I don’t think I’m actually going to make any new points that haven’t been made elsewhere and better, but hopefully you don’t come to me for your political commentary and this will be entertaining, regardless.
I think many people, journalists at least, would like to believe that news is supposed to be an unbiased, accurate medium of gathering and reporting information to common citizens who otherwise would have no idea. These same people and many of the average citizens you’ll find on the street would then say that today the news is biased. How it is biased depends on who you ask. Rush Limbaugh, for example, will charge that there is a liberal media bias, while having the largest radio reach in the country. Meanwhile, you have CNN, MSNBC and programs like the Daily Show or Colbert Report charging that channels like Fox News make the media have a conservative bias.
The answer of course is that they’re both right. There is both a liberal and conservative media bias, depending on where you look and what you consider “biased”. However, it’s also true that there’s never been a time when media was NOT biased, or at the very least inaccurate.
Going back to the beginning of America, newspapers had a stated affiliation with some political agenda and everything was written or reprinted to further it. Was it done with more skill and sophistication than modern pundits? Probably. But it wasn’t apolitical.
Later on you have yellow journalism, sensationalism for the sake of selling a product. This was usually still done to promote some kind of political point or bring about social change, but clearly increasing the circulation was as big an impetus as anything.
Now let’s move up to the modern age that seems to have the qualities of both the former. Fox News is a Republican mouthpiece and CNN has no problem overhyping a story on a slow news day to the point that it becomes something seemingly crucial to the national consciousness. And yet, I will claim both have the exact same bias. That bias is money.
Any time you think that Fox News is right wing and Rupert Murdoch a hardcore conservative, just look at some of Fox’s other programming. The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad. None of them miss any opportunity to satirize Republicans and President Bush in particular. But this is the same guy who owns a station broadcasting Republican propaganda on another station, right?
What Fox News and the Simpsons have in common is that they’re both very profitable. Lots of people watch, albeit for different reasons. But all of those shows are on the air because they make money for their owners. Murdoch isn’t going let an unprofitable show stay on, no matter how good it is (RIP Titus, Firefly, etc.) or how much it’s in step with his political views. Fox News exists because there was a large demographic of patriotic conservatives who were being ignored by the more left-leaning CNN, and as soon as it came on the air, Fox News was able to tap into that once neglected viewership, and ratings mean more money. This kind of revolution that occurred forced other channels to include more conservative shows in their own programming. Not because they wanted to actually be the “fair and balanced” Fox proclaimed to be, but because they wanted to steal back some of the viewers Fox had taken.
September 11th happens and Bush is very popular, everyone is very popular and coming together. The media shifts to the right in order to meet the demands of the people. The Iraq War starts, it stays where it is. Then Iraq starts to go badly, Bush’s approval ratings start to slip, and who benefits? Anyone who can get up or promote entertaining programs that are on the left.
All of this is in political terms but it works with just about anything. There’s a large pool of sharks out in the ocean, one person has gotten attacked. Suddenly there are a million stories on cable news about it, even though shark attacks are extremely rare and for there to be hundreds of them together at that time of the year is totally normal.
Better example is probably missing girls. How many ugly girls have you ever seen or heard of gone missing? Is it because there are less of them out there? I doubt it. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Natalee Holloway is pretty, young, smart, blonde, and white. Well, I take the “white” part back. Even though I’m sure you can find that kind of bias statistically, I don’t think a pretty black, latino, or asian girl would be received any different.
The media gets money for getting viewers. That means it caters to the desires of the masses, whatever those desires are. Whatever has the greatest return for its cost will be put on the air. There is no morality, no political slant, and no agenda except getting you to watch. At the moment, other agendas may exist, but if they aren’t profitable, they will be gone.
I find it comforting, myself. This total lack of principle has an ability to shove people in a certain direction, but really it’s only a direction they were already going. It can lead to extremism, but just as easily it can jerk us back the other way.
Cable news has 24 hours to fill up every day, that’s why they’re the most important, despite not having any more depth than network news or papers. How they fill up those 24 hours is not based on what the executives upstairs want, it’s on what you as a consumer want. And to me, that’s comforting.
Not that you didn’t already know this.