Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Medium is Rarely Well-Done

I don't know That Dude From Philly. In classic internet style, I came across his blog as a link from a link from a link. But if I met him, I'd probably like him. I certainly like his writing style. His "I'm Back Mofo's" post was a classic minimalist sojourn into the life of a guy with more obligations than time. I doubt there's a Dad out there who can't relate to being too busy to even have time for a good puke.

And I bet he'd probably like me. If we ever met at some backyard barbecue, we'd probably have a great time swapping stories and talking about sports, kids, women, and yes, even politics.

Because in politics we're two different colors: Red and Blue, with very little room for purple.

On his blog, this blog, and others, we've ping-ponged our viewpoints about the state of our country. And, if nothing else, he's forced me to clarify my thinking in order to make or refute various points.

The other day, over at The Cranky Yankee's blog (another guy I wouldn't mind bending elbows with), we were at it again. Follow the thread from Monday, May 16th if you want to read it.

During the match, Dude said the following does go to say something about the media's glee in always believing something evil about America or its military b4 doing any checking.

The assumptions made in that statement astounded and saddened me, because it distilled in a sentence fragment something that a large portion of America believes.

A little bit about me: I'm a media guy. I've got a Master's Degree in it. A fat lot of good it's done me, but I've worked in television my entire adult life. I've worked on both national and local documentaries, educational series, instructional programs, children's programs, game shows, sporting events, directed and produced newscasts, and made commercials. I'd say I'm fairly qualified to talk on this subject.

Firstly, 'the media,' as a unified entity, is a fiction. There are a large number of TV and radio networks, news services, magazines, newspapers, and webpages. Many are owned by the same few corporations. But, these news organizations all have separate newsrooms, filled with reporters, photographers, editors, researchers, and others. However, with much of the same people from competing news operations reporting on the same item, it's easy to see why there are some that lump the entire group together.

But it's also possible that several different reports on the same activity will have entirely different viewpoints. Because each reporter, editor, editorial board et c., will have a different viewpoint on the issue. Each can be factual, but vastly different.

It's my opinion that some of what is perceived as 'media bias' is in the eye of the beholder. You can have two people look at the same report and, if one's a conservative, he will see a liberal bias, and vice versa. But there is a large number of people and organizations that are doing their best to paint 'the media' as liberal, and doing it for their own gains.

The practice of reporting the news is an incredibly complex process that, when properly followed, does its best to report without bias. It's not perfect, but it does its best.

Unfortunately, there's a large faction of the populace that believes any negative reporting against the military or the government in this post 9/11 world is proof that 'the media' is trying to 'get' someone or something. These opinions of a 'liberal media' are exacerbated in part by 'the media' itself. I'll get to that later.

Here's two newsblurbs about an incident that happened a few days ago:

"The New York Yankees' ten-game winning streak ended, as they fell to the Seattle Mariners, 7-6. Jason Giambi struck out looking with two men on in the ninth."

"The New York Yankees' ten-game winning streak ended, as they fell to the Seattle Mariners, 7-6. Jason Giambi brought in two runs with a single in the sixth."

Both reports are accurate. Giambi DID have a 2 RBI single. Giambi DID strike out looking in the ninth. But which is the better report?

This is the situation reporters and editors are faced with on a daily basis. In any situation, a decision must be made on what to include, and what not to include. Compounding the issue are factors of deadlines and space--column inches for print, time for TV and Radio.

Do you mention that Giambi struck out? There were other factors involved in the loss; the Yankees couldn't hold the lead. Do you mention the RBI? He's been hitting the ball a bit more recently. Do you not mention Giambi at all? He's been a lightning rod for Yankee fans.

All of these quesitons are valid. Any of the reports would be accurate.

But would they show a bias?

And that's just sports. Wins and losses are wins and losses. It's pretty cut-and-dried.

But still, debates rage about players and teams. How many magazines, TV and radio networks are out there that just deal with sports and sports issues? How many sides are there to every story?

In politics and governance, there are much greater shades of grey. Much of the reporting is about issues whose effects may not be felt for years. Rarely is there a piece of legislation that is so cut-and-dried that there is only one way of looking at it.

And 'the media' has to cover it.

Now, add to the equation a government that's fighting two wars: one a blood-and-bullets war in the middle east, and the other, a cultural war at home. This government is well-funded, and single-minded in its goals. At least on the cultural side. This government, and its supporters, are playing 'the media' like a drum.

And every time 'the media' tries to defend itself and its editorial decisions, the culural revolutionaries just see their response as proof of liberal bias.

How did they get so good at this? Because they have been preparing for this war for at least 40 years.

At the 1964 Republican convention, Former President Dwight Eisenhower denounced "sensation seeking columnists and commentators" and nearly caused a riot—the delegates howled and shook their fists at the network anchors' boxes. From Goldwater on, press bashing became a winning issue for Republicans, with every GOP presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Gerald Ford) doing his best to bully reporters or at least neuter them.

(For a great analysis of how long this has been going on, and a freaky-scary prediction from back in the day, check this out.)

And now, they've got it down to an art form. Any report that seems to go against this government's policies is decried by culural revolutionaries as showing a 'liberal bias.' And the media is so cowed by this, that they let them get away with it.

Add to this, they are incredibly media savvy. They are able to take the most onerous public policies, and give them patriotic, positive-sounding two-or-three word phrases--phrases that 'the media' gobble up like candy:

Family values. No Child Left Behind. Patriot Act. Yummy.

Sometimes the buzzwords don't work. Remember when GOP talked about the 'privitization' of Social Security? Didn't play in Peoria. So now it's "Personal Accounts."

Chomp chomp lick goes 'the media.' And any reporting that doesn't fall into line is labeled 'liberal.'

You know, with all his money, maybe Jason Giambi could hire some of these folks for himself, and let them hit the sports talk circuit.

"Giambi's two-run single in the sixth was a shining victory in the flow of the game. Why must you dwell on the negative? He didn't stike out, he just chose the 'non-contact' alternative.

"Why do you hate baseball?"



Anonymous sally said...

I enjoyed your article on the media, especially the baseball example, as I happened to see that game. Your analysis of the media was so much more comprehensive and intelligent that what I usually read. What seems to be missing in all the flap about media "bias" is
the TRUTH of the actual story being reported. Who cares about Newsweek's attribution problems, when the story is probably true? The Bush administration, which has repeatedly used anonymous sources and unchecked facts to lead us into war, among other things, has successfully diverted attention from the news stories themselves to the news messengers. The old bait and switch, blame the messenger, routine still works apparently, because the media caves in time after time. Until they get some spine, they're going to be blamed for all his failed actions.

10:22 AM, May 23, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...


You have hit the crux of the problem. Whenever the truth becomes inconvenient, spin takes its place.

Thanks for the kind words.


10:57 AM, May 23, 2005  
Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

Excellent piece. I have to take what Sally said and expend a little.

Ever since news became a business a certain amount of incredulity had crept in. Large corporation with cross-polinated boards and advertising influence have changed the dynamic of the news. They have changed the way the truth is presented or if it is even presented. There is an excellent documentary on the subject, Fear and Favor in the Newsroom. In it they present factual examples of corporate influence over the press. There is an example of a news piece exposing illegal lending practices by a large bank being published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that was killed. As it turns out one of the billionaire board members of the company that owns the AJC also sits on the board of the bank. The same paper had most of its editorial staff quit over a squashed story about Coke's illiegal practices overseas. Guess who sat on Coke's board?

Also, BP you are exactly right about how the right wing has pounded the press for the last 40 years. Its called "working the ref/ump" in the sports world. Example, how big of a story does anybody realize tht the Iran/Contra scandal was? Most people don't think it was that big a deal, but in fact in was the biggest scandal involving a sitting President in the 20th century. It was much bigger than Watergate, but the press let it slide. The wingers had already painted the whole affair as the media trying to "get" Reagan. When Bush I pardon all the criminals convicted in the scandal it wasn't even front page news. The press had been fully neutered on the issue by then.

It really is sad that the US press can't live up to its obligations. Freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution has obligations that are not being met.

2:04 PM, May 23, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

As always, Crank, you make some great points.

One one end, Iran/Contra. On the other end, a manufactured war under false pretenses. But who gets impeached? The Democrat who got a hummer and continued to work through it. And he didn't even get the money shot.

You want to know what's really unfair about I/C? The Dems had them in their sights, and let them go. Not because they were scared of the Republicans. It was because they were truly concerned that the country would not withstand two major presidential scandals less than ten years apart.

My how times have changed.


2:16 PM, May 23, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Brian, brilliant post. Deeply true, and profoundly eye opening from an "imbedded" professional such as yourself. Crank, you make great points too. "Reve-news" has killed journalism, essentially." As for the media dropping the Iran/Contra ball fearing the country couldn't handle it, however, - I'm not so sure. They would have reported it, in fact started to, Kople particularly, but Reagan and his team were so media savy that the media was literally flooded with "why do you attack the President? Why do you hate Reagan?" etc. every time they began to report these stories indepth, and they backed off. Part of the well organized "umpire" pounding of which you're writing about. There was no organized left grass roots to counter it, and Regan himself obliterated the Fairness Doctrine with a veto to make sure their side could pound the media and wouldn't be countered. The beginning of the end of free media.

8:41 PM, May 23, 2005  
Blogger Boston Dreamer said...

As a Red Sox fan, anything that paints Jason Giambi in a bad light is naturally good, but as others more eloquent than I have pointed out, the whole idea of some sort of vast left wing media conspiracy is a joke. Fox isn't media? Talk radio isn't media? The Washington Moonies...err..Times isn't media?

12:35 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger That Dude said...

BP, thanks for the pub and yeah u seem like a good guy to have some beers with as well. Good sense of humor, (holy shit I sound gay, turn on red state gay blocking device) anywho I digress. I don't disagree with alot of your points except that let's use your example of the Giambi episode...

In the first blurb they mention the two K's and the second the two RBI's. My issue with the MSM (yes I know its not a conspiracy per se, more a victim of group think) is that you NEVER hear about the times Giambi had the two RBI's. Just some balance is all I'm asking.

As I further digress, you down with doing an E11 on my blog?

1:25 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger That Dude said...

Oh yeah, Cranky Yankee is definately a good dude to do some drinking with. Whaddya think, gotta set up another Myrtle Beach adventure? lol

1:26 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

Mongo confused...

Mongo not know what Ell is...

Mongo only pawn in game of life.


2:27 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger That Dude said...

E11 is Essential 11. Check my archives, Cranky has done one.

5:19 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger I.S.T.N.W. said...


I liked your post. I know that there is probably some "lensing" affect by my own views that magnify the perceived bias, but I don't think it's all in my head. We do have polls that show a vast majority of journalists voted for Democrats in the last election. Is it some sort of vast left-wing conspiracy? Probably not. It would be easier to stop if it were. They'd have to leave some sort of trail and we could follow it.

That said, I'd like to point out a small inconsistency that I noticed in your writings, and I only noticed it because I read Dude's blog just before yours. Here is a quote from one of your replies to Dude's latest post:

BP: "And do you for an instant think that if any "Democracy" installed by Bush began making decisions that were not in the best interest of Big Oil, that they would last for any length of time?"

Now, let's put aside the issue you were talking about and concentrate on your identification of some nefarious group named "Big Oil". I submit that if there is no "MSM", then there is no "Big Oil". Industry organizations, cross-polinated boards (as cranky put it), etc. do not a conspiracy make, but you seem to be using a different yard stick for your own industry than you do for "Big Oil".


7:30 PM, May 24, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...


The difference between MSM and "Big Oil" is that the job of the media is to fairly and accurately report the news of the day, while the job of Oil Companies is to make as much money as they can for as long as they can.

There are oil lobbyists in Washington. They want legislation to make it easier for them to make money. They want ANWR opened for exploration. They want environmental rules relaxed. The outcome of those decisions affect all of the oil companies more or less equally.

When we mention mainstream media, we are talking specifically about the newsgathering organizations of various corporations. (Although there are media lobbyists in DC as well, those lobbyists represent the corporations that run the newsrooms, not the newsrooms themselves. And even if they did, the result would be pressure to be MORE corporation-friendly, not less)

And Big Oil's influence is HUGE. They spend tons of money in DC to influence decisions. Oh, and both the President and Vice President have backgrounds in running energy companies.

As far as cross-pollinated boards: that's easy enough to prove or disprove. Just get a prospectus from each company, look at who's on each's boards of directors, and see if it's true or not.

And yes, there are professional associations of editors, reporters, and photographers, but these groups exist to help their members do their jobs better, not to tow a specific line.

I'm in a bit of a hurry, but I think I spelled out the difference here.

As far as polls showing how the journalists voted: I'm not aware of any such polls. Not saying they don't exist, just not aware of them.

I do know this: when I worked in news, I would NEVER reveal my electoral choices. I find it hard to believe others would do so either.

That being said, there have been polls of journalists designed to discover general attitudes of journalists on issues. I don't have time to look for a link, but check out the Poynter Institute. I think they did one. What was discovere is that while reporters are more liberal than the average American in social issues, they are more CONSERVATIVE than the average American in economic issues.


5:16 AM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger I.S.T.N.W. said...

Thanks for making my point. Both industries use lobbyists. And the logic that the lobbyists for media companies don't represent the newsrooms is like saying that the lobbyists for the oil companies don't represent the roughnecks. While technically true, this is a fallacious argument because it separtates the part from the whole.

Also, the job of the news media is not "to fairly and accurately report the news of the day", it's to make as much money as possible for their companies. This is part of the problem, and part of the solution. Capitalism works! The media will come out of this rough patch with a better perspective on what they have to deliver to succeed: fair and balanced reporting coupled with editorial commentary that is more in line with the pervasive views of the day.

9:09 AM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

I don't consider my argument fallacious, because there is a vast difference between a journalist and a roughneck. There is no direct relationship between how many words a journalist types and how much money the company makes.

And, while I agree that there is increasing pressure for news organizations to make a profit, as a whole they are not the most profitable of businesses. Gone are the days when Bill Paley could point to CBS News as the network's 'shining beacon.'

But, let's just say you're right, and it's the business of the newsroom to make money. This would mean they would have to tow a corporate line, and corporations as a whole are very conservative organizations. Therefore, the MSM, if anything is not liberal, but conservative.

Thanks for making my point.


10:37 AM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger I.S.T.N.W. said...

Now, that is a fallacious argument! Assumption piled on top of generalization!

God, save us from liberal "logic"!

11:06 AM, May 25, 2005  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

The generalization's yours:
"Also, the job of the news media is not "to fairly and accurately report the news of the day", it's to make as much money as possible for their companies"

I was merely extending your own fallacious argument to show how wrong you are.

God save us from Libertarians who can't even follow their own train of thought!


7:30 PM, May 25, 2005  

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