reilly, Hannity, Beck, the popular stuff) and Jon Stewart going as far as to admit he's a cheap shot artist. But that's not the problem. Too often a young person will watch The Daily Show's critique of a subject and take it at face value. This leads to a distorted picture of reality.

The Daily Show will often times hide behind it's role as a satiric television show. They will create edits of news footage to take things out of context in the interest of their own business; comedy. Another example was they in fact made up a story that Dick Cheney removed his personal home from Google Earth, which he did not do. While most people either don't notice or care, Fox News is pretty decent at calling Stewart on his own deceptions. "To be fair Jon, you're a satirist, you have the license to distort. But everyone should know what you're doing and why," Quotes Bill O'Reilly. So what do we do? It's all convoluted with motives and for profits. Fox News admits their bias, and The Daily Show has no right hiding behind it's comedy moniker when it lands guests like sitting Vice President Joe Biden and the inventor of the Internet himself, Al Gore in a single year. So, everyone's spinning half the time, and when they're not, they're just outright lying. Heck, even the two biggest “Independent” fact checking organizations, “Truth in Media” and “New Hounds” openly admit their own bias.

So what do we do? Do we just live on the fact that if something is outstandingly wrong or bias, it'll likely be called out by another bias media source? Is reform in news needed? Mandates that it becomes non profit? There are many possible solutions, and they're all quite far off.

Thankfully there are some truly independent BS detectors out there. Bill Mahr isn't a particularly insightful fellow, but his common sense approach to politics and democracy is leading to a truly fresh breath of air in the midst of all the hot kind. Dennis Miller, while surely a right leaning figure, is able to, and often does, point out both sides of the story, playing devils advocate in a realistic way, as opposed to other commentators who will completely misjudge what the other side of any argument is trying to say. In addition Internet forums on non political sites such as Penny Arcade and provide real dialog between the informed and the not so. Surely opinions and facts are wrong, but at least people are talking instead of yelling at one another.

The key to cracking misinformation is to get news from a variety of sources and always maintain the fact that all media can and often is bias, in the back of your head. Google News doesn't discriminate between left and right, pulling in news from all sources from the Drudge Report to The Spokane Patriot. If a story seems too perfect or outlandish, it probably is.

Ultimately, Media Bias is as old as the media itself. Whenever a human element is introduced into anything, judging, leading, politics, there are obviously biases and views that are pushed to the forefront. Whether it be Fox New's Conservatism, CNN's liberalism, The Daily Show's pot shots, or anything else, there's bound to be bias. The key, if you ask me, is to always keep the skepticism up. The best thing anyone can do for their most deeply regarded beliefs is to figure out what's wrong with them. Anyone who isn't willing to admit their own faults or their party's faults, is surely just as bad as the blow hards on Fox News.


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