Slanted Journalism is Everywhere

I awoke Sunday morning wanting to know what was happening in the Terri Shiavo saga, and here’s what one of the major news services had to say:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Bush cut short a holiday to return to Washington and be ready to sign a bill that may keep a brain-damaged woman alive in a case pitting Christian conservatives against right-to-die activists.

That sentence is just one of dozens of examples you can find almost daily of what’s wrong with the press. First of all, it is inaccurate. The notion that Christian Conservatives are the only ones on one side of this issue is ludicrous. Most of the discussions I’ve had this past weekend happened to be with Jewish friends who were appalled by the notion of starving an innocent woman to death. There are millions of people on the side of life in this case who are neither Christian nor Conservative, but it is a convenient bit of stereotypical shorthand that the press uses with regularity.

Second, if the Christians are Conservative, why aren’t the right-to-die activists Liberal? There is a very limited spectrum that the press generally uses to describe a person’s politics. There are Conservatives and then there is everyone else. “ Conservative Senator so-and-so debated Senator what’s-his-name today.† In the world of the press, a Liberal rarely exists unless he or she is so identified by those hateful Conservatives.

In the Reuter’s example I cited, why not “Christian activists† or “right-to-live proponents†? No, they are Christian Conservatives, get it? Christians (and we know how closed-minded they are) and Conservatives (scary, huh?). The other side favors the right-to-die (giving people rights is always noble) and they are activists (caring, involved people). No contest here. Neanderthals vs. The Enlightened.

I have a little hobby of collecting these examples of subtle bias, and they are very easy to find. The problem is that you appear to be nit-picking when you point them out; however, these kinds of ingrained prejudices are endemic. One Senator merely states a fact, while the Conservative Senator “claims† something. Unnecessary and prejudicial adjectives are used with abandon, usually to the detriment of the more Conservative side. Alarming statistics about global warming, spousal abuse, homelessness or dozens of other issues are given without challenge if they come from activists. The challenge comes only when those issues are discussed from a more Conservative point of view. (“Conservative Senator Smith claimed homelessness is dropping, but the Center for Homelessness reports†¦Ã¢â‚¬ )

Sadly, I don’t believe most of this is done deliberately. I, being the magnanimous guy I am, think that the people who write this stuff are, for the most part, honorable journalists who genuinely try to write without prejudice. The problem is that when you write about something with which you agree there is no need to explain it or characterize it. It is only when writing about those “other† people and their take on the issues that you have to add some clarification because they are so out of step with what you know and believe. Who could possibly be against the right to die? Why, it’s those Christian Conservatives.

As long as mainstream journalists share a similar view of the world, that world can never be reported “objectively†. And that is why the so-called alternative media have had such an impact. But don’t these bloggers also have a slanted view of the issues? Of course they do, but, in most cases, they acknowledge it and the consumers can factor in that slant when they read. When you check out something called “The View from the Right†, you know what you’re getting, but when you read The New York Times, you think you’re getting “All the news that’s fit to print†.

I don’t suggest for a moment that people should completely give up the mainstream media for the alternative types. I merely suggest that all of them be viewed with a discerning eye and a recognition that they all slant the news to one degree or another. It’s just that some are less forthcoming about it.

Of course, that’s merely the claim of a Conservative entertainer.


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