THE UNDEREXAMINED TOPIC OF MEDIA BIAS

Of course, to HAVE a thorough examination of media bias would require the MEDIA to take an incisive, no-holds-barred look at ITSELF – akin to having the weasels producing honest copy on the strengths and weaknesses of the nation’s chicken coops. As perhaps you might imagine, this will not be happening soon.

So how biased IS the media, anyhow? Easy answer: VERY. They are not in the business of enlightenment: they are in BUSINESS. After reading through innumerable prognostications insulting to progressives in particular and anybody with a brain in general from Yahoo News, it occurred to me – hey! These guys are ASSHOLES, and they have an AGENDA. Here I was with my old-fashioned faith in the power of the unbiased media, and whaddya know … I had my head stuffed in the sand, taking the news media at face value, which is NOT the reality.

And television? Don’t get me started. I haven’t have TV for YEARS now, and each time I encounter it anew – in somebody’s house, at the dentist’s, in the tire shop waiting room – I am astounded all over again. First of all, do people even realize how they are being talked down to? How condescending and insulting commercial television has become? I mean, really. Don’t treat me like a child.

And then there is the hypnotism of it all. I recall I went to Universal Studios theme park in the off-season, about ten years ago. There was this line for the dinosaur ride, or whatever it was called. Long, intricate line, rimmed with strap barriers and oscillating back and forth. There were TV’s suspended where everyone in line could see them, but they weren’t on all the time. In fact, they would only come on right when you were at the point where the hoppy canned music started to get a little boring, and the guy in line cross the strap had nothing else to say. Presto! The TV’s came on! They’d play a bunch of exciting, noisy stuff that had to do with other rides and things to do at Universal Studios, and then, right when  you were ready to overload – click. Off. But you were in a different spot in line, standing next to a different person, the music would come back (after obligingly shutting off during the TV part), and there you would be for another span of time. At least until the system that Universal Studios had devised under the direction of research psychologists deemed it was time to give you another jolt of entertainment and keep you quiet for 15 more minutes of frustrating line-waiting.

Commercial TV has learned the same lessons. It would not be exaggerating to say there is more than a little mind control being exercised – when to excite, when to calm, when to crescendo, the whole nine yards. Indeed, television can be a useful tool of control! In fact – perhaps that has become its PURPOSE. Education – a little. Entertainment – yup. Propaganda – Oh, yeah, baby!

DOES MEDIA BIAS REALLY EXIST? HELL YES!
(With credit to Andrew Cline, PhD., Rhetorica.net)

1.   Money bias: News is money. If the news outlet can make money off a story, they’ll run it so people will buy the paper or watch the network. Boring and happy stories don’t sell. And it doesn’t really matter if the story is true or not, because you can fix it later, or just ignore it until the news cycle does its 24-hour turnover.

2.   Time bias: If it hasn’t happened in the last five minutes it is old news, because many Americans have a five-minute attention span. If there isn’t any news, you can make something up, or spin the same story.

3.   Visual bias: Consumers want cool pictures. If there aren’t cool pictures, forget it. You can’t illustrate complicated policy debate, so life-affecting, substance-oriented stories are dumped in favor of cats being rescued from trees with full video coverage.

4.   Bad news bias: Good news is dull, and doesn’t photograph well either. So all we hear about is awful events and awful people – who probably aren’t as bad as the news makes out (see #1)

5.   Narrative bias: The news media cover the news in terms of “stories” that have a beginning, middle, and end. No gray areas, no ambiguity, and not always clarity regarding cause and effect.  A good story requires conflict and resolution. If there isn’t dramatic tension, the story doesn’t sell. Today’s media makes the story more important than the reality, and dramatically enhance conflict.

6.   Status Quo bias: The news media has a vested interest in believing “the system works.” The basic “rightness” of the American way is never questioned. We may hear a lot about Presidential campaigns, but never a word on whether this is actually a pretty stupid way to elect a president.

7.   Fairness bias: A sensible, well-thought-out proposition require the media to dig up the response of some flakey wingnut who hates it, just to provide “balance”. Thereby, it creates the appearance of more contention and disagreement that there actually is. (See #4 and #1.)

Completely asinine counterarguments do not provide balance, but they do give the media providers opportunity to portray some conflict and make some dough while the sun shines. And of course, they aren’t blind to the fact that if the viewing population is kept sufficiently ignorant, they won’t have the acuity or education to perceive something as foolish and will be easy to rile up. Present facts to people? Fuhgeddaboutit! Keep ’em dumb and argumentative!

I have been occasionally refreshed  when I hear a politician baldly dismiss ridiculousness, such as Birther nonsense and disconnected Tea Party blatherings. Does anyone remember that 2009 health-care oriented town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts? One of Barney Frank’s constituents asks, “Why are you supporting this Nazi policy?” Frank responded: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” He then calls her approach “vile, contemptible nonsense.” He closes by saying: “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table.” No attempt at “balance” because her question was RIDICULOUS, not to mention insulting and inflammatory. Fact and reason has to be “balanced” by inflammatory ridiculousness? WHY?

Alan Grayson was also pleasantly refreshing with his comment about the Republican health care alternative -“Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.” If the Republicans had done their jobs and put forth a credible health care alternative, there would have been a reason for arguing the veracity of Grayson’s statement. But they didn’t.

8.   Expediency bias: Quick! Quick! Time is money! When you’re owned by people who expect big fat dividends and live-and-die by viewer/readership, speed is of the essence. If the first person a reporter gets on the phone is the absolute worst source for a story, they’ll take it to save time and be first. Better yet, find some snippet that has sales potential and run it totally out of context. Yee-haw!

9.   Glory bias: You think reporters don’t have egos? Oh please. Some feel they are players and have power and are going to be competitive and nasty and self-promoting. The tendency is to report stuff that makes them look good, and in a stirring, risk-taking, martial way. So they highlight the stories that are going to feed their own images. Think Geraldo Rivera and Cooper Anderson and all those reporters hanging on to trees during hurricanes.

Ah yes. Media. It ain’t what it used to be back in the day of Walter Cronkite. And yet, ironically, the closest thing we have to media that simply reports, as opposed to attempting to sway, is NPR! Yes, that very National Public Radio that the Repubs are constantly, relentlessly, trying to rub out.

You go, guys. Totally proving the point: some authoritarians would love to control the national dialog, have the purchasing power to do it, and are in fact, diligently working at it even as we speak. Example: Portland is a liberal town, and so is Seattle. Clear Channel Radio ran liberal programming on ONE station in each of those towns. Then Obama won his second term. Within DAYS, both of those stations had been issued new programming (sports talk and classical), and people had been fired. Excuse: not enough listeners.

WHAT? Bald-faced lie alert!

And THIS is the face of today’s media. Watch out what you are swallowing: it may be harmful to your mental health.

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