Media Bias Is Not What It Seems

While you watching and listening to broadcast news, her is just a little of what you missed:

1)  As early as August 24th, a Florida Atlantic University poll showed that Donald Trump not only led Hillary Clinton by two points but also had the support of 20% of African-American Floridians along with a 43% favorability rating over Clinton’s 39%.  Another even earlier poll, this time the USCD Dornsife/Los Angeles Time “Daybreak” poll, demonstrated a ten-point shift by black voters toward Trump.

2)  A grotesque, very detailed statue of a naked Hillary Clinton appears in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Cleveland.  Esquire called it a “beautiful moment”.  The Huffington Post labeled it “hilarious”.  Oh, my mistake.  It was Donald Trump’s image.

3)  A study published in the New Atlantis on sexuality and gender found no scientific support for sexual orientation as “born that way”, gender identity as separate from biological sex, a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification or that gender-atypical thoughts or behavior in children leads to transgenderism.

4)  A new book by Jay Solomon, “The Iran Wars”, uncovers how President Obama severed contacts with the pro-democracy Green Movement supporters, ended programs to document human rights abuses and gave personal assurances to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei through personal letters that the U.S. would not intervene on behalf of the democracy uprising.

One could assume, given the political season, that such stories were sidelined for more pressing election issues.  So what about that election coverage?”  There has been a new and unexpected positive outcome from the Trump campaign.  Donald Trump has some media so paranoid that they have finally outed themselves.

Jim Rutenberg, New York Times:  “If…you believe…that Donald Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies…you have to throw out the textbook.”

“Glenn Greenwald:  “the U.S. media is essentially 100 percent united, vehemently, against Trump, and preventing him from being elected president.”

Jorge Ramos, Time Magazine:  “…neutrality is not an option.”  “Trump has forced journalists to revisit rules of objectivity and fairness. Just providing both points of view is not enough…”

Ignored/lost news and filtered information is an easily recognized reality of any American who cares enough to read or listen.  It began most noticeably with the iconic Walter Cronkite’s famous, nationally broadcast nightly news, single-handed declaration to his country’s enemies that the United States of America was impotent against North Viet Nam, the Soviet Union and China.

The Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy in conjunction with Media Tenor has looked at election coverage for 2015 and the 2016 primaries.  The twin studies of CBS, NBC, Fox, LA Times, NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post were published this past June and July.

The studies are genuinely intriguing.  Bias in major nationwide media, written, broadcast and cable, is strong but not in the way pundits on the right or left would expect.  What the public is fed and the motivations behind it do not originate primarily from ideological positions, although those forces are also strong.  For contemporary “journalists”, election spin grows out of deep-seated priorities.

The most powerful influence is what the study calls the “metanarrative”, the created, fixed, overriding storyline. Every candidate is pegged early on as either leading, trailing, gaining ground or losing ground.  The next primal influence is standing in the polls which is driven by settled storylines.  The use of surrogates to feign balance came in next – portraying a candidate negatively or positively but using interviews and experts to drive home the opposite image.  The final principle is the power of negative stories.  In the case of the current elections, negative coverage of all the candidates generally outpaced positive stories three to one.

Those embedded principles of contemporary journalism are the most fundamental biases.  But, when ideological loyalties are woven into them, the rest is a media-managed reality.  The campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans this time around are picture perfect examples.  Donald Trump spent his entire campaign until his nomination as a “gaining ground” candidate.  His coverage was massive and commanding, garnering 34% of all the coverage leaving the other Republicans to languish with an average of only 14% each.  On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders was the only candidate across the board to receive consistently more positive press than negative throughout his entire campaign but because he was stuck in the “trailing” storyline (therefore most unlikely to win) his coverage was anemic until the closing weeks.

Because the “horse race” drives coverage, polls and the political process constituted 89% of everything.  Think about it.  In a system where individual Americans make historic decisions every 4 years, right up until nomination day, barely 12% of their information from every media source, save internet searches, gave any information about candidate positions, values or policy plans for the future.  Not only that, most of the time when real issues did surface, they were framed around controversy.

There was much more in the Shorenstein studies but the takeaways are simple.  It is time for serious conscientious citizens to become students of the information that informs their opinions and actions.  Major media on both ends of the ideological spectrum are not driven first by our interests or even a bare commitment to truth.  They are driven in their DNA by a compulsion for controversy and, in elections, by their own created metanarratives and the “horse race” itself.

When, as the Rutenberg, Greenwald and Ramos confessions demonstrate, ideology powers that skewed system, any objectivity or accuracy of information is strained at best.  CNN must be balanced with Drudge and Gateway Pundit.  Fox News and the Washington Times should be digested alongside the Washington Post and the BBC.

The most important response is self-responsibility.