Understanding media bias

media biasYes, there does appear to be a media bias.  I see it all the time, just like you probably do.  Part of the reason Fox News does as well as it does is because he simply presents a different media bias than what it’s watchers see elsewhere.  They’ve presented something new, and are being rewarded for it.

However, many people don’t believe in media bias.  They just don’t think it exists.  Well, let’s take a quick lesson in media bias, and some of the reasons for it.  For the record, I am the publisher of The Albany Journal, what was once a weekly newspaper in Albany, Georgia but is now an online news website.  I’m not telling you this to try and make it out like my vast newspaper experience gives me some insight (I only bought the paper last October after all), but so some stories later on will make some sense.

When talking about media bias, there are some things that happen.  I’m guilty of it as much as the next newspaper editor/publisher/news director.  Some stories cross my desk, and my natural reaction is to not devote space to them.  Even if they don’t cross my desk, I sometimes read articles on other sites and think “I wouldn’t run that”.  Sometimes, it’s well founded.  An eatery half way across the state that says it is going to start making their own bread just isn’t news for Albany.

Sometimes though, my subconscious makes the decision for me.  For example, a story about how laws regarding junk food in schools may be helping reduce childhood obesity.  Now, this as an AP story, and I don’t get to run AP stories, but this is a case of one I would probably not have run.  Consciously, I would probably argue to myself that I just don’t think my readers would find it interesting, but is that really the reason?

Subconsiously, I may be thinking that such stories are likely to spur even more measures that take choice away from people, and therefore won’t run it.  It’s not a concious choice, but a subconcious one.  If this is one that I had been given the choice to run, I don’t know that I would have looked that closely at why I wouldn’t have run the story and just used my concious choice as the only reason.

You see, the reason you get an argument from reporters about media bias is because they honestly believe they’re unbiased.  At least the vast majority of them do.  However, it’s subtle choices that change everything. Take President Obama’s recent comments about how “you didn’t build that.”  Most reports of the speech in question have no mention of it.  Was it because the media elite where trying to protect the president?  Not really.  To them, it was just a comment.  They didn’t see it as controversial in the least, since most of them took it to mean “you built it on the backs of what came before you,” rather than the way most of us took it.  It’s exclusion wasn’t a concious choice, but a subconcious one shaped by their own ideology.

The question then becomes “why?”  Why does this kind of thing happen?  Well, part of it is because idealistic people tend to become journalists.  Let’s be honest, it’s not the profession of the very wealthy.  While some journalists go on to fame and fortune, most operate their entire careers in obscurity, making a middle class existence…and they’re pretty content with it.  Oh sure, they wish they were working for the New York Times or USA Today - or with the networks in the case of my broadcast colleagues - but for the most part, they’re pretty content with where they end up in life.

That idealism usually starts at a young age, the same age that most people into ideas like “fairness” and are being taught that FDR’s “New Deal” is the way we survived The Great Depression.  They are shaped in such a way, and absent anything to disabuse them of that notion, they will continue on that way.  The fact that most of their colleagues feel the same way will create an echo chamber that will only intensify that ideology.

Of course, that’s not the only factor at play.  Another is how libertarian and conservative voices treat the press.  It’s nothing overt, but still an interesting fact.

In the span of 24 hours last week, I got a visit from a democratic congressman’s press secretary, a phone call from his campaign’s communications office, and a call from the Democratic National Convention committee’s communications office.  Meanwhile, the two republican candidates who are in a runoff to challenge the congressman have made zero attempts to contact me.  To make matters worse, both know I’m a libertarian and one is someone I count as a friend.  Yet, despite that, I don’t even get a press release from their campaigns, despite the understanding that I’m far more likely to run it than most other papers in the district.

People are very relationship oriented.  When the progressive forces reach out to speak with the journalists, they foster those relationships.  When republicans refuse to do so, they are essentially yielding the field to the democrats.  If that is their decision, that’s fine.  However, they also shouldn’t act surprised when those relationships pay dividends.

You see, there is a human desire to please your friends.  If you perceive a democrat’s staff as your friends, there is a subconsious desire to make sure they’re not upset with you.  Even a negative story is likely to be softballed because of this desire.  The mind takes something like a congressman posting a photo of his junk on Twitter and gives a more equal shake to the idea that his account was hacked than would be normal, simply because the staff is made up of people you like.

Now, none of this is to excuse media bias.  When the congressman’s press secretary stopped by to chat last week, I told him upfront that I wasn’t going to cut the congressman any slack.  If he did something I disagreed with, he’d hear about it and it wouldn’t be a “tut-tut” kind of editorial.  However, I understand how all this works and can work to correct it.  Most don’t even think of it.

Media bias is real, but it’s not some organized effort to discredit libertarian/conservative ideas or candidates.  Instead, what it is happens to be something far more insidious, and far more difficult to deal with.  The problem with media bias is that it’s the result of people being involved, much like the problems with everything else. The trick is to identify it and move on.

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