The Answer To A “Biased News Media”?

ABC Australia

Guest Post by Andrew Wakeling

What is the point in complaining, as Jack so continually does, about bias in the mainstream press, without ever suggesting a solution?

‘Freedom of speech’ does not include any obligation to be fair and balanced, or even to be honest. Anyone can generate their own copy as newspaper or blog. The rest of us have the wonderful freedom to read or ignore such words as we wish.

I like government funded news, like the UK’s BBC or Australia’s ABC. I am comforted and reassured by the strident criticism that such outlets are ‘left biased’. So they should be. I expect profit seeking outlets in comparison to bias their reporting to favour their rich owners and advertiser clients. Reading the Murdoch press and listening to the BBC at least gives me some sort of net balanced reporting, or the best I can do.

I’m happy as we are. I haven’t seen any malicious misreporting of facts, like cricket scores or stock prices. But certainly Australian victories get more front page reporting than our defeats. But beyond that most reporting is heavily influenced by opinion, and that is what we the public buy.

So yes, I agree. Trump could have helped a 100 frail old ladies cross the road without being given any credit by MSNBC. But so what? The editors are paid to produce profits and they judge what their customers want to hear, and are prepared to buy.

To those wanting change, but who understandably won’t support a Government controlled news outlet from a new ‘Ministry of Truth’, the obvious question has to be: why have well educated journalists generally drifted ‘left’ over the last 30 or so years? Was there really some dastardly scheme to corrupt their brains? Or could it just be that our increasingly interdependent world increasingly requires a collectivist mindset? The resilient and heroic settler building a new land ( and clearing out the indigenous population) may no longer be an appropriate model to celebrate.

18 thoughts on “The Answer To A “Biased News Media”?

  1. Oops! One of the disadvantages (for me, at least) is that the guest posts generated by open forums can’t fairly include my editorializing, so I’m reduced to comment critiques (and a rebuttal post when necessary.) Here is the answer I provided to Andrew’s question in the Forum:

    “The solution should be obvious, and I assume it is clear that the “complaining”—as in describing the state of reality and its effect on democracy–will lead to the solution: public trust in the news media falling to virtually zero (there will always be gullible, inattentive, morons and dupes). Of course, I can’t do it myself, or even have the impact of a single flea on a Woolly Mammoth. But when it becomes apparent that the public wants fair and objective and ethical journalism and not manipulative propaganda, the news media will begin giving them that—unless a totalitarian regime takes over first, with the media as its well-rewarded partner.”

    But that’s just one issue. Andrew also says, “Trump could have helped a 100 frail old ladies cross the road without being given any credit by MSNBC. But so what? The editors are paid to produce profits and they judge what their customers want to hear, and are prepared to buy.”

    But that is not journalism, even by journalists’ own definition! So if that is what we have, then we don’t have journalism, and need it. Those able to provide that need will presumably profit, one the public makes its desires clear.

  2. “why have well educated journalists generally drifted ‘left’ over the last 30 or so years?” (italics mine)

    Well indoctricated might better describe it.

    “Or could it just be that our increasingly interdependent world increasingly requires a collectivist mindset?”

    IMO, the 06/02/2020 Arthur in Maine COTD supplies a far more plausible explanation.

    • You can’t become a journalist without that mindset. Without being a good leftists, you won’t get the letters of recommendation or the prime internship that is required. Most government internships require the candidates to participate in left-wing activism. So, conservatives need not apply.

  3. It quite depends on what the purpose of the journalism is, I suppose. If the purpose is to be a corporation which makes money by selling “news” to the masses, then you’re correct. Tailor the product to match demand. That’s good, sound business sense. If you don’t like the product, open your own company to provide one which matches your taste better – the market is thus improved!

    But – particularly in the American tradition – the press is enshrined as a societal force of its own. Here, the press has a job to perform; one which society needs in order to function. American democracy requires an informed and educated populace to function smoothly. If the Prime Minister was surrounded by people who only told him good news, news which made his day better, made him happy, then he would be terribly informed once it came time to govern. His leadership would suffer. Here, the population itself is that leader, responsible for making choices. Good choices must spring from having good intel – that’s the news – and a good frame to interpret it from – that’s education.

    In a nautical sense, the education would have been the maps and charts used to navigate the ship. The news is the lookout, providing real time information. If the lookout is drunk, sick, or derelict in his duty, the captain cannot steer. So, too, if someone has been altering the maps to make them “more pleasing.” Who needs all the fiddly bits around the Norwegian fjords? If the captain has only lies and alternate realities to base his decisions on, then it will be sheer fortune that guides the ship. If it runs aground or makes it to some obscure port is sheer chance. But give him good, real information, and the skill and value of a captain becomes clear. If he makes poor choices, it will be immediately apparent. If good ones, the ship will arrive safely, and quickly be ready for another run.

    That’s what the complaining is about. Jack is trying to alert the ‘captain’ – the American Populace – that the charts have been altered. Often in crayon. The maps have been cut up and glued back together as a patchwork. The lookout is tripping on acid. If the captain is to stand a chance at success, he must first disregard the falsity, and seek the truth. Thus far, he’s still standing there with the maps in his hands, half listening to the ravings of the lookout, muttering “hang on, this doesn’t make much sense…” He is, however, unwilling to disregard them entirely, and recognize that he needs to finish this leg of the voyage without guidance. It’s a scary thought, but still better than looking back at the altered map in his hand.

  4. Isn’t this the equivalent of “if you can’t beat ’em, suck it up”? Meanwhile AOC is trying to prevent right wing misinformation, to the extent of forming a committee. Journalism used to be presenting information to allow the reader to make an informed conclusion. Now, journalism presents the conclusion they want the reader to reach, and the facts be damned.

      • Oh, there’s a huge dollop of passive-aggressiveness in both the Commonwealth and Minnesota and Wesconsin versions, Paulie.

        I was in Sydney during the early days of Bush Jr.’s Iraq escapade and chatting with the woman manning a lunch counter I’d visited regularly while practicing piano in a community center near her place. Her demeanor toward me darkened noticeably when she realized, as she said, “You’re not Canadian, you’re an American!” To which I responded, “Yes, and if it hadn’t been for the American military [including Mrs. OB’s father who had his foot crushed while crewing a PBY Catalina that crash landed in New Guinea while on patrol during his time in the Navy going all across the Southwest Pacific], we’d probably be having this conversation in Japanese, wouldn’t we?”

    • Yes, very thought provoking re ‘post journalism’ at the NYT. The final para is ominous:. “For newspapers and their multiple art forms developed over a 400-year history, ….. the collision with the digital tsunami was never going to be a challenge to surmount but rather “an extinction-level event.”

      If Aaron P is right and : “ the press has an (essential) job to perform”; then we seem to be facing a classic ‘market failure’. If the State needs a properly informed populace (Aaron’s nautical charts etc.) then it can no longer rely on the ‘free market’ to provide it.

      But nationalising the NYT and WAPO under a new ‘Ministry of Truth’ is also wildly impractical. So what is the sensible way ahead?

      • The answer is quite simple, Andrew. Use past as prologue.

        The idea that media has ever been “objective” is a largely American conceit, early- and mid-20th century in its development. The first “progress” towards “objective” media was led by Joseph Pulitzer – you may have heard of the Pulitzer Prize. He was a publisher, not a reporter, which meant he was more interested in the ad dollars than the news content. But the newspaper industry at the time in New York – in which he was truly a big deal – was the equivalent of today’s Internet environment: fractious, obnoxious, given to hyperbole, hyper-partisanship and good ol’ making-shit-up.

        Pulitzer knew – because enough of ’em banged on his door to tell him – that the advertisers recognized that running an ad in one paper risked alienating the customers who might come from the readers of another paper. He led a group of publishers to create tougher standards or writing and edit control, even establishing the first school of journalism (at Columbia). You think reporters are ignorant now? Back then, they were basically up-from-the-streets guys who knew how to rake muck.

        Fast forward to the mid-’50s, when TV news was on the ups. All the TV reporters and anchors were radio veterans (not like the gorgeous creatures we see today – radio is the perfect medium for the unattractive). During the McCarthy era, some of the CBS anchors were pretty clear where their sympathies lay – the sainted Edward R. Murrow not the least of them. NBC was the big dog at the time; it had two networks (NBC Red and NBC Blue) for east and west. ABC was the upstart but growing strong in the north. William S. Paley, president of CBS, had made huge investments in the small-market south. For much of the south, CBS was the only game in town. If you ever wondered why CBS was the home of shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, there’s your answer.

        When guys like Murrow would spew their egalitarian views on that network, the deeply conservative (and, at the time, both highly racist and dominantly Democratic party, by the way) were ripshit. They let the station managers know. More importantly, they let the ADVERTISERS know. Paley issued an edict that no on-air talent should give any hint of their political views, on pain of firing.

        In other words, the myth of objective journalism developed from BUSINESS DECISIONS, not out of any sense of loyalty to truth and informing the public.

        The media, and market, adapted. Other nations never bothered with the “objective media” myth – certainly not the UK, but many paid lipservice to it while continuing business as usual. Yes, there’s a benign state-controlled medium (the Beeb) but other than that, it’s far more wide open than it was here at any time since the early 1960s.

        We Americans were sold a lie: the media plays it straight. I daresay most, if not all of us, grew up believing that. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now; news is a business – and it can be a very profitable one, if you know what you’re doing. Production costs are low. Get enough ears and eyeballs, and the margins can be brilliant.

        I suspect it’ll take another generation before there’s enough endemic skepticism of sources in the US to match those of, say, the UK when it comes to “you got that from the Daily Mail? You kidding?” or “The Guardian? So you’ll ignore the Times because you’re not comfortable with anything that challenges the Labor Party?”

        That’s where the rest of the free world is. It’s where we need to be. I will take wide-open, uncensored news in all its forms, including online, HAPPILY over ANY form of control over what we see – be that tech company oligarchs or government policy. We need to find a new equilibrium of skepticism. It’s likely that people will suffer, even die, until that happens. But it’s the only solution that doesn’t lead to totalitarianism.

        • Yes, spot on, I agree. “We need to find a new equilibrium of scepticism”. To my mind Jack displays uncharacteristic naivety when he says : “But when it becomes apparent that the public wants fair and objective and ethical journalism and not manipulative propaganda, the news media will begin giving them that ……”.

          The media was, is and always will be biased : primarily because that is what we want and pay for. We are in the places I know, better served than ever before because we can access such a wide variety of sources, all differently biased.

          I remain suspicion of those who claim to be without bias, as that sounds to me like lack of relevant experience or interest. Jack, you and I and practically all our fellow bloggers have ‘experience’ and our different experiences are significant drivers of our different biases. Bias should be acknowledged rather than criticised. As that wonderful 18th century philosopher / statistician Thomas Bayes is reputed to have advised , “first identify your priors”.

  5. Where your premise fails is the presumption that private enterprise is right leaning. If the businesses were being run in the interest of the best long term health of the enterprise, it would be. But the present crony capitalism system we have today is not. So much of the power is concentrated in the multitude of fund managers – union retirement funds, government retirement funds and mutual funds held by 401k holders. The gateway to those jobs is to go to the “correct” schools one should have to hold those jobs and you’re in. Those schools have been fully taken over as leftist indoctrination centers filling their graduates with endless leftist pablum. Jack has lamented about what’s happened to his alma matter, Harvard.
    Those fund managers then fill corporate boards with like minded people. Then those board members hire corporate leadership with like minds, and it trickles down. I witnessed it when I worked for Hewlett Packard; I was there in the last days of the founders. I watched as the management was replaced and there was a massive cultural shift. It went from a place that valued innovation and hiring the best to a turd in a decade. We saw the same thing with Westinghouse 40 years ago when it failed. A decade ago General Electric was insanely profitable and now is in deep trouble (which has been good to me, I started at my present employer, a major competitor, the same time Jack Welch joined GE. We’ve filled the void.) The most recent example is Boeing. When they merged with McDonald Douglass, the wall street types consistently selected the MD MBAs over the Boeing Engineers. Result: the 737MAX debacle, where they’ve lost $30 billion after “saving” $25 billion on avoiding a new program.
    You can also see it in the full embrace of leftist thinking among major corporations. They’re embracing BLM, critical race theory, fully embraced transgenderism, and so on.

  6. ABC news radio has been so starved of funds that it’s now 50% ABC (mostly sport), 25% BBC World Service, 20% Deutsche Welle, and 5% NPR.

    I always look forward to “all things considered”.

    I recommend listening on the ABC Listen app.

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