Truth, Justice and the American Weigh
April 27, 2010 Leave a comment
A spike in news reporting on the Tea Party movement came with the passing of tax day earlier this month. Orbiting around this media meme of course were various references to talk radio and certain polarizing cable news channels. Time and again my attention returned to the contentious issue of media bias. There is so little that can be widely agreed upon as a basis of conversation. Does media bias even exist? Is it desirable or to be avoided?
NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story last Friday featuring perspectives on three news organizations in Atlanta. It was refreshing to hear mainstream media report with some candor on the nature of news gathering itself. I found myself in basic agreement with the proprietor of the Atlanta Progressive News as he identified the corporate bias of big media, characterized reporters’ single-handed attempts to be the “arbiter” of truth as “arrogant,” and asserted that trust can only be built if news gatherers admit their biases. This all stands in contrast with traditional notions of down-the-line objectivity that such a mainstream media staple as CNN, which Politico recently reported on, attempt to maintain. But if the news business resembles anything like a marketplace of ideas, the old “dinosaur” media as Hugh Hewitt calls them are finally succumbing to leaner, meaner, and wholly worthy competition.
Why should we welcome the likes of FOX News, talk radio, devolved blogs, and the host of other aggressively biased reporters and commentators? Contrary to late, platitudinous naysaying that the climate of our national dialog has taken a marked turn toward the uncivil, America has thrived under a long and continuous tradition of rancorously competitive news reporting. Ad hominem slanders that would put current reporting flaps to shame were the staple of the nation’s earliest newspapers. For decades, papers openly supporting one party or the other competed for readership in the cities they shared. The conscious cultivation of the objective, altruistic “Voice of God” was something of an artifact of the twentieth century. In the popular imagination, this was best exemplified by the earnest, selfless comic book superhero-reporters Clark Kent and Peter Parker. As commendable as these paragons of integrity have been, they betray an all-too-simplistic popular culture conception of the relationship between news gathering, facts, and the truth. If only real-life villains were always rich men and military brass with a penchant for violently vibrant spandex outfits! This leaves no mention of scientists, the other revered revealers of truth, which will have to follow up in another entry.