By Mel Harkrader Pine
We all talk about media bias. We talk about it in our churches, from our pulpits, on Facebook and Twitter, in leftward- and rightward-leaning forums, and in the grocery-store checkout lane. We’re all sure that we know what it is.
A long time ago (1966-76), I worked in the newsrooms of multi-edition big-city daily newspapers. Journalism has changed since then, but one thing has not. None of us is ever satisfied by how we or our cause is portrayed in an article about us, as long as it was written and edited by journalists aiming for impartiality, as most do.
Hold a mirror up to your face or play back a tape of your voice. Like what you see or hear?
No, I’m not suggesting that the media are perfect mirrors. They will be biased as long as people are, and most journalists do tilt left. But bias is not a conspiracy, and being unhappy with what we read is not a form of oppression.
Over the weekend, I read a commentary on ricochet.com blaming media bias for its lack of attention to Friday’s assault on Senator Rand Paul. If the attack had been on a liberal media darling, it would have received more attention, according to the author. (Sorry, but I haven’t been able to find the article again and link to it.)
I could feel my ex-newsman’s whiskers (the few that I have) beginning to bristle. Some of my reactions:
- The assault was covered by mainstream media, just not as a major story.
- The injuries were described then as minor.
- Events on Fridays and over the weekend often don’t get full coverage until Monday.
- The incident gave no evidence of being more than a personal matter.
- Paul, while a figure of national importance, is not currently a candidate for anything.
- The assault could increase sympathy for Paul or detract from his image. Is less coverage or more coverage evidence of media bias. I suspect the media would also be criticized for playing the story up.
In fact, by the time Monday evening and its news deadlines had rolled around, the injuries were described as more serious and the incident got more coverage.
My biggest discovery when I went from journalism to corporate public relations was the huge differences between labor-intensive and capital-intensive industries. At Mobil Oil, mistakes could cost the company billions of dollars, so it could afford layer upon layer of double-checking. On the other hand, payroll costs play a bigger role in the news business, so there is little time to arrange and carry out vendettas and conspiracies.
Sure, some publishers buy media outlets for their own purposes, but they usually succeed in getting their goals met less often than they would like. And many publishers care only that their newspapers, broadcast stations, cable networks and websites take the positions that will make them most profitable.
I’m not sure whether my opinion is humble or not, but in it the characteristics that make a good journalist (primarily curiosity) are more likely to be found in liberals than conservatives. So it’s not surprising that they tilt left.
But good journalists try to overcome their biases, and the rest of us should, too. Neither a liberal nor a conservative cabal controls the news business.
Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine