Should You Believe All the News You Hear?

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Should You Believe All the News You Hear?

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The credo of professional journalists is to report facts and events objectively. Yet several recent books document journalists slanting their reporting to favor their biases and further their prejudices, especially left-leaning agendas.

Longtime CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg realized how deep media bias can run as he reviewed a February 1996 story presented by fellow CBS reporter Eric Engberg. In his best-selling book Bias, Mr. Goldberg expressed his shock at the way Mr. Engberg's report poked fun at presidential candidate and Forbes-magazine publisher Steve Forbes' proposal for a flat tax rate.

"Steve Forbes pitches his flat-tax scheme as an economic elixir good for everything that ails us,"Mr. Engberg began. He then proceeded to interview three supposed tax experts, all of whom opposed Mr. Forbes' proposal to overhaul the massive U.S. tax code. He then referred to the flat-tax idea as "wacky" and a "giant, untested idea" that should be "test[ed] out someplace-like Albania" (2002, pp. 16-18).

As Mr. Goldberg points out, Mr. Engberg could easily have found respected economists who supported Mr. Forbes'flat tax- especially since two Nobel-prize-winning economists and various conservative university economics professors were on record as supporting the idea.

Mr. Goldberg concludes: "From top to bottom the Engberg piece was breathtaking in its lack of fairness. So how could CBS put it on the air? Well, news fans, here's one of those dirty little secrets journalists are never supposed to reveal to the regular folks out there in the audience: a reporter can find an expert to say anything the reporter wants -anything! Just keep calling until one of the experts says what you need him to say and tell him you'll be right down with your camera crew to interview him.

"If you find an expert who says, 'You know, I think that flat tax just might work and here's why . . .' you thank him, hang up, and find another expert. It's how journalists sneak their own personal views into stories in the guise of objective news reporting. Because the reporter can always say, 'Hey, I didn't say the flat tax stinks- the guy from that Washington think tank did!'" (ibid., p. 20).

Mr. Goldberg also notes that too many reporters, editors and columnists live in their own insular world, isolated from other views and sources of information. He cites the example of New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who expressed astonishment when Richard Nixon beat liberal candidate George McGovern in the 1972 U.S. presidential election. "How can that be?" she exclaimed. "Nobody I know voted for Nixon."Yet Mr. Nixon had carried 49 of the 50 states in a landslide election victory.

Slanted news reporting

William McGowan, former reporter for Newsweek and the BBC and a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal explains in his recent book Coloring the News that the news media's crusade for a favorite liberal cause-diversity- has corrupted American journalism by promoting homosexual rights, feminism, affirmative action, race and immigration over objective debate and honesty.

He recounts that in December 1992 he attended the Diversity Summit Meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Newspaper Association of America. From that point forward, he notes, media coverage underwent a major and lasting change.

"The cause of diversity had become a crusade across the length and breadth of the American media, and would be a defining and dominating force in journalism in the decade to come. Almost every day after that 1992 meeting, one could hear echoes from it in newspaper stories and nightly network broadcasts. Diversity was the new religion, and anybody who wanted to be anybody in the news industry had to rally behind it" (2001, pp. 9-10).

From media darling to pariah

Another revealing book documenting the bias of many in the media was written by Tammy Bruce, longtime advocate of liberal causes. Ms. Bruce, a Los Angeles political figure and talk-show host, was head of the Los Angeles chapter and a national board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) as well as an avowed lesbian and abortion-rights activist. However, after defending conservative author and talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger and charging NOW with hypocrisy, she found herself a pariah among reporters who had formerly sought her out for interviews.

Based on such experiences, she wrote The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds. In it she explains that "what began so many years ago as a noble cause-ending the scourge of bigotry-has devolved into something far different. It's not bigots that the new Thought Police are after. It's people . . . who dare to speak their mind and contradict the 'progressive' point of view . . .

"There is enormous irony in the fact that it is those on the Left-the supposed protectors of all things culturally important-who are imposing severe sanctions on anyone who espouses an idea or expresses an opinion that might be deemed 'offensive' to some favored group" (2001, p. 4).

The result is that "the effects of this new intolerance are felt in the media and in the arts, on college campuses, even in offices and factories. The message is clear: Don't speak up. Or else-you'll be fired [or] sued . . . Labels such as 'racist,' 'sexist,'and 'homophobe'are routinely used to demonize anyone who utters a word that doesn't support the Left's agenda. Television producers allow their scripts to be edited by groups that purport to represent aggrieved minorities. On college campuses, student newspapers that don't toe the party line are collected and destroyed, and speakers with un-PC views are shouted down" (ibid., pp. 2-3).

Not surprisingly, all three books have been generally ignored in the mainstream media, even though Bias has become a best-seller in the United States.

Bias affects reporting

How do such media biases affect everyday reporting? One notable example involved coverage of the campaigns leading up to a recent national election. The major liberal candidate was consistently portrayed by the mainstream media as a deep thinker and intellectual heavyweight. The leading conservative candidate, on the other hand, was typically portrayed as something of an amiable dunce, a man generally incapable of speaking clearly and presenting ideas coherently.

Seldom compared by the media were details of the academic backgrounds of the two candidates. Both had graduated from Ivy League schools, one from Harvard, the other from Yale. However, from there the "smart" one went to Vanderbilt Divinity School, where, according to a biography and column in The Boston Globe "he received F's in five of the eight classes he took over the course of three semesters" before dropping out. He then enrolled for a brief stint at Vanderbilt Law School before again dropping out and entering a lifetime of politics.

The other candidate, depicted as an intellectual featherweight, went on to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard, no insignificant accomplishment. He flew fighter jets in the National Guard. In spite of an impressive showing since assuming office and the most-sustained high approval ratings of any person occupying that office in history, reporters and columnists still occasionally snipe at President George W. Bush for his supposed lack of intelligence.

Mass-media alienation

Most media firms are, in fact, businesses that promote strong liberal biases. Such leanings reflect a warped worldview and lead them to assume their views are normal while the perspectives of those who disagree with them are abnormal. Significantly, several media corporations have been fast losing audiences, some say because of their profound bias.

Many Americans appear to be increasingly aware of the distorted diet the majority of media outlets feeds them in the name of news reporting. Columnist Jack Kelly's perception of modern mainstream media is telling:

"For people who are convinced we're awfully smart, we journalists can be pretty stupid. We've been driving away customers. In 1980, 75 percent of Americans routinely watched evening newscasts on ABC, NBC, or CBS. Last year only 43 percent did. In 1980, 67 percent of adults customarily read a daily newspaper. In 1999, only 57 percent did.

"Television news has lost 43 percent of its audience, newspapers 15 percent of ours. In other businesses, such losses would trigger massive changes. Heads would roll. If word spread McDonald's was using rat feces as filler in hamburgers, McDonald's market share would drop. Viewers and readers are deserting us in droves because they think our product is shallow and biased" ("Media Is Its Own Worst Enemy," Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2002).

But not all journalists remain loyal to liberal biases. Bernard Goldberg, cited above, is perhaps the most popular television journalist who has stood against media bias. Radio-talk-show hosts with countering views, such as Rush Limbaugh, have become nationally popular by riding a wave of dissent against the mainstream media's liberal biases, as have conservative-leaning commentators such as the Fox network's Bill O'Reilly. Fox has been built on mainstream media's abandonment of any vestige of unbiased objectivity. Fox's motto itself is revealing: "We report; you decide."

Today a sentiment grows that the very media outlets that rose to greatness during World War II through most of the last half of the 20th century have begun to engineer their own demise by failing to fulfill their promise of objectivity in reporting.

There also exists a growing belief that the owners of the vast majority of network news outlets are more interested in promoting entertainment personalities and products, along with issues and views popular in related fields, than in promoting and providing unbiased reporting. As a result,Western society often is informed only of news and issues that harmonize with the opinions of those who control the media. This approach leaves in its wake a distorted view of reality as its most disturbing consequence. GN

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