Tuesday, June 20, 2006
An illumination representing the "three orders" of medieval society -- the clergy, the knights, and the peasants. It has nothing to do with this post. Sorry.
I have been thinking about a post on Paula's blog from about a week ago on the plight of Christians in Kosovo. Paula rightly lamented that the media was not covering the situation, and she placed the blame on mainstream media biases.
The question of media bias is an important one and it is a hot issue here in blogdom. I just did a search on blogger for "mainstream media" and was informed there were more than 180,000 hits. What is curious is that people on the left see msm as hopelessly biased towards a right-wing agenda, and those on the right see the all-powerful "liberal media." There are media-watching sites from both the left and the right of our acrimoniously divided country. So who is right?
My personal opinion is that when there is an ideological bias, it tends to be towards a center-right side. Of course from my own left-wing perspective, the country has gone so far to the right in the past twenty-five years, "center-right" is actually quite conservative, especially on economic issues (taxes, welfare, public spending, government regulation). There are many reasons for this. One has been described by Noam Chomsky and makes a fair amount of sense: media outlets are large corporations that profit from the economic status quo as much as any oil or pharmaceutical company. Writers answer to editors who answer to publishers who answer to stockholders and advertisers. It's a money thing. Another is that journalists themselves do not, despite what many conservatives think, tend to be that liberal. Journalism is still dominated by educated white guys. One study showed that the majority of journalists are like the majority of educated white guys: a bit liberal on social issues, but moderate or conservative on others, especially economic ones.
I think there is another, perhaps more important reason, that the media tends to frustrate those of us who know something about a given issue and see how badly it is reported, and that is that journalism is on the whole simplistic. I suggested in my comment to Paula's post that I believe the reason the plight of Kosovar Christians is not reported is just because it doesn't fit into a simple narrative that assigns white hats and black hats to broadly defined groups. Complexity does not work in a twenty-second news spot. If my impression is correct and the media bias tends towards the right, I think it is because the Republican party and its apologists have been able to create a very simple black and white narrative that works well with how news is presented. You are with us or against us. America brings democracy to other countries. Government is bad. Taxes are bad. The private sector is always superior to the public sector. And so on.
I still would not put all the blame on the media. Media companies answer the market. No one is forced to turn on Fox, they do so because they want a simple story that makes them feel good about themselves. The problem is that we are a culture that has become infantile in many ways -- no attention span, eager for instant gratification. We are a nation of two-year-olds. Isn't it absurd that political parties spend hundreds of millions of dollars to air twenty-second spots of their candidates standing in front of a flag, and that something that banal can decide an election? Until we as a culture decide to stop being willfully stupid, there's no reason for the media to reward us with real news.
Posted by Liam at 1:05 PM