Two articles published two weeks ago illustrate a significant problem endemic in our perception of our daily reality. One from the Washington Post (here) has to make one wonder what other inconvenient truth might not be completely true, even with its nonstop, world-wide media coverage and instant, blind acceptance. The other article, from Katherine Kersten's Star Tribune blog (here) points out how skewed our perceptions can be based on our political alignment.
Although I'm registered with one party, I don't hold that affiliation very near and dear, and I'm not blind to the values of the other party. I've certainly crossed party lines when voting and will continue to do so, and my mind is reasonably open to reason -- no matter who stands at the podium. I've written about my wishy-washy politics (here) and (here) and this isn't a rehash.
My gripe is with the variance between objective facts (assuming they actually exist in some parallel universe) and what we're told by the media.
Where does one go to get a factual account of a situation, an action, a problem, a dilemma?
You can't turn to the mainstream media because, admit it or not, their liberal bias has become obvious even to the near-oblivious. You can't turn solely to right wing sources because you'll get the official spin and the party line. The European press may be a bit more objective, but of course they write from their geopolitical point of view, which isn't the home of the red, white and blue. The Christian Science Monitor and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer are often pointed to as good objective sources, and in many cases that's a correct assertion, in my opinion. However -- how many Average Joes and Jennys make use of those sources? The Monitor certainly isn't as accessible as major newspapers, nor is the Lehrer hour the statistical heavyweight in terms as viewers as are the network and cable news shows.
The internet could be another good source of objective news -- except it isn't. Like it or not, the news of the day is covered by paid, professional reporters who work for mainstream services. Internet "news" is usually commentary based on the facts ferreted out by the pros. Even if there were an independent source of facts on daily occurrences, who has time to wade through 100 sources every day?
Why can't we have, in the real mainstream media, a triptych of news viewpoints -- two that are unabashedly partisan, left and right, and one honestly objective -- the real, unvarnished, uneditorialized, just the facts, ma'm, facts --a tidy little summary from which we can draw our own conclusions, form our own opinions and then assimilate into our own reality?
News stories presented today are nearly always written/produced from a particular point of view instead of from objective detachment. Journalism schools even have categories for the types of reporting, and true objectivity is definitely out of vogue right now. If you don't believe me, Google "journalism objectivity bias" and follow some of the sources.
While the "facts" of a story are usually brought into evidence and both sides of an issue presented under the guise of balance, you don't even have to listen very carefully to hear the spin.... it's in the language itself.
Think of any hot-button issue: Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, illegal immigration, health care in America, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. Certain catch phrases appear in the majority of news stories about these issues. They are so universal as to have created a link in our brains once we hear the trigger phrase. For instance, on abortion or partial-birth abortion: "Anti-abortion activist" (as opposed to pro-life activist), and "pro-choice activist" (as opposed to "pro-abortion activist".)
Do you think this is coincidental or accidental? Not according to this article about the New York Daily News writing requirements it isn't.
To give the industry and individual reporters the benefit of doubt, maybe in some cases the choice of language follows a general trend simply for clarity -- so that the public will know instantly the context of the story.... but my cynical shadow says, not always. There is manipulation involved and it's not particularly subtle or subliminal.
On the political scene, unless you specifically follow the right-wing news, when is that last time you heard anything POSITIVE about President Bush or his policies, the Republicans, or anything to do with any conservative? Is there any face more animated and gleeful than Tim Russert's when he has a new opinion poll showing dwindling numbers in support of anything to do with the current administration? I'm not saying here that there IS anything positive to report -- what I am saying is that if there were, we wouldn't hear it as positive. We'd immediately be handed the negative slant, the downside.
Just last week, when President Bush vetoed the bill that would have eased funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, all I heard in the media was an outcry against this action that, in theory, would delay potential cures for debilitating conditions. I didn't hear a peep about his stance that supports and is supported by those committed to preserving embryonic life... no applause, no cheers, no approbation for remaining true to his ideals and promises, and the ideals and beliefs of many, many citizens.
I hate that the issue of objectivity in the media makes me sound like a Bush supporter -- I'm not. When my knee jerks, it jerks to the left nearly every time; but, the bias in the media is so blatant, so pervasive, that I don't feel like I'm given the facts on any issue at any time. I'm given the main course of facts heavily seasoned with the twist, the spin, the popular liberal spice.
So, how about this: The Right Red Network: Where we hear the party line of this administration, the voice of the Republicans in favor of defense spending, lower taxes, the I-Hate-Hillary crowd. Or, The White Light Network - where facts are presented as completely and objectively as possible, no leaning to right or left permitted, no assigned language, no 15-second wrap-up where we're told how to think about the story. And of course, The Left Blue Network: where we're given every day's news with the liberal slant, the liberal language, the PC-charged viewpoint, not coincidentally also supported by prime-time entertainment.
Red, White or Blue -- is there anything true?