Thursday, October 02, 2003

Balance in the Media

Balance in the Media - One topic that comes up in my classes on a regular basis is the bias of the news media. Most of my students are convinced that there is a liberal slant to the news. A few other students have argued the reverse in that they believe the news is slanted to the right. As past studies show that most journalists are to the left politically, I would argue the left bias is more obvious but it is clear that there are ample examples of media bias from both the left and right.

A recent book on the left bias is from Bernard Goldberg and it titled Bias. The blub reads, "Think the media are biased? CONSERVATIVES HAVE BEEN crying foul for years, but now a veteran CBS reporter has come forward to expose how liberal bias pervades the mainstream media. Even if you've suspected your nightly news is slanted to the left, it's far worse than you think. Breaking ranks and naming names, Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Bernard Goldberg reveals a corporate news culture in which the close-mindedness is breathtaking, journalistic integrity has been pawned to liberal opinion, and "entertainment" trumps hard news every time. In his three decades at CBS, Goldberg repeatedly voiced his concerns to network executives about the often one-sided nature of the news coverage. But no one listened to his complaints-or if they did listen, they did nothing about the problem. Finally, Goldberg had no choice but to blow the whistle on his own industry, to break the code of silence that pervades the news business. Bias is the result. As the author reveals, "liberal bias" doesn't mean simply being hard on Republicans and easy on Democrats. Real media bias is the result of how those in the media see the world-and their bias directly affects how we all see the world.

In Bias you'll learn:

-How on issues ranging from homelessness to AIDS, reporters have simply regurgitated the propaganda of pressure groups they favor, to the detriment of honest reporting
-The Peter Jennings test for classifying politicians-and how all the networks do it
-The network color bar-why so many "victims" on network news stories are blond-haired, blue-eyed, and middle class
-How one high-level CBS News executive told Goldberg that of course the networks tilt left-but in the next breath said he'd deny that statement if Goldberg ever went public
-One of the biggest stories of our time-and why you probably didn't hear about it on the evening news
-How political correctness in network newsrooms puts "sensitivity" ahead of facts
-The real Dan Rather-a man who regards criticism of liberal bias as treason. If you ever suspected the network news was shortchanging the truth, Goldberg will not only prove you right, he'll give you a glimpse of just how it's done, and how fairness, balance, and integrity have disappeared from network television. "

A recent book on the bias from the right in the media is from Al Franken titled Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. A review from Amazon reads, "Having previously dissected the factual inaccuracies of a single bellicose talk show host in Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, Al Franken takes his fight to a larger foe: President George W. Bush, the Bush Administration, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and scores of other conservatives whom, he says, are playing loose with the facts. It's a lot of ground to cover, as evidenced by the 43 chapters in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, but the results are often entertaining and insightful. Franken occupies a unique place in the modern political dialogue as perhaps the media's only comedy writer and performer who is also a Harvard fellow as well as a liberal political commentator. This unique and vaguely lonely position lends a charming quixotic quality to adventures such as a tense encounter with the Fox News staff at the National Press Club, a challenge to fisticuffs with National Review Editor Rich Lowry, and an oddly sweet admissions visit to ultra-conservative Bob Jones University (with a young research assistant posing as his son when Franken's real-life son refuses to participate in the charade). Less useful are comic book dramatizations of "Supply Side Jesus" and a fictitious Vietnam War story featuring the numerous righties who, Franken intimates, improperly avoided service. And Franken's criticisms of conservative talk show hosts Sean Hannity, O’Reilly, and columnist Coulter, while admirable in their attention to detail, fail to shed much new light on people who have built careers on broad arguments and relentless self-aggrandizement. But Franken is at his best, and most compellingly readable, when he backs off the wackiness and the personal grudges and writes about more personal matters such as the political circus surrounding the memorial service of the late Senator Paul Wellstone. But even on these more serious topics, Franken's wit is still present and, in fact, grows sharper. In a time when much political discourse is composed of rage and shouting, it's refreshing that Al Franken is able to shout in a witty manner."

I think a good lesson plan could be generated by comparing similar chapters in each book. Have the students read the selected chapters in advance and then have a discussion on how the media can frame stories and report on them in biased ways. This would tie into a more general discussion of how information can be presented in twisted ways in print, on TV, and on the Web as well.